Category Archives: Epistemology

Brute Facts: A Primer

There are, generally, two ways to explain a phenomenon: you can either describe what or who “brought it about” or you can describe it at a deeper, more fundamental level. These two approaches have sometimes been referred to as the ‘personal cause’ and the ‘non-personal cause,’ respectively. This bifurcation traces its origins back to Aristotle who originally described four distinct types of causes. But we won’t go into that here (instead, check out my post on Aristotle and the Four Causes). For our purposes, we just need to know that there are different ways of explaining a phenomenon and they are not synonymous.

Relevant video:

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Philosophers as Meta-Scholars

The philosopher is a meta-scholar.

    • What is a meta-scholar? A meta-scholar is one who understands, at a bare minimum, the fundamentals of a particular field of study or discipline (or historical enterprise or, most broadly, anything capable of being described, articulated, and/or analyzed — (e.g. any event, person, process, or object)).

      • The ‘fundamentals’ of a field of study or discipline refer to the sprawling mosaic of methodological rules, axiomatic and auxiliary operating assumptions, and normative and demarcating practices inherent to that field of study/discipline and its actively practicing members. Think of Lakatos’s ‘hard core’ or Kuhn’s ‘[dominant] paradigm.’

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The Principle of Charity (Revisited)

As an adjunct faculty member of Philosophy, one of my soapbox lectures to my students is the importance and application of the Principle of Charity. I mention it in the 1st Day Syllabus, I mention it again about half-way through the semester, and I include it as a short-answer question on the Final Exam.

At its core, the Principle of Charity (PoC) involves thinking well of people; their intentions, their capabilities, and their knowledge level. I take it very seriously because (1) it is the civil, respectful, and necessary thing to do and (2) it actually makes discussions or discourse more efficient by not wasting time on misunderstandings or by committing straw person fallacies. In either case, the PoC has a wide range of important uses and that is why I hammer it into to my students from the get-go. Below, I will explain what it is and give some pertinent examples as well as provide some good resources for further reading.

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Concept-Checking: Authority Figures (AFs) vs. Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

On the surface, one may think that an ‘authority’ or ‘authority figure’ is the same thing (or nearly the same thing) as an ‘expert.’ Teasing out the key differences to these concepts and their functions is of considerable philosophical significance.

Let’s take an ‘authority figure’ first. Someone who is an authority figure is someone who is seemingly responsible, either preventatively or reactively, for enforcing observance or obedience to a particular norm/rule/principle/ideal. They either encourage us to uphold (or at least not to break) that norm/rule/principle/ideal. Or, if we decide not to do what is asked or expected of us, they may punish us for our seemingly incorrect choice.

We can think of 3 key examples within our daily lives: the religious leader (e.g. priest, rabbi, imam, guru, etc.), the police officer (or military official), and the calculator (or the computer program).

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Concept-Checking: Nonrational vs. Irrational vs. Rational

Though this is a relatively rare distinction to be made, it is nonetheless an important one. Nonrationality is NOT the same thing as irrationality. These two terms are different and must be recognized as such. While we are at it, we should discuss what ‘rationality’ actually is…

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An Initial Look into ‘Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement’

  1. Name Calling
  2. Ad Hominem
  3. Responding to Tone
  4. Contradiction
  5. Counterargument
  6. Refutation
  7. Refuting the Central Point
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Summary: Einstein vs. Logical Positivism by Rossen Vassilev Jr.

The original article can be found at: https://philosophynow.org/issues/133/Einstein_vs_Logical_Positivism

Vassilev begins his article by pointing out that Logical Positivism was a philosophical movement that originated in the 1920s. Arguably its most critical mission was to establish the same methodology of science and mathematics for other fields, particularly philosophy. The logical positivists dismissed any and all ‘non-scientific’ speculation from genuine analysis or explanation. They insisted that such statements were literally meaningless; only statements that could be logically verified or corroborated through experiment/observation have meaning. This was known as the Principle of Verification (or Verification Principle) and was the driving philosophical and epistemological force behind the Vienna Circle (a particularly influential group of logical positivists).

According to the Principle of Verification, the meaning of any statement lies in its method of verification. Moreover, statements about, say, God or art or ethics would all suddenly be technically meaningless according to the logical positivists. Logical positivists were excited at this prospect because they were very much committed Naturalists. But not all philosophers were on-board with their philosophical approach or its underlying intentions.

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Sentential Logic: Rules of Inference for Deriving Proofs

EXCELLENT RESOURCE AVAILABLE HERE: https://courses.umass.edu/phil110-gmh/text/c05.pdf

Ampersand-In (&I): If one has available lines, A and B, then one is entitled to write down their conjunction, in one order A&B, or the other order B&A.

Ampersand-Out (&O): If one has available a line of the form A&B, then one is entitled to write down either conjunct A or conjunct B.

Wedge-In (∨I): If one has available a line A, then one is entitled to write down the disjunction of A with any formula B, in one order AvB, or the other order BvA.

Wedge-Out (∨O): If one has available a line of the form A∨B, and if one additionally has available a line which is the negation of the first disjunct, ~A, then one is entitled to write down the second disjunct, B. Likewise, if one has available a line of the form A∨B, and if one additionally has available a line which is the negation of the second disjunct, ~B, then one is entitled to write down the first disjunct, A.

Double-Arrow-In (↔I): If one has available a line that is a conditional A→B, and one additionally has available a line that is the converse B→A, then one is entitled to write down either the biconditional A↔B or the biconditional B↔A.

Double-Arrow-Out (↔O): If one has available a line of the form A↔B, then one is entitled to write down both the conditional A→B and its converse B→A.

Arrow-Out (→O): If one has available a line of the form A→B, and if one additionally has available a line which is the antecedent A, then one is entitled to write down the consequent B. Likewise, if one has available a line of the form A→B, and if one additionally has available a line which is the negation of the consequent, ~B, then one is entitled to write down the negation of the antecedent, ~A.

Double Negation (DN): If one has available a line A, then one is entitled to write down the double-negation ~~A. Similarly, if one has available a line of the form ~~A, then one is entitled to write down the formula A.

Concept-Checking and Assumption-Checking

Just as there are numerous websites, agencies, and sources that ‘fact-check’ the various statements made by politicians, public figures, and the like, I want to use part of my platform here to ‘concept-check’ and ‘assumption-check’ different statements made by whomever (historians, philosophers, journalists, etc.).

Concept-checking will involve ensuring that all of the technical concepts are being accurately and, at least initially, fairly portrayed in articles or books or magazines I read. So, for instance, if someone claims that Nietzsche’s ‘eternal recurrence’ is about how badly he wishes he could experience the joy of riding his bicycle for the first time extended over an infinity, then I would assert that they are incorrect and need to be concept-checked (along with the relevant authoritative evidence and argumentation).

Assumption-checking will involve pointing out some common sense and likely events or situations in all (or at least most) of our lives differ from the assumption being offered. So, for instance, if someone talks about how free each individual in the United States is, I would point out how that assumption doesn’t ring as true as they would like. For instance, consider the divergence in experiences among POC and white America. There are VAST differences that cannot and should not be glossed over, especially when engaging in philosophical analysis and truth-seeking. That same principle applies here.

Moving forward, I will specifically mark the CC and AC posts and provide all the proper documentation that I can. If you think of any or come across any articles you think would be interesting, please send them my way!

Sentential Logic Practice: Symbolizing More Natural Sentences

1.) Natural sentence: Either I will eat ham or I will eat turkey.
Library: H = I will eat ham, T = I will eat turkey
Symbolization: H v T

2.) Natural sentence: Yesterday, we danced, played, and ate so much!
Library:  D = we danced so much, P = we played so much, A = we ate so much
Symbolization: [D & (P&A)]

3.) Natural sentence: Harrison or John will win Prom King
Library: H = Harrison will win Prom King, J = John will win Prom King
Symbolization: H v J

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