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The Nightstar Zoo • View topic - Logical Positivism made easy (I hope)

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 04, 2003 7:10 pm 
After this little exchange on the It's Walky forum and aftter talking about it and some theories on language on IRC, gwalla and I made a deal; I'd explain what I referring to if he would explain what he was talking about.

So here's my part. :P

Okay, just a little background...

Basically, within the history of philosophy of science in the West, there are some questions that have raised over and over for the past 2000+ years.

1. Empirical Evidence and Reasoning, how the two relate, and which should have more weight.
2. Appearance and Reality, and is there any objective truth outside of what we perceive (falls under Metaphysics)
3. How can we know anything? (falls under Epistemology)

Now, historically, the two main figures I would say are Plato and Aristotle. If your inclination is that deductive reasoning can get you where you need to go, and that there is some objective truth and there are ideals to which things conform to, then you lean towards Plato. If you lean more towards empiricism and more of a naturalistic view of the world, then you're with Aristotle.

And people went back and forth re-hashing variants of Plato and Aristotle in the Western world. I'll skip over Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume and go straight to Kant.

Kant's answer was to divide things up a bit. He said basically there are two questions that really need to be asked, but they tend to get muddle together. The first is how do we prove anything. He said there are two ways; experience (Synthetic) and without experience or logically (Analytic). The second is how do we come to know anything in the first place. Again, there is the way with after experience (A posteriori) and before experience (A priori).

Synthetic A posteriori is fairly simple. This is basically all of research science and most everything else you know. Not really interested in this.

Analytic A posteriori AFAIK is empty. We can skip it.

Now, Kant puts logic and definitions in the Analytic A priori group. Famous example of this is the definition of a bachelor. A bachelor is an unmarried male. You didn't learn this by encountering someone who said they were a bachelor and researching their personal life and finding that they were an unmarried male. Nor did you ever confirm things by hunting down bachelors and finding out that they are all unmarried males. It's a definition that you were told and knew without having to experience meeting a bachelor.

Okay, the interesting one is Synthetic A priori. This is basically stuff that you have before experience and everything you perceive more or less conforms to this stuff. In here Kant put Causality, Newtonian Physics, Space/Time, Euclidean Geometry and Arithmetic.

Now, the last two were the subject of much debate amongst Philosophers and Mathematicians, many who felt that Euclidean Geometry and Arithmetic deserved to really be Analytic A priori, and attempts where made (particularly with Arithmetic) to construct systems of mathematics based on logic and the axioms of set theory.

Which after another many, many, many years brings us to Logical Positivism.

By the by, Kant's system was dealt a major blow early in the 20th century with the introduction of Relativity and that the universe appeared to be non-Euclidean Geometry. Oops.

Okay, now for the actual logical positivist point of view... and this really simplified so if it sounds shaky, remember that atoms are not nice little lumps of balls with electrons rotating in nice circles, but it's what gets said cause it's a useful enough of a model sometimes to get a point across.

For the most part this is dealing with science, though you can apply the same type of reasoning to a wide variety of subjects. I personally find religious discussions make alot more sense and are less frustrating when view in the following manner.

Basically you start with what are called your conventions. This are the basic assumptions on which you base everything else (think axioms in mathematics or the very basic laws of physics). These conventions are not empirical in nature; they are adopted either because that's what you've been taught, or it be a conscious decision to chose them. In any case, its not like you've necessarily proved them or anything. They're, as the name implies, conventions. I'll come back to their truth later.

Now, these conventions form a framework. Within this framework is where you actually do stuff. For a positivist, all meaningful statements are either true or false within your framework, and the truth value is determined how it relates to the rest of the framework. You can test empirical by whatever means has been determined based on your conventions, or you can just look at things logically. Either way, it's still within the framework.

A few weeks a gave a bit of an incoherent summary of how science works here.

Back to the truth of the conventions... you can't say anything about whether or not the conventions correspond to any truth from the framework. Don't quote me on this, but I think this is bit of the fallout from Gödel. In any case a statement from within about the system on a whole is meaningless. To say anything about the conventions you've adopted, you gotta move to a meta-framework. But then you got the same problem: why do you have the meta-framework? So its you end up with a bit of an infinite regress.

On appearance and reality... those who base everything on appearance are phenomenonalists, those who are adamant in finding what's "really 'real'" are realists. A positivist is usually said to be a former. Basically the idea is that all we really have is what effects things have on us, and, in effect, what more can really be said about somethings ultimate nature other than its effects? Beyond that, saying "really 'real'" is also fairly meaningless. Reality is based mostly on how things fit in your framework.

Okay, thats enough to digest for now. Also that's all thats coming to mind. If I think of more later I'll add.

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 04, 2003 9:05 pm 

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PostPosted: Thu Dec 04, 2003 11:41 pm 
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PostPosted: Fri Dec 05, 2003 12:51 am 

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