Rationalism vs Empiricism

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Reply Thu 24 Sep, 2009 12:44 am
As we already know this thread is nothing new, but I am basically making this thread in hopes of getting the formal debates section finished sooner than later. Maybe this will spark some much needed energy to finish the project? Who knows, but its worth a shot. Anyways, put what you personally think is more superior in regards to gaining knowledge and why. I'll start...

Empiricism is better because a priori knowledge inherently depends on experience as a prerequisite.

Obviously, a one sentence argument should be seen as quite ironic in a thread trying to initiate formal debates but whatev, I'm tired, so sue me. Wink Besides, if there are a significant amount of replies written thoroughly then maybe those who are making the formal debate section will see this as a statement that the community eagerly awaits its completion.


:wheelchair: Gods speed...
 
RDanneskjld
 
Reply Thu 24 Sep, 2009 05:35 am
@Kielicious,
I believe your arguement is correct if your talking about synthetic a priori knowledge which in my personal opinion doesnt exist as such with all a priori knowledge being of the analytic kind. Though the whole analytic - synthetic distinction has been thrown into question by Quine, but I feel the distinction should be maintained in some way.

Empiricism provides us with the best knowledge of the world and those who think that knowledge can be gained soley from abstracted logical arguements or meditation are sorely mistaken. Though it is important to realise that Empiricism doesnt function totally on it's on. For example Popper pointed out how many metaphysical statements that could not be based on experience came to be science once they could be tested, a good example is Democritus and his Atomic hypothesis which is shockingly accurate.

So I would not wish to throw away Rationalism totally but rather not rely on it as a source of knowledge until it can be empirically verified. The other important thing is to recognise that Rationalism will not provide us with knowledge which is somehow superior or transcending the world of experience.
 
Kielicious
 
Reply Thu 24 Sep, 2009 02:29 pm
@RDanneskjld,
Good stuff R. Danneskjold.

I hope more people reply, but perhaps the majority arent wanting formal debates?

I hope that isnt the case...
 
ahmedjbh
 
Reply Thu 24 Sep, 2009 02:41 pm
@Kielicious,
be patient my friend, this kind of discussion is best to be had at a relaxed, considered pace.

I am just looking through some of my book collection now before i write anything (and make myself look stupid)
 
prothero
 
Reply Fri 25 Sep, 2009 12:33 am
@RDanneskjld,
R.Danneskjöld;93269 wrote:
Empiricism provides us with the best knowledge of the world and those who think that knowledge can be gained soley from abstracted logical arguements or meditation are sorely mistaken. Though it is important to realise that Empiricism doesnt function totally on it's on. For example Popper pointed out how many metaphysical statements that could not be based on experience came to be science once they could be tested, a good example is Democritus and his Atomic hypothesis which is shockingly accurate.

So I would not wish to throw away Rationalism totally but rather not rely on it as a source of knowledge until it can be empirically verified. The other important thing is to recognise that Rationalism will not provide us with knowledge which is somehow superior or transcending the world of experience.
A lot of scientific breakthroughs seem to be the result of creative, imaginative,intuitive almost artistic thinking. Often they are only later empirically verified. Einsteins theory of relaitivity was based more on thought experiments than on empirical date in fact the theory was not empirically verified until years after its formulation.

Many systems of theorectical mathematics have later found real world applications and become "applied mathematics" years or decades later.

The ultimate test of "truth" is correspondence but as many advances have been the result of reason as of empiricism and reason has often led the way.

Ideas pulled from speculative philosophy have often been the forerunners of scientific breakthroughs.
 
Khethil
 
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 04:43 am
@Kielicious,
Kielicious;93240 wrote:
Empiricism is better because a priori knowledge inherently depends on experience as a prerequisite.


Well, I'd be a poor debate opponent on this since I happen to agree with you; that if I had to choose one or the other that was better, it'd be empiricism. But I think like many - I'd guess - that they both play an important part
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 09:48 am
@prothero,
prothero;93462 wrote:
A lot of scientific breakthroughs seem to be the result of creative, imaginative,intuitive almost artistic thinking. Often they are only later empirically verified. Einsteins theory of relaitivity was based more on thought experiments than on empirical date in fact the theory was not empirically verified until years after its formulation.

Many systems of theorectical mathematics have later found real world applications and become "applied mathematics" years or decades later.

The ultimate test of "truth" is correspondence but as many advances have been the result of reason as of empiricism and reason has often led the way.

Ideas pulled from speculative philosophy have often been the forerunners of scientific breakthroughs.



How we arrive at the hypotheses we arrive at, is not a matter of logic. So far as I know, there is no logic of discovery. But it is different for how we can confirm hypotheses, and choose among rival hypotheses. There, we have a logic of confirmation. But we do have to distinguish between the ideas of discovery and confirmation.

---------- Post added 09-26-2009 at 11:57 AM ----------

Khethil;93707 wrote:
Well, I'd be a poor debate opponent on this since I happen to agree with you; that if I had to choose one or the other that was better, it'd be empiricism. But I think like many - I'd guess - that they both play an important part



That is true. We gain our data empirically, and we sort it out by a priori methods, e.g mathematics and logic.
As Kant said, "Concepts without percepts are empty, but percepts without concepts are blind".
 
NoOne phil
 
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 10:00 am
@Kielicious,
I think that whole thing is absurd to begin with. Since language is only possible via a convention of names, and a convention of names relies on shared experience, and since predication is the inverse function of abstraction, what follows is a revelation of so much bs in what is said concerning these two topics, and countless more, that only someone who microwaves their hair to dry would consider anything other than pity and ridicule for those who engage in it.

One of the most simple minded methods of pitting a mind against itself is to believe that words in a language can divide truth which can be obtained between language and reality. The division has never been in the language, but in one's ability to weild it.

A thing is not different from itself. A = A. THIS INCLUDES LANGUAGE. Therefore language cannot be used to make a difference in language. A statement is simply true or false, and what makes it true or false is if or if not it complies with conventions of the language. The most basic convention is shared experience for the assignment of names to begin with. Words with no convention behind them do not comply with the principles of grammar.

These types of distincitions are an example of what is known in psychology as transference. Language is a craft, truth or lie results by one's ability as a craftsman. j.c.
j.c.
 
prothero
 
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 10:41 am
@kennethamy,
kennethamy;93731 wrote:
How we arrive at the hypotheses we arrive at, is not a matter of logic. So far as I know, there is no logic of discovery. But it is different for how we can confirm hypotheses, and choose among rival hypotheses. There, we have a logic of confirmation. But we do have to distinguish between the ideas of discovery and confirmation.

---------- Post added 09-26-2009 at 11:57 AM ----------




That is true. We gain our data empirically, and we sort it out by a priori methods, e.g mathematics and logic.
As Kant said, "Concepts without percepts are empty, but percepts without concepts are blind".


I guess I would view "reason" as the agent that acts and "empiricism" as the data that are "acted upon". The application of reason to empirical data is the backbone of science.

Reason however has many other applications including logic, mathematics, speculative philosophy, music, art and literature, ect.

So I would say reason is the more useful and primary tool. I would rather do without data than without reason.

I also think that the notion that empiricism leads to hypothesis is often not the case. The hypothesis is as often (perhaps more often) the result of speculative reason (imagination, intuition, creativity) and the confirmation or negation comes later. Still a vote for reason over data collection.
 
jgweed
 
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 11:11 am
@Kielicious,
But is it a case of a strict either/or here? Doesn't the Self contribute to its knowledge of reality by its activity in the world, and isn't a great part of this reality bound up closely with human meaning that we share with Others? A great part of the reality of the world already exists and we are thrown into it at birth, and must learn it as we begin to age.
If we begin with the Self and the World, and the interaction between them, don't we abandon both pure reason and pure empirical experience?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sat 26 Sep, 2009 11:28 am
@prothero,
prothero;93744 wrote:


I also think that the notion that empiricism leads to hypothesis is often not the case. The hypothesis is as often (perhaps more often) the result of speculative reason (imagination, intuition, creativity) and the confirmation or negation comes later. Still a vote for reason over data collection.


I did not say that reason leads to hypotheses. Indeed, I specifically denied that there was a logic of discovery. What I said is that reason is used to confirm hypotheses once those hypotheses are arrived at, however they are.

---------- Post added 09-26-2009 at 01:30 PM ----------

jgweed;93750 wrote:
But is it a case of a strict either/or here? Doesn't the Self contribute to its knowledge of reality by its activity in the world, and isn't a great part of this reality bound up closely with human meaning that we share with Others? A great part of the reality of the world already exists and we are thrown into it at birth, and must learn it as we begin to age.
If we begin with the Self and the World, and the interaction between them, don't we abandon both pure reason and pure empirical experience?


I have no opinion on what you said, because I do not understand what you said.
 
rhinogrey
 
Reply Sun 27 Sep, 2009 07:28 pm
@jgweed,
jgweed;93750 wrote:
But is it a case of a strict either/or here? Doesn't the Self contribute to its knowledge of reality by its activity in the world, and isn't a great part of this reality bound up closely with human meaning that we share with Others? A great part of the reality of the world already exists and we are thrown into it at birth, and must learn it as we begin to age.
If we begin with the Self and the World, and the interaction between them, don't we abandon both pure reason and pure empirical experience?


I would say that you're correct.

However in the same way we also abandon pure 'I' and pure 'Other.'
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Sat 3 Oct, 2009 04:46 am
@Kielicious,
Agree with above. There is no such thing as 'pure experience'. All experiences must be had by someone. A chimpanzee and a human can be exposed to the same stimuli and yet the nature of the experience will be completely different for both. As already noted, Einstein was able to make predictions on the basis of very little experience, which were not verified for decades afterwards. Besides, in an important sense, a human bears the 'experience' of thousands of generations via the collective memory, reasoning faculties, and other attributes without which no experience would make any sense whatever.

My reading of empiricism is that a great deal of it is aimed at maintaining a sense of normality. If empiricism means that only data that can be verified in the third person are regarded as real then it is a very powerful way for imposing the reality of consensus on the individual consciousness. It automatically precludes any operation of what the ancients knew as the higher intellect which was a source of knowledge that was only meaningful in the first person. We have shut a lot of that out in this culture which is why even though our culture seems very individualistic, in another sense it is one-dimensional exactly because it limits discourse to what anyone can see.
 
prothero
 
Reply Sat 3 Oct, 2009 11:51 am
@jeeprs,
I am getting a little confused by the terms here.

It seems to me that "experience" is neither reason nor empiricism. I think all "actual entities" have some form of direct experience.

It seems to me that empiricism involves the measurement or quanitification,collection of measurable or objective data.

Reason on the other hand can operate independently of either sensory perception or empiricism.

Reason can construct systems of theorectical mathematics for instance which are independent of either sense perception or empirical data. Reason is also involved in the formation of novel speculations in both science and philosophy. Reason can operate on empirical data or independent of it. Most serious rational speculations involve taking empirical data and facts fully into account but are not limited by them.

Sense perception and empiricism can not detect the interior functions of reason or the "direct experience" or other "entities". It is by analogy that we impute mental functions to other beings and creatures. Their direct experience is not available to us by objective measurement or scientific method. Non the less we "know" as surely as know anything, on the basis of our own "direct experience" and impute a similar experience to others.

There is no adequate material explanation for "direct experience" so the entertainment of ontologies other than materialism is rational even if not empirical.

In any event I fail to see how even the concept of "empiricism" is possible without antecedent reason. The ancient Greeks by reason speculated about atoms several centuries before there was any empirical evidence.
Such speculations may be seen as "brilliant deductions" or as "a silly waste of time" but they involve reason more than empiricism.
 
step314 phil
 
Reply Sat 3 Oct, 2009 12:05 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;94881 wrote:
If empiricism means that only data that can be verified in the third person are regarded as real then it is a very powerful way for imposing the reality of consensus on the individual consciousness. It automatically precludes any operation of what the ancients knew as the higher intellect which was a source of knowledge that was only meaningful in the first person. We have shut a lot of that out in this culture which is why even though our culture seems very individualistic, in another sense it is one-dimensional exactly because it limits discourse to what anyone can see.


This is a very good point. I think academia is largely to blame for the disdain culture mostly has for what Locke calls reflection, i.e., perception of what goes on in our own minds. There may be various techniques that one can learn to heighten internal perception, but basically reflection is cheap, it just takes the time and bother to carefully observe what is going on there. Going to class is counterproductive here because there is no class in what is unique to one's own self.


Psychology and philosophy could teach us much about our own true natures inasmuch as people are similar in how their emotions, minds, etc., operate, but mostly they fail to the extent they are defined as the consensus of academic disciplines. Because unselfish people value sensitivity greatly, tricking a person into thinking she is something she is not is very useful to those who want both to be selfish and to be unselfishly loved. Deceptive people are very effective at deceiving people as to their natures. It just isn't reasonable to suppose that if philosophy (or psychology) is given by a consensus, it won't mostly be dominated by the largely deceptive assertions that deceptive people find most convenient to make, because these fields study what deceptive people largely find it most convenient and necessary to lie about. What is needed is for philosophy and psychology to become more fractured. For instance, with respect to philosophy, if a philosopher or philosophy department doesn't appreciate a few philosophers while hating the majority, people should see it can't be worth much. Philosophers and their students need to be free to be oblivious and contemptuous to most philosophy, but my guess is that if a philosopher has contempt for most so-called philosophy, he and the department that hired him won't be respected much. The administrators probably won't hire people like that because it will decrease the ratings of their universities. Instead of giving degrees in philosophy, perhaps it would be better to give degrees in particular philosophers.


Kielicious;93240 wrote:

Empiricism is better because a priori knowledge inherently depends on experience as a prerequisite.


Yeah, well, empiricism also depends on experience as a prerequisite, so what is the point? I mean it is not like empiricism is the study of experience, just those experiences given (or which could be given) by sensation (and not reflection). But what of the same assertion with the word "sensation" replacing "experience" (a clearer way of putting things, in my opinion)? If you take empiricism to be the study of experience, it involves thinking about experiences, and thus is in a sense dependent and posterior to the rational. On the other hand, if you take empiricism to be the mere act of observing things, that's such a particular thing that in itself is a reason to think it not especially great. One could as well argue that studying the input/output controller hub of a computer is more noble than studying a computer because the latter depends on the former.

One of the main things that annoys me about philosophy is its treatment of Locke. Nowadays (e.g., look at the wikipedia entry on empiricism), Locke is blamed as the founder of British empiricism. You'd never know that the main genius of his epistemology comes from noticing that reflection is on the same strong ground as sensation, i.e., that they are both a type of perception. His main goal it seems to me is to invest reflection with the same appeal as sensation by pointing out that people who say sensations especially should be believed because they involve concrete perceptions (seeing is believing) are just ridiculous because so does reflection. Noooo, philosophers act like mostly what he did was to argue that sensation is fundamental to everything. He is portrayed as praising empiricism when in fact that is mostly (by so strongly defending reflection) what in effect he most actively derided. The reason is simple. Most so-called philosophers are academics who don't believe in reflection and are liars or have been deceived by liars. Locke's mistake was allowing himself to be defined as a philosopher. Once studying him was deemed most appropriate as being carried out as a subset of the academic subject of philosophy, discourse about him became destined to be dominated by liars who mostly hate his revolutionary epistemological ideas and don't want would-be Locke lovers to realize they should read An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and judge Locke on his own merits.
 
prothero
 
Reply Sat 3 Oct, 2009 09:08 pm
@Kielicious,
Without reason and non sensory perception there would be nothing to interpret the perceptions of the sense organs?
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sat 3 Oct, 2009 11:08 pm
@prothero,
prothero;94972 wrote:
Without reason and non sensory perception there would be nothing to interpret the perceptions of the sense organs?


I don't believe that any philosopher has denied the existence of reason, but only has questioned whether reason itself ("pure reason") could provide us with knowledge of the world. What is "non-sensory perception"?
 
BrightNoon
 
Reply Mon 12 Oct, 2009 10:04 pm
@Kielicious,
Kielicious;93240 wrote:
Empiricism is better because a priori knowledge inherently depends on experience as a prerequisite.


Empiricism depends entirely on experience as a prerequisite. Try to imagine something which exists in the 'empirical world.' Now try to imagine it without reference to any familiar qualities (color, shape, volume, etc). What remains? Mathematical relationships and other abstractions. Aha! Those are not dependent on experience! But they are, indirectly. An abstraction does not arise from nothing; it is an abstraction of something. That something is the familiar world of experience.
 
jeeprs
 
Reply Mon 12 Oct, 2009 10:14 pm
@BrightNoon,
BrightNoon;97080 wrote:
Mathematical relationships and other abstractions. Aha! Those are not dependent on experience! But they are, indirectly. An abstraction does not arise from nothing; it is an abstraction of something. That something is the familiar world of experience.


This view is the same as John Stuart Mill's, so it is not without precedent. The problem with that argument is that humans are born with innate ideas and with different levels of ability. Some (e.g. me) have no innate mathematical ability whatever, others have great aptitude. I suppose you could argue that this is the result of the 'experience of previous generations' but that is a stretch in my view. Second, as remarked above, Einstein (for one example) was able to make accurate predictions decades before they could be verified by experiment (or experience). On a more general note, mathematic reasoning can and does tell us many things about the nature of reality that we would never otherwise understand, even if they are later verified by experiments.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Mon 12 Oct, 2009 10:31 pm
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;97082 wrote:
This view is the same as John Stuart Mill's, so it is not without precedent. The problem with that argument is that humans are born with innate ideas and with different levels of ability. Some (e.g. me) have no innate mathematical ability whatever, others have great aptitude. I suppose you could argue that this is the result of the 'experience of previous generations' but that is a stretch in my view. Second, as remarked above, Einstein (for one example) was able to make accurate predictions decades before they could be verified by experiment (or experience). On a more general note, mathematic reasoning can and does tell us many things about the nature of reality that we would never otherwise understand, even if they are later verified by experiments.


Is a capacity or ability an idea? Every person of normal intelligence has (I assume) that capacity to learn how to play chess. But that capacity is not an idea, is it? We do have innate capacities. But that does not mean we have innate ideas. Of course, we have innate capacities to acquire (learn) ideas. But that still is not an idea.

Everyone is able to make accurate predictions before they are verified. For instance, I predict that I am going to die.

Mill's view was that mathematics expresses general truths about the world, or at least, our experience of the world. He was what is called a radical empiricist unlike classic empiricists who believe that some truths are not empirical truths, like, for instance, all bachelors are unmarried men.
The late W.V. Quine was a radical empiricist.
 
 

 
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