Archive for the ‘empiricism’ Category

Long, long ago, a frog lived at the bottom of a well. One day, the frog looked up and saw a turtle from the Eastern Sea silhouetted against the sky at the edge of the well

November 17, 2009

Long, long ago, a frog lived at the bottom of a well. One day, the frog looked up and saw a turtle from the Eastern Sea silhouetted against the sky at the edge of the well. He tried to convince the turtle to join him in his wonderful well, of which he was the master. The turtle started to descend into the well, but she realized it was too narrow and she would get stuck. So she withdrew and told the frog instead about how deep and wide the sea is. The frog was left dumfounded. He could not imagine the immensity and magnitude of the sea, as he has never seen it. The idiom “frog at the bottom of a well,” or “looking at the sky from the bottom of a well,” which grew out of this Daoist fable, has come to represent a state of limited vision and even ignorance — of not being able to see outside of one’s own immediate environment.

A story by Zhuangzi (c. 369-295 BC), one of the founders of Daoism, sheds light on the ancient Chinese concept of the World (Zhuangzi, Chapter 17: “The Floods of Autumn”).

The Naturalist, life the frog, cannot conceive of miracles because they do not fit his ‘vision’ of the world. They are ‘impossible’ because he knows, as the frog ‘knew’ that the sea cannot be vast, that miracles cannot occur.

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the question whether miracles occur can never be answered simply by experience

October 21, 2009

…the question whether miracles occur can never be answered simply by experience. Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our senses, something seen, heard, touched, smelled, or tasted…If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say. What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience. It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question.

If immediate experience cannot prove or disprove the miraculous, still less can history do so. Many people think one can decide whether a miracle occurred in the past by examining the evidence ‘according to the ordinary rules of historical inquiry’. But the ordinary rules cannot be worked until we have decided whether miracles are possible, and if so, how probable they are. For if they are impossible, then no amount of historical evidence will convince us. If they are possible but immensely improbable, then only mathematically demonstrative evidence will convince us: and since history never provides that degree of evidence for any event, history can never convince us that a miracle occurred. …The result of our historical enquiries thus depends on the philosophical views which we have been holding before we even began to look at the evidence. This philosophical question must therefore come first.

C.S.Lewis, Miracles, Geoffrey Bles, 1959, pp.11-12

A religious assertion, for me, is the assertion of an intention to carry out a certain behaviour policy

October 7, 2009

A religious assertion, for me, is the assertion of an intention to carry out a certain behaviour policy, subsumable under a sufficiently general principle to be a moral one, together with the implicit or explicit statement, but not the assertion, of certain stories.

R. B. Braithwaite, An Empiricist’s View of the Nature of Religious Belief,  Reprinted as Chapter IV of The Philosophy of Religion, edited by Basil Mitchell, p.32/89

In plain English, Braithwaite denies all religious truth claims and says they are merely an intention to act in a certain moral way.  But once the metaphysical ground is removed, the moral power goes too. After all, if all we have are moral intentions, why not just say so instead of clouding the issue in metaphysical fog?

I feel murder is bad, but maybe you don’t

September 11, 2009

Take any action allow’d to be vicious: Willful murder, for instance.  Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice . . . You can never find it, till you turn your reflexion into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, toward this action.   Here it is a matter of fact; but ’tis the object of feeling, not reason.

David Hume

Since there is nothing but one person’s ‘disapprobation’ and another’s approval of an action, then there is not higher standard by which to judge. I like chocolate ice-cream, you like vanilla – there isn’t a ‘right’ flavour. I don’t like murdering children, some people do. (‘Ought’ is not derived from ‘is’.)

If all I can do, as Hume is saying, is look within, then the child killer may feel justified. Ultra relativism is the end product.

There are no moral phenomena, only a moral interpretation of phenomena.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 108