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Re: On science (phew, long)
On Sat, 28 Feb 1998, Dinogeorge wrote:
> In a message dated 98-02-27 23:42:59 EST, firstname.lastname@example.org
> << 1) On truth: If the pursuit of an unattainable truth is irrational, then I
> guess we might as well stop looking for fossils or cures for diseases,
> studying the stars, or never try to do anything that is difficult. We know
> the fossil record is imperfect, yet we still keep looking. A different
> analogy: if your goal in life was to have all the money in the world, would
> you rather have a billion bucks, or give up and have nothing? >>
> The point here is that "truth" is not unattainable (contrary to what some
> weirdo nitpicking philosophers may maintain) and therefore it is rational to
> pursue it. Apparently this wasn't clear earlier.
I think a lot of terms are going around that need to be clarified.
Essentially, what we're dealing with is an epistemological problem here,
so the issue is, "What constitutes knowledge?"
Well, let's call knowledge justified true belief (S knows P iff S believes
P, P is true, S's belief in P is justified, and the justification ensures
that the relationship between belief and truth value is not accidental).
So the two main things that we are looking for are 1) a true P and 2) a
rational belief in P. Well, since we cannot affect the truth value of P
(solipsism notwithstanding), then the thing left for us to seek is
justification for belief.
What we are seeking is not a metric of truth, but of rational belief. The
_a priori_ truth value of given propositions may be bloody hard to come
across while we're working empirically, but it's much easier to define a
knowledge system (KS) which establishes the metric that we seek. In
science, as I'm sure we all know, there is more than one standard of
justification, each of which establishes a different level of certainty.
Factuality: documented and repeatable data are considered to be factual.
Barring massive hoaxes or failure to reproduce results, these are not
questionable, and therefore provide the greatest degree of certainty.
Theory: theories adequately explain known data and predict new data.
The most parsiminous theory is favored, ceteris paribus. Theories can
be falsified, and often are, but still constitute a much less certain
degree of scientific knowledge.
Hypothesis: a hypothesis is essentially an educated guess. It predicts
data but is not yet known to explain known data. It may be "upgraded" to a
theory by experimental confirmation.
On this (I assume already known) basis, I think we can conclude that
science is not in fact a system that seeks truth, but rather rational
belief, so the ugly fact that it can never obtain absolute truth is not in
fact a viable objection to the scientific methodology.
> To this point: a goal such as having all the money in the world is indeed
> quite irrational.
That depends on where that goal gets you. If having this goal results in
one being better off (say, ending up with more money), it is rational
enough. Certainly a similar goal has served Bill Gates well enough, as
well as his tycoon predecessors such as J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie.
Similarly, seeking all the knowledge in the world is not irrational if, as
a result, the person ends up with more knowledge than he would have ended
up with than if he had not set out with that goal. (Assuming of course
that gaining knowledge is in his rational self-interest)
[Charles W. Johnson <email@example.com> - http://www.eskimo.com/~cwj2]
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