Philosophy Word of the Day – Fallibilism

Karl Popper in 1990.

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“Fallibilism is the view that human knowledge lacks a secure and an infallible foundation. Fallibilism is associated in particular with American scientist and philosopher Charles S. Peirce (1839–1914) and Austrian-born philosopher Karl Popper (1902–1994). In its most comprehensive form the fallibilist maintains that people cannot know anything with certainty. In its more restricted forms uncertainty is attributed to a particular domain of beliefs, such as empirical or religious beliefs. What separates fallibilists from others is the confidence each gives to epistemological success in general or within a particular domain. Participants within the science/religion discussion quite frequently affirm fallibilism. Its merit seems to be that it opens up possibilities for a dialogue on more even terms than foundationalism does.”

Mikael Stenmark in Encyclopedia of Science and Religion

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Dallas Willard on Science

“ ‘Science,’ as now generally understood, actually combines appeals to all three sources [of knowledge: authority, reason, and experience], but in undigested and incoherent ways that permit it to be manipulated in the public arena, where policy issues are in question, for numerous unscientific and political purposes.  Indeed, nothing would be more helpful in the midst of today’s confusions than a thorough understanding of the nature and limitations of “science” itself.

“But the sciences themselves cannot provide such an understanding, because each one is limited to its peculiar subject matter (which certainly is not “science”), and so the necessary work cannot be done in any way that is “scientific” under current understandings.  That reveals the impasse of modern life.  Science is the presumed authority on knowledge, but it cannot provide scientific knowledge of science.

“. . . No science is omnicompetent, nor, very likely, is any [particular] “scientifically minded” person.  But given the present confusions in the world of intellect, this seems to be a point easily missed.  Actually, what we see here are the influences of an unsupported worldview.”

— Dallas Willard, Knowing Christ Today, 60-61.

 

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Belief

“Contemporary analytic philosophers of mind generally use the term “belief” to refer to the attitude we have, roughly, whenever we take something to be the case or regard it as true. To believe something, in this sense, needn’t involve actively reflecting on it: Of the vast number of things ordinary adults believe, only a few can be at the fore of the mind at any single time.

“Nor does the term “belief”, in standard philosophical usage, imply any uncertainty or any extended reflection about the matter in question (as it sometimes does in ordinary English usage). Many of the things we believe, in the relevant sense, are quite mundane: that we have heads, that it’s the 21st century, that a coffee mug is on the desk.

“Forming beliefs is thus one of the most basic and important features of the mind, and the concept of belief plays a crucial role in both philosophy of mind and epistemology. The “mind-body problem”, for example, so central to philosophy of mind, is in part the question of whether and how a purely physical organism can have beliefs. Much of epistemology revolves around questions about when and how our beliefs are justified or qualify as knowledge.” (continue article)

— Eric Schwizgebel in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Dallas Willard on Worldviews

Dallas Willard giving a Ministry in Contempora...

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“You cannot ‘opt out’ of having a worldview.  You can only try to have one that most accords with reality, including the whole realm of facts concerning what is genuinely good.  What is true of individuals in this respect is also true of social groups and even whole societies or nations.

“One’s worldview need not be recognized as such to have its effects.  Much of it lies outside our consciousness in the moment of action, embedded in our body and its social environment, including our history, language, and culture.  It radiates throughout our life as background assumptions, in thoughts too deep for words.  But any thoughtful observer can discern the essential outlines of what it is.

“What we assume to be real and what we assume to be valuable will govern our attitudes and our actions.  Period.  And usually without thinking.  But most people do not recognize that they have a worldview, and usually it is one that is borrowed, in bits and pieces, from the social environment in which we are reared.  It may not even be self-consistent.

“. . . [B]ecause worldview is so influential, it is also dangerous.  Worldview is where we most need to have knowledge, that is, secured truth.  Perhaps we cannot have knowledge of our worldview as a whole, and some parts of it will then always consist of mere belief or commitment.  But for some parts we can have knowledge if we put forth appropriate efforts, and some parts of some worldviews can certainly be known to be false.”

— from Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (HarperOne, 2009), 44, 45.

* For numerous resources by Dallas Willard, see his website.

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Philosophy Word of the Day — Foundationalism

Epistemic foundationalism is a view about the proper architecture of one’s knowledge or justified beliefs.  Some beliefs are known or justifiedly believed only because some other beliefs are known or justifiedly believed.  The claim that one has heart disease is known only if some other beliefs are known—for example, that doctors have reported this and that the doctors are reliable.

This dependence among our beliefs naturally raises the question about the proper epistemic structure for our beliefs.  Should all beliefs be supported by other beliefs?  Are some beliefs rightly believed apart from receiving support from other beliefs?  What is the nature of the proper support between beliefs?  Epistemic foundationalism is one view about how to answer these questions.  Foundationalists maintain that some beliefs are properly basic and that the rest of one’s beliefs inherit their epistemic status (knowledge or justification) in virtue of receiving proper support from the basic beliefs.  Foundationalists have two main projects: a theory of proper basicality (that is, a theory of noninferential justification) and a theory of appropriate support (that is, a theory of inferential justification).

Foundationalism has a long history.  Aristotle in the Posterior Analytics argues for foundationalism on the basis of the regress argument.  Aristotle assumes that the alternatives to foundationalism must either endorse circular reasoning or land in an infinite regress of reasons.  Because neither of these views is plausible, foundationalism comes out as the clear winner in an argument by elimination.  Arguably, the most well known foundationalist is Descartes, who takes as the foundation the allegedly indubitable knowledge of his own existence and the content of his ideas.  Every other justified belief must be grounded ultimately in this knowledge.

. . . [Debates over foundationalism] touched off a burst of activity on foundationalism in the late 1970s to early 1980s.  One of the significant developments from this period is the formulation and defense of reformed epistemology, a foundationalist view that took as the foundations beliefs such as there is a God (see Plantinga (1983)). While the debate over foundationalism has abated in recent decades, new work has picked up on neglected topics about the architecture of knowledge and justification. (Continue article)

— Ted Poston, “Foundationalism,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

* Hyperlinks are mine

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Philosophy Word of the Day – The Image of the Cave

“Plato’s illustration in the Republic (Book VII) of the difference between knowledge and illusion, reality and appearance.  Men chained in a cave, facing a blank wall, with a fire burning behind them, can see only shadows, which they take for real objects.  When one who has been made to leave the cave and see the real world by the light of the sun returns, it is hard for him to adapt to the dim light; he is ridiculed by his former companions and is unable to convince them that what they see are but vague reflections of reality.”

A Dictionary of Philosophy (2nd ed), p. 59.

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Philosophy Word of the Day – Introspection

Le Penseur, Musée Rodin, Paris

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Introspection, as the term is used in contemporary philosophy of mind, is a means of learning about one’s own currently ongoing, or perhaps very recently past, mental states or processes. You can, of course, learn about your own mind in the same way you learn about others’ minds—by reading psychology texts, by observing facial expressions (in a mirror), by examining readouts of brain activity, by noting patterns of past behavior—but it’s generally thought that you can also learn about your mind introspectively, in a way that no one else can. But what exactly is introspection? No simple characterization is widely accepted. Although introspection must be a process that yields knowledge only of one’s own current mental states, more than one type of process fits this characterization.

Introspection is a key concept in epistemology, since introspective knowledge is often thought to be particularly secure, maybe even immune to skeptical doubt. Introspective knowledge is also often held to be more immediate or direct than sensory knowledge. Both of these putative features of introspection have been cited in support of the idea that introspective knowledge can serve as a ground or foundation for other sorts of knowledge.

Introspection is also central to philosophy of mind, both as a process worth study in its own right and as a court of appeal for other claims about the mind. Philosophers of mind offer a variety of theories of the nature of introspection; and philosophical claims about consciousness, emotion, free will, personal identity, thought, belief, imagery, perception, and other mental phenomena are often thought to have introspective consequences or to be susceptible to introspective verification. For similar reasons, empirical psychologists too have discussed the accuracy of introspective judgments and the role of introspection in the science of the mind. (Continue article)

(Via Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

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