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Lecture 8

ACS 300 Lecture 8: Lecture_ Rationalism and EmpiricismACS300

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Arts and Contemporary Studies
ACS 300
Jo Kornegay

Rationalism and Empiricism in Early Modern Philosophy and Physics British Empiricism: Continental Rationalism: Francis Bacon (1561-1626) - founder Rene Descartes (1596-1650)- founder John Locke (1632-1704) Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677) Isaac Newton (1646-1727) * Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) David Hume (1711-1776) *Newton synthesizes some aspects of the two traditions; like Descartes, he does see a major role for deduction and mathematical imagination in constructing a unified mechanics (e.g., from Kepler’s three laws of planetary motion, he deduced an equivalent single, more economical law; he posited the law of universal gravitation from which middle principles, e.g., the law of falling bodies, could be deduced). Tenets of Empiricism: Tenets of Rationalism: All ideas are derived from experience. Some of our ideas are innate. Reason can analyze concepts and discover Reason can intuit some general their logical relations, but reason alone truths about the world and can cannot yield knowledge about the world deduce others from them, e.g., or what exists. Knowledge about the world for Descartes, one can intuit and existents is based on sensory that every event has a cause, and observations and inductive inferences one can prove God exists and from them. that minds are immortal. Empiricism Bacon’s Empiricist Method of Science: from observations of particular things and events, one moves to ever more general claims by enumerative and eliminative induction. This is a bottom-up approach from a basis of particular claims based on observations* to ever more general, abstract ones. Most general principles: e.g., principle of inertia, law of universal gravitation Middle principles: e.g., Kepler’s laws (e.g., all planets move in elliptical orbits of which the sun is one focus), Galileo’s Law of Falling Bodies. Lesser Principles: e.g., Mar’s orbit is an ellipse with the sun as one of its foci. *Particular observations: e.g., how fast particular balls of different weights roll down an incline; numerous observations of Mars over time from Earth How should theology and science be related? Empiricists agree that theological principles have no role to play in science. (For instance, laws of nature cannot be known by inference from theological principles.) For some empiricists, notably Bacon, scientific principles have no role to play in theology either. For other empiricists, e.g., Locke, Hume, and Newton, from knowledge about the world, one can know with a high degree of probability whether or not God exists; and, if there is a God, something about God’s nature (=divine characteristics). Locke accepted Bacon’s empiricist method of science. Rene Descartes (1596-1650) father of modern philosophy; founder of Continental rationalism 1604-1612 studied logic, scholastic philosophy (with which he became disillusioned), and math at the Jesuit college of La Fleche in Anjou 1616 earned law degree at Poitiers, then travelled in Europe, enlisted in the army Nov. 10, 1619 he had a dream or intellectual vision– it was his mission to discover the unity of the sciences, to produce a single, coherent body of knowledge - his first mission was to work out the relations between geometry and algebra—he then laid the foundations of analytic geometry -- can convert geometrical relations into algebraic formulae (much more economical way to represent geometry) and represent algebraic formulae geometrically by the Cartesian coordinate system 1628 – settled in Holland and did experiments in optics and physiology 1633 – had written a book called The World, which contained “all of physics”, his theories and experiments on heat, light, astronomy, and human physiology Descartes withdrew the book when he heard of Galileo’s condemnation by the Church. 1636 – had a daughter, did not marry her mother 1637 – Discourse on the Method written in French because Descartes said he wanted literate, intelligent people who were not proficient in Latin, including women, to read it 1640 – child died; Descartes said it was the worst blow of his life 1641 – Meditations on First Philosophy his most famous work, written in Latin, later he approved a French translation 1643 correspondence with Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia 1644 Principles of Philosophy - Part II is his physics; dedicated to Princess Elizabeth The Passions of the Soul – last work, inspired by discussions with Princess Elizabeth 1649 – went to Sweden to become tutor to Queen Christina, who insisted that lessons be early in the morning 1650 - Descartes, who had always been sensitive to the cold, developed pneumonia and died within a few months of taking up residence in Sweden Descartes’ (Cartesian) Rationalism: Descartes loved the certainty of math and its structure as a series of sound, valid, deductive arguments - he wanted to devise a deductive system for all knowledge Among his chief goals were (1) To secure a solid foundation for knowledge, esp., for physics (2) To show that physics, “the new mechanical philosophy”, is compatible with the existence of God and the soul (to reconcile science and religion) The Need for a New Method Like Bacon, Descartes believed that to achieve and expand knowledge, a new method must be devised. His method, however, was radically different from Bacon’s and his view of the structure of knowledge (where one begins, what is basic, how one builds up knowledge systematically) is importantly different. Descartes’ Tree of Knowledge (from Principles of Philosophy, p. 350): Tree top: Branches of tree are specific fields: e.g., medicine, mechanics, and ethics; these come last Trunk of the tree is physics, including most abstract principles of nature **Roots of the tree lie in metaphysics, including most abstract principles about what exists, e.g., abstract principles of causation and truths about God For Descartes, one proceeds from the most abstract, general principles to less general ones.  What would Bacon think of Descartes approach? Bacon wrote, “...that method of discovery and proof according to which the more general principles [of physics] are first established, and then the intermediate axioms are tried and proved by them, is the parent of all error and the curse of all science” (Aphorism lxix, p. 314).] Descartes’ Quest for Certainty and Avoidance of False Beliefs  Devise a method to remove any false beliefs he might have acquired  Discover what, if anything, he could know with certainty or without doubt  Suspend judgment about any claim of which he is not certain (even if it is highly likely to be true) Method: Phase I -- discover if there are any indubitable propositions Methodological Doubt: He believed that his beliefs were either (1) based on reasoning from sense experience or (2) based on reason alone. If he could shed doubt on sense experience and then reason, he would have shed doubt on the entire sets of beliefs based on these two faculties. Would he discover any indubitable propositions that could survive the sceptical onslaught? Method: Phase II -- Proceed by demonstrations to further truths If he did discover any indubitable truths, he would use them as premises in valid, deductive arguments by which he could proceed from the simplest truths to more complex ones. In this way he would achieve demonstrative knowledge just as one demonstrates the truth of complex theorems from simple axioms and postulates in math by valid, deductive arguments. If he (re)constructed his belief system in this way from indubitable truths and proceeded by truth-preserving deductive validity, he would have a body of beliefs he knew with certainty to be true. Meditations- Descartes deploys his method Meditation I Are there any propositions one can know without doubt or with certainty? Consider the following propositions. 1. There is a world which I always perceive as it is. [I have senses that always give me reliable information about the world. or All of my beliefs about the world based on my sensations are true.] 2. I am now standing in this room. [I am now awake and perceiving that I am standing in this room.] 3. There is a world which I sometimes perceive as it is. [I have senses that sometime give me reliable information about the world. or Some of my beliefs based on my sensations are true.] 4. 2+3=5; 2 is the only even prime number. 5. I exist. Descartes’ Sceptical Arguments: I. The Argument from Illusion: Various sensory perceptions are inconsistent, e.g., a stick partially submerged in water looks broken, but feels continuous; objects can look yellow to a person suffering from jaundice. How does one distinguish illusory from veridical experience? Which of the above propositions does this argument bring into the sphere of the doubtful? 1? 2? 3? I’m not a lunatic. I know I’m not suffering from delusions/hallucinations about my current surroundings. II. The Dream Argument: Yet, is it not possible that I’m dreaming now, instead of awake sensing I’m standing in this room? Typically dreams are incoherent, discontinuous, and break laws of nature; but occasionally I have had realistic dreams. I have believed I was standing in this room (seated in my chair at my desk), but then waked up and discovered I had been dreaming it. Hence, for all I know now with certainty, I might be dreaming I am standing in this room. Hence, I can doubt proposition 2. I cannot be sure I am awake now; there’s a slight chance I’m having one of those realistic dreams right now. Does the Dream Argument shed doubt on 3? Might I be “dreaming” all the time? How does Descartes argue for his answer to this question? III. The Evil Genius Hypothesis At this stage Descartes leaves the realm of ordinary experiences and familiar grounds for doubts. He calls this “hyperbolical” doubt. Suppose there is a very powerful, clever demon who deploys all of his resources to deceive me. (At this point, I cannot be absolutely sure that there is a good God who would not allow me to be deceived in this way.) (a) Suppose this powerful evil genius is the source of all of my complex, coordinated “sensations” which I have taken to be caused by the world. Suppose I don’t have a body or senses, but what I have taken to be experiences of a world is in fact all simulated experience—the evil demon has given me faux sensations. [I have experienced a virtual reality, but not a real world that I received information about through my sense organs.] This hypothesis sheds doubt on 3. (b) Suppose further this evil genius tampers with my reasoning so that I get confused and make mistakes, but he makes me think that I understand what I’m thinking or induces me to believe I have made valid deductions from claims that seemed true. It’s possible that I make mistakes when I believe I intuit mathematical claims or prove theorems. Hence, I have shed the slightest doubt on the claims of 4. How does Descartes distinguish objective from subjective certainty? Meditation II Is there any belief that the EGH does not render doubtful? But I was persuaded that there was nothing in all the world, that there was no heaven, no earth, that there were no minds, nor any bodies: was I not then likewise persuaded that I did not exist? Not at all; of a surety I myself did exist since I persuaded myself of something [or merely thought of something]. But there is some deceiver or other, very powerful and very cunning, who ever employs his ingenuity in deceiving me. Then without doubt I exist also if he deceives me, and let him deceive me as much as he will, he can never cause me to be nothing so long as I think I am something. So that having reflected well and carefully examined all things, we must come to the definite conclusion that this proposition: I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time that I pronounce it, or that I mentally conceive it. Proposition 5. ‘I exist’ cannot be doubted whenever one entertains it. The proposition is self-verifying. The conditions under which one thinks it or consider it are the conditions that make it true. This is a special property that thinking ‘I exist’ has. Descartes has found his indubitable truth. He then asks what is this “I” which I know exists every time I reflect on it? I am a thing that thinks—a thing that affirms, denies, doubts, imagines, wills, desires, seems to sense. I am a mind or a thinking thing. I have a numbe
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