Sunday, October 29, 2023

Epistemology's meaning is meaningless without Reality - You keep using that word 2

In the previous post I pointed out that despite what the Textbooks, encyclopedias, dictionaries, and Wiki's, would have you believe, Epistemology is not an ancient term for an equally ancient '4th Branch of Philosophy' that 'all the greats of philosophy' have contributed to, but is instead a term coined by a Scotsmen in the mid 1800s, that aided in legitimizing that equally modern '4th branch' which there was no need for in premodern philosophy. Both term & branch have served as a useful means of injecting modernity's numerous mind-numbing innovations into the field of philosophy, while at the same time steering people away from the premodern view, which first and foremost saw philosophy as an intellectual means of looking at the world from a perspective that began with wonder:
"...It is through wonder that men now begin and originally began to philosophize; wondering in the first place at obvious perplexities, and then by gradual progression raising questions about the greater matters too..."
, which also taught that how to avoid becoming lost in wonder, was by consciously grappling with identifying what they found to be real and true, in both theory and practice:
"It is right also to say that philosophy should be called knowledge of the truth. For the end of theoretical knowledge is truth, while that of practical knowledge is action..."
Philosophizing for premoderns entailed using metaphysics, logic, and ethics, to identify and verify what you'd come to understand - whether that was that something that was timelessly true, or technologically effective - and how best to communicate to others that those beliefs were justifiable, and why, and what - if anything - should be done about that. IOW, for two thousand years 'doing philosophy' had included doing in practice at each step, what the modernists wouldn't coin the word 'epistemology' for, until the mid 1800s.

Modernists, OTOH, having begun by denying that we can know what is real and true, have used the meaning of the word as a deceptive cover, while the system behind it condemned 'philosophy' to being learned through textbooks, each securely wrapped up in the specialized technical jargon of various subfields, which typically rationalized whichever ideological positions of the moment - 'Standpoint Epistemology', 'Epistemology of Ignorance', 'Social Epistemology', etc., - seemed best suited to serving the greater good of that moment in time, without reference to what is 'real and true' across time.

The typical reaction of those who've only encountered what the modernists call 'philosophy' in school, is that they have no intention of bothering further with philosophy at all, but no matter how understandable that reaction is, that particular 'good intention' is one that's paved many a private road to Hell, as it immediately puts you at odds with the reality of what and who you are as a human being. Like it or not, no one has a choice about whether or not they will have a philosophy: you already have one! Whether you're a drug addict, a working stiff, student or professor, it is an inescapable part of the identity of being human. The only choice that is open to you, is whether you'll have a sound and coherent philosophy that orders and serves your life, or an unconscious mishmash of contradictory notions that is more likely to benefit those seeking to exercise power over you for their own ends.

Even those who have no burning interest in philosophy - and most don't - should still have a grasp of its basics and the common pitfalls to watch out for, just as those who have no burning interest in mathematics, should still be familiar with the basics of arithmetic, multiplication & division, and know some 'gotcha!'s like not to divide by zero, especially as the consequences of miscalculating your ability to pay your bills, is nowhere near as consequential as those philosophical errors that can easily hamper your ability to live your life well, gut your life of meaning, and even bring your society to ruin.

The good news is that it doesn't take a lot of effort to learn what you need to know, or to recognize the philosophical pitfalls & poisons lurking around us in the modern world today. In fact, even briefly hitting the highlights of what was recently covered here across several posts, would help with putting your own sense of wonder back on solid ground, as with just a little watering of attention to the essentials will take root and develop, if you only habituate yourself to consciously and actively asking and answering three simple questions:
  1. 'What is this?', (metaphysics)
  2. 'How do I know that is real and true? (Logic)' ,
  3. 'What, if anything, should I do about that? (Ethics)
It's of course not possible to detail all of metaphysics, let alone philosophy, in a single post, or even a series of them, but the greater point is that there's no need to, for anyone who honestly pursues those three questions towards what is real and true, is philosophizing, and is already 'doing' epistemology as it should be done, and anyone doing so will benefit from the confidence of knowing that they have some justification for what they believe - not just because they say 'I believe!', but because they've developed an understanding of what they know and how they know it, and how to respond accordingly, while progressively freeing their lives from the vagaries and falsehoods which have accreted over the West during the last four centuries of the modern era.

You could start on your own with those three questions and be far ahead of those who don't do even that, but there are a number of enticingly false trails that've ensnared and consumed the time of many truly great minds who've pursued those questions before you; or instead, giving your consideration to these highlights will reveal them and the ways they found around the more obvious detours, exits, traps and dead-ends, that lay in wait for you, and spare yourself the same trouble. Doing so will not only give you access to their wisdom & experience, it'll also reveal to you the enormous state of confusion, and the many mis-directions that the modernists have injected into the daily assumptions surrounding us in our world today, and so help you to disentangle your own thoughts from them.

To begin a 'quick' (well, quicker than seven posts) review of those highlights, we'll begin at the beginning with The Three Acts of the Mind:
First Act: Apprehend (Understand) - We open our eyes, and whether seeing something for the first time, or understand that we know it by name, a Rock for instance, we apprehend it, conceptualize, identify it
Second Act: Judgment - The act of mind which combines or separates two terms by affirmation or denial. 'Rock is hard' is a judgment
Third Act: Reasoning - From our observations and judgments, we move towards further conclusions and applications of them. 'As rocks are hard, I should avoid striking my toe against them.'
We're always performing these three acts of the mind, and no matter whether we do so well or poorly, the human mind, the 'difference engine' as it's sometimes been called, is constantly, naturally, observing and making distinctions between one thing and another, making a judgment about those differences and what to do about them. No matter what continent or age he's lived in, man has naturally been able to engage with and dominate his environment, by performing those Three Acts of the Mind - even though he mostly did so with no awareness of what that process was, or entailed.

The first to notably begin paying conscious attention to the process of reasoning were the Greeks, and the first of them to begin trying to methodically identify and clarify what our words referred to, and whether or not what they were leading us towards, was, or could be true, was Socrates. He famously put his Socratic method to use by publicly questioning the leading voices in Athens who claimed to know something of the reality behind the popular assumptions of his time - what was meant by Good, Virtue, Piety, Justice, Power - and revealed that all too often the primary concerns of those leaders were for how those assumptions could be used to their own social and political benefit while ensnaring their audiences through them, rather than communicating something real and true with them.

Despite Socrates being put to death for practicing it, his Socratic method of reasoning (what he called the 'Dialectic', is not like what goes by that name today) caught on and was spread by followers of his like Plato, and by Plato's own student, Aristotle, who further refined their methods into a system of requirements, rules, and common errors to be watched out for when doing so, which were applicable not only to questioning members of society, but also to examining the world around us through what would become the framework for biology, physics, the arts and more.

The fundamental principle that was at the root of the entire system, was what Aristotle called the first rule of thought:
- that a thing cannot both be, and not be, in the same manner and context;
, and that understanding that contradictions cannot exist, was the cornerstone which Aristotle built his system upon, and it's been the distinction that truly has made the difference between what would become The West, and all of the rest - and is what Modernity has been targeting since its inception (that is what's being targeted by the nonsense of saying that a man can become a woman).

How to validate, communicate, study, and argue for what is true for all, within the reality we all share, begins with identifying the three different forms of knowledge which we come to know that through:
  • Empeiría/Epistemé - often translated as only one word or the other, what we call Empirical, refers to the facts and data of experience, while Epistemé refers to the principled methods of Science;
  • Tékhne - what we today call Technology, is the “art” or “technique” of putting the facts and data of experience to use;
  • Sophía - Wisdom (Philosophy, philo-Sophia, being the love of wisdom) goes deeper and sees farther into how to turn the experiences and arts of living, towards taking those actions that make lives worth living
Lacking those distinctions implicitly degrades the depth & quality of what you know to a flat 'if you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail' view of knowledge and what it might be useful for, whereas an awareness of those distinctions in what you know, allows depth and dimension to your understanding and inclines you towards a more 'well rounded' education.

The philosophical awareness that reality is the basis of what we're able to recognize as being true, and that truth is the measure of what is good, provides an ever-clearer sense of man's place within the world, and in practice reveals those otherwise unseen relationships which surround and incorporate us all within what is real and true.

Coincidentally (not!) that same philosophical awareness of reality is what the modernist's misosophy (hatred of wisdom) seeks to divorce you from. How? Think about what is happening within and to a person's thoughts when they advance any of the positions plucked from the bitter fruits of modernity, such as:
That may be your truth but it's not my truth
, for while a person may have their own opinion, they cannot have their own Truth, yet in the act of expressing the idea that they can, a person is denying their own ability to share their thoughts and understanding with another person - and they with them - which is isolating 'their' realities from each other. If taken seriously, that'd mean that they'd be unable to discuss with anyone else what they meant by even their own statement's words of 'that', or 'my', let alone by 'truth' - how could they, if truth is not what we have or even can have, in common? If what is objectively true is not accessible to all, then any and every thought and statement of yours would be rendered fully and completely meaningless to others and to yourself, and could not be otherwise.

You might say "Well, but they don't really believe that", but that means that they've consciously advanced a lie at the center of their mind to achieve surreptitious ends, and how could that not accomplish the very same thing? Such modernisms disengage your sense of self from the world, and deprive you of being able to trust in your fellows - what can trust be without Truth?! - and puts you in opposition to what is real and true, separating each person's words and concepts from what they refer to, ultimately rendering the intelligible world, intelligence, and the logos, into little more than meaningless sounds to be parroted as verbal tricks. Those who've been taught such modernisms, have been cast adrift in their own private chaos (see Sartre who embraced that chaos as the ideals of existentialism).

Not only are all such beliefs necessarily chaotic, but their inconsistencies and contradictions are also almost comical to listen to, as "That may be your truth but it's not my truth" is itself declaring a universal truth while claiming that truth can't be universally known, just as the claim that "No one can know anything!", is itself a claim to know something! Or how about this oh-so Modernist gem:
'Reason can't be trusted!'
, oh... ok, so how and with what did you come to that conclusion? Yep, that's right! You used your REASON to conclude that 'reason can't be trusted', which means, 1st, you shouldn't trust yourself, and 2nd I'm not going to trust you either. Good lord. The attentive listener who's unwilling to be diverted from what they can observe to be real and true, shouldn't hesitate to show how embarrassingly self-refuting and at odds with reality such statements are (see Retortion).

Failings such as these were as obvious and applicable to the sophists of Aristotle's time, as they are to the skeptics of our own, and the reality is that they have no choice but to implicitly, and often explicitly, utilize every aspect of what they're so dramatically denying, in order to deny them! Not for no reason did Aristotle note that if a skeptic actually took their own positions seriously, they'd have to close their mouths, and sit down to await their deaths, motionlessly & silently, since,
"...But if all are alike both wrong and right, one who is in this condition will not be able either to speak or to say anything intelligible; for he says at the same time both 'yes' and 'no.' And if he makes no judgement but 'thinks' and 'does not think', indifferently, what difference will there be between him and a vegetable?..."
The awareness that there is something to know, and that it cannot both be and not be at the same time and context, leads to noticing not only those distinctions between the forms of knowledge we can have of that, but also that there is a distinctive pattern to how we act upon our knowledge, which Aristotle illustrated as the Four Causes:
  1. the Material Cause: “that out of which”, e.g., bronze is what a statue is made out of.
  2. the Formal Cause: “the form”, “the account of what-it-is-to-be”, e.g., the shape of a statue.
  3. the Efficient Cause: “the primary source of the change or rest”, e.g., the artisan, the art of bronze-casting the statue, the man who gives advice, the father of the child.
  4. the Final Cause: “the end, that for the sake of which a thing is done”, what the aim is of commissioning a bronze statue to enhance a park setting;
, by developing the habit of looking deeper into the nature of causation than only the shallowest of surface appearances, you'll be more aware of where you are in the world, more informed about what it is you are observing, and less mystified about what's going on around you - in short, an attention to causation, causes you to have a more thorough understanding of what you know matters to you.

In matters of material causation, the same principle applies, in that the deeper understanding we have of the identity of what something is, the better we'll be able to understand how it changes with the circumstances of its present context which determines its Actuality and Potentiality to change (the example given previously, Baking Soda and Vinegar cause a very different reaction, than when Baking Soda is combined in a cake mix), in that 'change' is what results from being in sufficient proximity with what something else is - IOW, Causation is Identity in action (and interaction).

That attention to what is, how we know it, and what is caused by that, reveals that whatever the sophist and skeptic might say about how seriously they take their own positions and inconsistencies, if they acted on them consistently - from crossing the street without looking, to disregarding 'too rigid' warnings on powerful medications - they'd soon be dead, and yet their shadowy inconsistencies are effective at ensnaring popular opinion, and the power & influence which that leads to, is what they do take seriously. Likewise, then as now, while Sophists are unconcerned about the weaknesses of their claims, in having turned away from the pursuit of truth (a wrong turn which modernity's off-ramp of 'epistemology' has detoured generations of students with), they thrive on the confusion which naturally spreads out through mishandling concepts of identity, causation, and change, easily inflames popular passions through whatever it is that is the 'Irritant of the Day' - as has happened from the Persians of Socrates' day, to the 'economics' of Marx's, and down to the global warming of today - giving them easier access to the levers of power while further undermining popular norms, as sophists have excelled at doing since the time of Zeno's paradoxes (look up Achilles losing a race to a tortoise).

A fabricated doubt is a willfully arbitrary denial of reality which (if unchecked) progressively erodes ever larger swaths of your understanding, whereas a naturally arising doubt indicates a gap in your knowledge which prompts your asking questions to improve and enlarge your understanding.
It was through the indirect route of causation, that modernity's first skeptic of note, David Hume, launched his attacks upon our ability to know what is real and true, and with a big assist from Descartes' 'method', he struck through our only implicit understanding of Causation, by fabricating arbitrary doubts about our ability to know what causes anything at all to happen. His assertion was that what we mistakenly take for being knowledge of cause and effect, is really nothing more than our naively associating what we see happening in sequence - 'contiguously in time' - which is all just 'one damn thing after another'. Hume, who was a nominalist (believing that words are arbitrary labels which convey no real understanding) and an empiricist (only measurable facts matter), asked if anyone had actually ever seen a 'cause', or do we simply first see one billiard ball rolling into another, and then on seeing the 2nd billiard ball rolling away, we assume that the one caused the other...riiight?

Hume answered his own question, declaring that:
"I look for an object of 'causation' and I do not see it"
, and so following other such doubts concluded that if 'causation' is not a physically detectable feature like a fissure or a bump, then it doesn't 'exist'; there is 'no causation', only happenstance, and when we say that striking a billiard ball will cause it to roll, we don't actually know that striking it will cause that, we only say so because it's happened that way in the past, and we have no way of knowing that it'll ever happen that way again. Meaning that having no knowledge of identity (which was his real target), and so we can have no meaningful knowledge of what a billiard ball is, or what causes it to move when struck by another, let alone what might cause the sun to rise, or iron to rust - all we can know are memories (which are...?) of past facts (, and though those are mysteriously useful in gambling on what'll happen in the future, that 'fact' can only be an uncertain guess, a probability, not a 'truth'.

Ironically, for an 'empiricist', such sentiments are only possible by evading the evidence of his own senses. That Hume willfully evaded seeing this, we can easily see from his own words which make plain that he is making use of his own ability to perceive and conceive of what is real and true, in order to deny his own ability to perceive and conceive of what is real and true. Right? What, after all, is a memory? What is a 'fact'? Is a fact a tangible 'thing' (no, it is our conception of a tangible thing, in the context of other facts) that exists, and if not, how are you speaking of it? How do empirical 'facts' get into memory? How are such things committed to and recalled from our mind, except by some form of causation that's necessarily formless in nature, and which in considering it, conveys what knowledge you have of it, knowledge that can be added to, examined, and verified? Sorry Hume, but you cannot deny metaphysics, causality, and knowledge, while making use of metaphysics, causality, and knowledge, in order to deny metaphysics, causality, and knowledge - not to mention doing so with the appearance of a logical argument when logic also depends upon all three (more on that in the next post).

Hume's ultimate target was not causation, but identity, and especially the responsibility that recognizing both entails, in that upon his asserting his conclusion that any metaphysical, moral, or ethical teachings, are but reckless conjectures which Hume advised readers to 'Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion', and why wouldn't he, since he claimed that on having gone in search of his 'self' he came up empty, and remarked:
"When I turn my reflection on myself, I never can perceive this self without some one or more perceptions; nor can I ever perceive any thing but the perceptions"
, and Hume likewise denied the self, the soul, and Free Will, he took that act of willful blindness in the face of reality to 'the next level', feigning blindness to the fact that that 'me' which he described those 'concrete mental acts' being given to, was the very self he denied the existence of.

His necessarily meaningless assertions to the contrary, Causation, is not a mysterious force, and there is no need to look for a separate object of 'causality' (which would do what exactly?), nor is there some sort of causal pixie dust that somehow evaded Hume's observations, there is only reality as it is, which is open to all who don't refuse to see, and identify what we can see.

Perhaps the best reply to such willful blindness comes from the response that Aristotle gave in his Physics to the Sophists of his time, who, like Hume, preferred to spin up their own mental notions which they 'thought' were somehow more preferable to the reality which they refused to see:
"... That nature exists, it would be absurd to try to prove; for it is obvious that there are many things of this kind, and to prove what is obvious by what is not is the mark of a man who is unable to distinguish what is self-evident from what is not..." [emphasis mine]
, but of course saying so to someone who refuses to see and hear and who denies the choice he made to do so, it would almost certainly be pointless, as such answers as those which Hume declared he was unable to find, in everything from his 'self', to causality, to knowledge, were and are easily found in the premodern metaphysics which he'd so actively evaded, and opposed, which as we'll see in coming posts, what the spark that escalated modernity's ongoing assault upon the Greco-Roman/Judeo-Christian West into open opposition to it.

When a child first sees the explosive reaction caused by adding baking soda to vinegar, he quickly grasps that something about adding the one to the other, causes that eruption - it doesn't just happen 'contiguously in time', no child would tolerate such a perverse evasion of causality.

And as innumerable ' volcano science projects' have demonstrated for more than a century, as the student's knowledge deepens into a more detailed understanding of the chemical identities of both substances involved, their earlier inference of being 'the cause' of the eruption, is contextually clarified, not invalidated, which is a process that will continue on down to their knowledge of what is happening at the subatomic level, where previous knowledge will be contextually sharpened, but not discarded.

Causation is Identity in action and interaction, and the better we understand the identity of something, the better we can predict what it might cause.
What we are able to know of the identity of what something is, tells us about how it will behave in action, and interaction, with its surroundings - what happens, happens because of the nature and substance of what it is, and in relation to what else is in its surroundings - subject and object exist in interaction and do not do so in isolation from each other, there is a causal relationship, and as our understanding of the nature of one identity improves, so does our understanding of what causes it to behave as it does in various contexts, with those of the planets orbiting around our sun, or of billiard balls striking each other, or of one substance changing into another as from iron to rust, or those detectable affects to our own disposition and character that are reliably caused by our own willingness or unwillingness to understand that what is real and true, matters.

When you deny that, as Hume did, you soon lose the ability to even recognize yourself. His blindness to them was a choice, made through the free will which he denied that he or we have, and was likely the result of a long and habitual rebellion against reality - outside and in - to the point of his having divorced himself from reality, inside and out. Sad. And modern Epistemology, which Kant formed in reaction to Hume (more on that in coming posts) - not by trying to correct his claim's errors, but by accepting his claims and extending them into a system that begins by denying our ability to know what is real, should be a non-starter for anyone concerned with what is real and true, as the meaning of the word 'Epistemology' is necessarily meaningless, without reality.

Summing up: It is what it is
Socrates, when asked about his new system and his role in it, had the humility and self-awareness to realize that ultimate wisdom was beyond the reach of man, but what we could and should do, was recognize its priceless value and the need to pursue it, which he called Philosophy, the love of wisdom.

Premodern philosophy's love of wisdom necessarily entails the pursuit of knowledge of what is objectively real and true, while always being aware of the possibility of being wrong or lacking important context, and engaging in that pursuit in that way leads us into a deeper understanding of ourselves, the world, and our place in it. Armed with the understanding that reality not only exists, but is worth knowing, and that knowing it is good, a society leads itself towards a flourishing level of education, the practice of science, and the development of technology that is beneficial to human life.

Two thousand years after Socrates' time, Hegel had no such sense of humility or any suspicion that he could be wrong, and convinced as he was that he already knew all that needed to be known, he concluded that he needn't pursue the wisdom he was sure he already had (conveniently he also pooh-poohed Aristotle's concern over contradictions), and all that he felt was left for him to do was to teach his wisdom to those who weren't too stupid to grasp it (an attitude which has been a 'tell' of those following in his misosophical footsteps to this day).

Modernity's doubtful certainties, lead only to false pretenses, anxiety, isolation, willful ignorance, and a regression to 'communicating' your desires through lies and the exercise of brute power and violence, while very likely devising and utilizing technologies suited to further those ends. The 'position' that we cannot know what is real and true, and that there is no issue with holding contradictory positions, is and should be beneath contempt, and that far from being the positions of a 'realistic skeptic', they are, at best, confessions of willful ignorance and intentional blindness in mind and spirit.

To reload our bullet points, how we come to understand anything, is through The Three Acts of the Mind:
First Act: Apprehend (Understand) - We open our eyes, and whether seeing something for the first time, or understand that we know it by name, a Rock for instance, we apprehend it, conceptualize, identify it
Second Act: Judgment - The act of mind which combines or separates two terms by affirmation or denial. 'Rock is hard' is a judgment
Third Act: Reasoning - From our observations and judgments, we move towards further conclusions and applications of them. 'As rocks are hard, I should avoid striking my toe against them.'
, and through conscious attention to how & what we think, we come to understand that:
  • Reality exists
  • What exists, exists as some thing, which is what it's Identity is derived from
  • In becoming aware of what exists, we become aware of our selves.
, and the more conscious we become of what we think and how, we are led to Aristotle's first rule of thought:
  • "...the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject and in the same respect..."
, through which we come to grasp the three forms of knowledge (Episteme, Techne, Wisdom), and a realization of the reality that what is real and true, is objectively true for all, and from that realization, by making the distinctions we naturally do, in a methodical manner, we come to a better understanding of Causality - in the context of man's actions it entails the Four Causes (the Material, Formal, Efficient, and Final Causes), and with material causation's Actual and Potential to change being determined by the Identity of those materials within a given context, in which causation is essentially what results from Identity in action and interaction, over which our knowledge enables us to act upon and understand the world around us and our place within it.

And one last point and peril to be aware of, is the crucial importance of recognizing the difference between a legitimate doubt that comes unbidden to your mind, and the artificial 'doubt' that modernity is intent upon your developing the conscious habit of inserting into your every thought.

These are the doubtful distinctions between a true doubt, and an arbitrarily fabricated 'doubt' of corrosive skepticism:
  • A true doubt, comes upon us unbidden from an unconscious understanding, and leads us to ask those questions which initiates the desire to identify and to relate to what else you know - Aristotle's "All men my nature desire to know" - and helps to form or clarify our understanding. Such naturally occurring doubts as those are valid and entirely desirable, and are the very antithesis of an arbitrary and consciously fabricated doubt.
  • An arbitrary doubt, is not a basis for thought, this Cartesian 'method' instead eradicates methodical thinking, and is erosive to reasoning, as it transforms what had been known, into further unknowable unknowns that unceasingly divides our knowledge and understanding, and straying down those paths will not lead a thinker to knowledge and wisdom, but only to their destruction - AKA: Critical Dialectic
The hard reality is that no part of metaphysics can be denied, without utilizing all of its other 'parts' to do so, and every attempt to do so affirms every part in an embarrassingly self-refuting manner (remember Retortion). Fortunately for us, knowing even only that much about what you are up against, gives the advantage of awareness which enables you to take notice of and so step around the epistemological booby traps that the modernists' have laid for us all, and so logically proceed on more securely within a world that truly is meaningful... next post.

No comments: