Monday, December 13, 2010

Fundamentals of Conservatism: Empirical Problems.

It may be worthwhile for some readers to read this post before proceeding.

Empiricism is the theory that the only valid knowledge is knowledge that is confirmed by sense data, and the strict empiricists leave no room for knowledge that is inspired by faith. As mentioned in the above linked post, a graphical representation of the strict empiricists conceptual schema can be represented as thus:

The green area and white areas represents knowledge which can be independently verified by way of sense data, the yellow are is falsehood. As mentioned previously, anything which lays outside the "sense barrier" is dismissed as unscientific knowledge. 

However, let us consider the following situation. Suppose there are two strict empiricists, one of whom has the faculty of sight, the other, is blind from birth. 

Now let us consider the proposition P, where P= raspberries are red in colour.

Now if we map P onto "epistemolgical space"we find that P lays within the Non-Blind empiricist's perception of reality and is outside the blind empiricist's perception.





Now, from the blind empiricist's frame of perception, there is no way he can verify that raspberries are red. On the other hand, the non-blind empiricist can easily verify that raspberries are red.

Now if our blind empiricist is a strict empiricist(in the Dawkins sense) he will declare the Proposition P= "that raspberries are red" is false as he is unable to independently verify the proposition. This of course is a logical error. Since  the correct answer from the blind person's perspective is that P is unverifiable. The blind empiricist can only be agnostic on the matter of the colour of raspberries. Any blind empiricist who dogmatically asserts that raspberries are not red is not being empirical about the matter at all. By saying that raspberries are not red he is making a positive statement about reality which exists beyond his sense barrier, a reality which he can in no way verify.

Now,  our blind empiricist may acknowledge that he is limited in some way, and defer to his sighted colleagues on the matter of the colour of raspberries. But his knowledge of colour is then not based on any "empirical" observation but is based upon the truthfulness and his trust in his colleagues. He is not being "empirical" about the matter at all.

On the other hand, our blind empiricist may be a Marxist or Postmodernist, and believe that the whole concept of colour and sight is an oppressive mechanism by other blind empiricists to keep him subjugated. He would be logically consistent though, because being unable to verify sight, he-- being a strict empiricist--would have to accept that the phenomenon is not real. In order to liberate himself from the chains of oppression he would have to wage war against those who claimed that they could see.

The point that point that I am trying to belabour here is that realities can exist beyond the "sense barrier" which we have no way of proving. This is and was the conservative view. The acceptance of "religion"as a valid source of knowledge stems from this conception of reality. How men gain knowledge of what's on the other side is a subject which I will deal with later, but suffice to say that whatever's happening on the other side of the sense barrier is empirically "unprovable".

As I have said before, Conservatism is the philosophy of living according to the truth of things. People who are intellectually, as opposed to dispositionally, conservative motivate their actions according to a perception of reality. As their knowledge of reality is improved, their behavior is modified. Conservatism is about living rightly, not living "oldly".

Conservatism therefore does not have a problem with logically consistent empiricism, where the problem lays is with logically inconsistent empiricism. An empiricism that makes positive claims about what exists beyond the "sense barrier" is logically inconsistent, since according to Empiricism, it's the senses which either positively confirm or deny a theory of reality. Atheism therefore represents a series of statements which resemble religion more than the scientific method. The only honest statement an Empiricist can make about what exists beyond the sense barrier is that it is unverifiable: Agnosticism.

It's this logical inconsistency which places Atheists outside the Conservative camp. The Atheist's conception of reality is at odds with the Conservative's one.  Conservatives accept that valid knowledge can exist "beyond the sense barrier",  this for an Atheist is intolerable since such knowledge is empirically unverifiable and therefore arbitrary or false.


The question is then, how do you rationally determine what is beyond the sense barrier? The answer is you can't.

18 comments:

P.T. Barnum said...

The fundamental problem with "Conservatism" is that it is not Conservative.

Do you actually believe the "War on Drugs" is supporting values as they were 100 years ago?

That the FDA is a "Conservative" institution?

That mandatory public schooling is "Conservative"?

Free Trade conservative?

Conservative is just whatever "Conservatives" want it to be, TODAY.

Viliam Búr said...

A blind person could test the existence of colors by experiments. For example he could choose some objects, ask different people about their colors, and check whether the answers are consistent. (Or even ask the same person later.) Of course there is a possibility of some objects changing color, but in general this would work; for example the fact that something changed color would be confirmed by independent observers.

There are some ways we can - more or less clearly - reach beyond our senses and still get some experimentally testable results. As long as the results (which are available to our senses) are consistent, we can empirically know about x-rays, atoms, etc.

Now if someone says "you are blind and only I can see", and then says things unfalsifiable and contradictory to other self-proclaimed visual masters... that's difficult.

The Social Pathologist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Social Pathologist said...

There are some ways we can - more or less clearly - reach beyond our senses and still get some experimentally testable results

We can't ever really reach beyond our senses. In the end things such as atoms and x rays are still explanations for observed i.e sensed phenomena. The knowledge of atoms and X rays are derived from observed data, they are in effect "cognitive truths" more than sensory phenomena. No one has seen X-rays, but their existence can be determined by a logical explanation of certain sensory phenomena.

The problem with using someone else as "your eyes" is that you've got to trust what they are telling you. It really is what I call the "prophet problem". The prophet claims to see stuff other people can't. How can we tell if he is telling the truth?

Southern Cross said...

This is a nice coincidence! I have just posted an article regarding optimism, pure reason and meliorism where I expatiate on the same topic, including knowledge. You are quite right: faith and ethical truths are the very pillars that support conservatism.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Southern Cross.

You are quite right: faith and ethical truths are the very pillars that support conservatism.

That's a very good post.

What's perhaps more important than the recognition of faith and ethical truths is the realisation is that there is a "plane of reality" in which these things can exist. The great faiths of humanity all share this view. It's the atheist man which who is the aberration.

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like a reformulation of Maritain's concept of "poetic knowledge".

Southern Cross said...

You are quite right, and atheism has become an awful plague in the contemporary West. I forwarded your article to friends, although they are stalwart atheists, I hope it will shake their intellectual foundations. They cringed when I mentioned sin in my own article regarding meliorism, pure reason and optimism. However, I feel I am wasting my time with them.

Anonymous Protestant said...

Expanding on the concept of X-rays, I offer up the cellular telephone. Here we have an object that emits voices. A box that talks! How does it do that? Ask any number of people in virtually any walk of life, and they'll give some vague answer involving a thing called a "radio wave".

Has anyone ever seen a radio wave? No. Heard one? Felt one? Tasted one? Smelled one? No, no, no and no.

Yet materialists will confidently assert that we are all surrounded, constantly, by these things that we cannot see, hear, or touch. How is it that a materialist believes in the existence of something he cannot sense?

Why, it's easy, they'll say, using any of several methods radio waves can be detected. And it is true, the humble crystal radio set will bring voices out of the air with a simple speaker, a whole lot of wire and a chunk of a certain rock. However, listening to an AM radio broadcast is not the same thing as actually seeing/hearing/feeling radio waves.

It is, in fact, sensing the effect of the action of radio waves.

Got that? Our materialist friends have faith that radio waves exist, because they can hear or see the effects of radio waves, a second order phenomenon.

Meanwhile, they scoff at the believer's faith in God, a faith that is predicated upon -- the effects of God in the visible, sensible, world.

Robert Brockman said...

If one can "observe the effects" of some entity in any somewhat systematic way, then the entity is inside the "sense barrier" you mention. Note that lots of abstractions are used in this process: the idea of "radio waves" is basically a theory that predicts the behavior of many of our gadgets.

What makes electromagnetic theory so useful is that its predictive power is so great that we can develop very advanced technology based on it.

Note that the major religions make lots and lots of empirical claims. Many of these claims are about ethics, and can be stated in this form: "If you live your life according to principle X, statistically life will be happier / less unpleasant for you and everyone else." Verifying these claims isn't all that difficult. My personal suspicion is that atheists like Same Harris will eventually absorb these sorts of ethics into psychology / neuroscience, although this process will take quite some time.


Where atheists tend to get sloppy is in failing to take into account the second order effects of some religious behaviors.

Take Catholic Communion, for example. The first thing that an atheist will observe about this behavior is that it is a form of ritual vampiric zombie cannibalism. Atheists have a systematic cultural bias against blood drinking, eating the flesh of the risen dead, etc. Atheists also note that transubstantiation has never been observed in the lab, and that many people have been killed for questioning this theory. At this point Dawkins, Harris, etc. conclude that the billion or so people who engage in this ritual are suffering from a severe mental illness that needs some form of treatment.

What the atheists have failed to consider is that the ritual may have empirically observable effects that are extremely beneficial, and that these effects may have very little to do with the (highly questionable) line of reasoning used by the religious authorities to convince the faithful (who are not atheist scientists) to engage in the practice.

I suspect that something similar can be said for most extremely popular religious practices that seem to be based on non-disprovable ideas or easily demonstrable silliness. Probably engaging in these beliefs and practices has some positive survival value which might or might not be related to their scientific truth.

Robert Brockman said...

If one can "observe the effects" of some entity in any somewhat systematic way, then the entity is inside the "sense barrier" you mention. Note that lots of abstractions are used in this process: the idea of "radio waves" is basically a theory that predicts the behavior of many of our gadgets.

What makes electromagnetic theory so useful is that its predictive power is so great that we can develop very advanced technology based on it.

Note that the major religions make lots and lots of empirical claims. Many of these claims are about ethics, and can be stated in this form: "If you live your life according to principle X, statistically life will be happier / less unpleasant for you and everyone else." Verifying these claims isn't all that difficult. My personal suspicion is that atheists like Same Harris will eventually absorb these sorts of ethics into psychology / neuroscience, although this process will take quite some time.


Where atheists tend to get sloppy is in failing to take into account the second order effects of some religious behaviors.

Take Catholic Communion, for example. The first thing that an atheist will observe about this behavior is that it is a form of ritual vampiric zombie cannibalism. Atheists have a systematic cultural bias against blood drinking, eating the flesh of the risen dead, etc. Atheists also note that transubstantiation has never been observed in the lab, and that many people have been killed for questioning this theory. At this point Dawkins, Harris, etc. conclude that the billion or so people who engage in this ritual are suffering from a severe mental illness that needs some form of treatment.

What the atheists have failed to consider is that the ritual may have empirically observable effects that are extremely beneficial, and that these effects may have very little to do with the (highly questionable) line of reasoning used by the religious authorities to convince the faithful (who are not atheist scientists) to engage in the practice.

I suspect that something similar can be said for most extremely popular religious practices that seem to be based on non-disprovable ideas or easily demonstrable silliness. Probably engaging in these beliefs and practices has some positive survival value which might or might not be related to their scientific truth.

Robert Brockman said...

If one can "observe the effects" of some entity in any somewhat systematic way, then the entity is inside the "sense barrier" you mention. Note that lots of abstractions are used in this process: the idea of "radio waves" is basically a theory that predicts the behavior of many of our gadgets.

What makes electromagnetic theory so useful is that its predictive power is so great that we can develop very advanced technology based on it.

Note that the major religions make lots and lots of empirical claims. Many of these claims are about ethics, and can be stated in this form: "If you live your life according to principle X, statistically life will be happier / less unpleasant for you and everyone else." Verifying these claims isn't all that difficult. My personal suspicion is that atheists like Same Harris will eventually absorb these sorts of ethics into psychology / neuroscience, although this process will take quite some time.


Where atheists tend to get sloppy is in failing to take into account the second order effects of some religious behaviors.

Take Catholic Communion, for example. The first thing that an atheist will observe about this behavior is that it is a form of ritual vampiric zombie cannibalism. Atheists have a systematic cultural bias against blood drinking, eating the flesh of the risen dead, etc. Atheists also note that transubstantiation has never been observed in the lab, and that many people have been killed for questioning this theory. At this point Dawkins, Harris, etc. conclude that the billion or so people who engage in this ritual are suffering from a severe mental illness that needs some form of treatment.

What the atheists have failed to consider is that the ritual may have empirically observable effects that are extremely beneficial, and that these effects may have very little to do with the (highly questionable) line of reasoning used by the religious authorities to convince the faithful (who are not atheist scientists) to engage in the practice.

I suspect that something similar can be said for most extremely popular religious practices that seem to be based on non-disprovable ideas or easily demonstrable silliness. Probably engaging in these beliefs and practices has some positive survival value which might or might not be related to their scientific truth.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Southern Cross.

Thanks for the kind comments. I know it can sometimes feel hopeless convincing others of the validity of conservatism, but I guess we just have to plug at it. I think it's important to put these thoughts and ideas out there onto a public forum, as the mainstream media certainly isn't doing it. I'm quite surprised at the number of people who think I've got something of value to say.

The Social Pathologist said...

@AP.

You are quite right, a lot of scientific knowledge is a second order phenomenon. However, I don't think that radio waves are articles of faith, so to speak, rather more an intellectually consistent explanation for disparate sensory perceptions.

The point being, is that "stuff" exists by logical necessity even if not directly sensed. The problem though, is this this second order knowledge is contingent on the senses, it still really isn't faith.

In someone who is sense limited, then clearly the amount of derived (second order knowledge) is also going to be limited. It would be very hard to prove the existence of electromagnetic radiation without the faculty of sight since electromagnetic theory was the distilled product of many varied observations, physically seen.

What I suppose I'm trying to say is that faith, is not so much a logical explanation, rather a cognitive "perception of reality", faith is almost another "sense". ( I've been busy lately and that's why I have not put up a post on this subject yet.)

The Social Pathologist said...

@Robert Brockmann

Thanks for the comments.

Probably engaging in these beliefs and practices has some positive survival value which might or might not be related to their scientific truth.

The other explanation is that the beliefs and practices may be grounded in some reality concerning the human condition. It may be that the empiricists are "blinded" by their own dogma and are hence unable to see the sense behind the practice.

For the record, I'm not a big believer in the Evo-bio explanations of many things. Though, to their credit, they don't shy away from politically incorrect truths. It's not their data that I contest it's their explanations for it.

Take beauty for instance. The evo bio crowd asserts that its existence confers some survival advantage; as does every other trait that exists. There are more sub-beautiful people who exist than beautiful ones, ergo, not being beautiful confers a survival advantage. See the problem?

M. Simon said...

Faith is for people with no connection to the Head Office.

And how do you get that connection? Shut up and listen.

BTW I hate organized religion with a passion. From what I see you mostly have people with no connection to the head office (they get the forms and lingo right) instructing others with no connection. The blind leading the blind.

Occasionally you get a Joyce Meyer. Mostly you get con artists.

I just LOVE Joyce. And I'm not even a little bit Christian (in the religious sense).

M. Simon said...

PT,

I made that very point in a comment to another post. Spot on.

BTW I differ on Free Trade. It is conservative. You trade with those you can make a deal with. Otherwise you can only make deals with those who are approved. A LOT of corruption possible with the requirement of government approval. See: FDA.

=====

I don't have faith in sin as a concept. There are only learning opportunities.

I have intentionally committed what many regard as sin. And yet those "sins" proved greatly helpful to me. I learned things necessary to me much later. And when I was "sinning" I had no idea that they would prove of later use.

Eternal truths? They are very few and far between. Do you wear cotton and polyester garments? Well that is a sin. Eat shellfish? That is a sin. Eat pork? That is a sin. At least according to one very old book that many Westerners seem to revere as "eternal truth". Of course the mental gymnastics required to reconcile the "sin" with the "eternal truth" are most amusing. I guess faith is required.

=====

The plague of atheism is due almost totally to the corruption of our religious institutions.

Some people know a con when they experience it. Others have faith in the con men and miss the con.

====

It is too bad the Grateful Dead are no longer touring. I took a friend who was in no way religious and thought the Catholic Church was one of the biggest cons going to a Dead concert (he was not particularly fond of their music but he was open) and he was raving afterwards about the religious experience he had. God's very own band in my estimation.

M. Simon said...

The biggest mistake the West has made in terms of spirituality is in outlawing psychedelic drugs. The surest way to a religious experience in a weekend.

Of course the spirituality developed may not have been of the churchy kind. Which is why the churches acted out of fear. The corrupt organizations that they are. The church wants followers - those in direct contact have no use for churches. Churches are for seekers. Finders don't need them. So the church wants a few finders. Just to keep the Ponzi scheme going. Too many finders and they are out of business.

Had the church embraced the sacraments offered we would be in a much more Godly age.

It is funny hearing of the decline in spituality in the West when our churches and governments are so dead set against a method that would work well for our hurried age. Unless of course you are a Native American. Then those kinds of sacraments are fine. Traditional in fact. Hypocrisy any one?

But I understand your fear. You want your spirituality the way the church presents it. Not as the Maker offers.

Ah. Well. When the current generation dies off the error will probably get corrected. I only hope it is soon enough.