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Worldviews: Part 1- Fundamental Issues


Chapter 1: Worldviews

DeWitt introduces the concept of a worldview, which is more an interlocking set of beliefs than a list. He also stresses that even though each person has a different worldview, he is using the word more broadly to characterize similar sets of beliefs, like the Aristotelian or Newtonian worldview.

Also of note is the distinction between core beliefs, which would lead to a great deal of alteration in the overall worldview if changed, and border (I forget what word he uses) beliefs, that can change without affecting much.

Also we often lack direct evidence of our beliefs (why believe Earth goes around sun?) and often our worldviews are counter to common sense (objects in motion stay in motion).

a worldview is not merely a collection of separate, independent, unrelated beliefs, but is instead an intertwined, interrelated, interconnected system of beliefs (435).

It seems to be a fairly widespread belief that the accumulation of facts is a relatively straightforward process, and that science is, in large part at least, geared toward generating true theories that account for such facts. Both of these are largely misconceptions about facts, truth, and their relations to science (670).

Chapter 2: Truth

What is truth? What makes something true or a fact?

The philosophical answer can be broken up into two major groups- correspondence theories, and coherence theories.

Correspondence theories state that correspondence with reality is what makes true statements true.

according to correspondence theories of truth, what makes a true belief true is that the belief corresponds to reality. What makes a false belief false is that the belief fails to correspond to reality (732)

“reality” refers to “real” reality: a reality that is completely objective, generally independent of us, and generally speaking in no way depends on what people believe that reality to be like (744).

Coherence theories state that beliefs are made true by their coherence with other beliefs. Coherence statements differ in who’s “other beliefs” need to be cohered with to make the beliefs true. Examples include one’s own beliefs, or the beliefs of western scientists.

According to coherence theories of truth, what makes a belief true is that the belief coheres, or ties in, with other beliefs (753).

I think correspondence theories sound the best, but DeWitt states some problems. The objection is that our beliefs come from our representations of reality. In order to know for certain that our beliefs are true, we would need to compare our representations to the reality and see if they match.  But we can’t do this. We can only compare some representations to others, so according to the representational theory of reality, we can never know for certain that our representations are accurately reflect reality.

The bottom line is that, although we all believe our experiences are caused by a “normal” reality, we have no way of knowing for sure that they are not caused by the sort of reality envisioned in the Total Recall scenario. In short, we have no way of knowing for sure what reality is really like (896).

My response to this is to say, “so what?” It’s an epistemelogical objection. It doesn’t point to any incoherence or contradiction. I already accept that I can’t know with absolute certainty what is true or not. To claim otherwise, to me, seems over confident.

Coherence theories suffer from the flaw of severe relativity. I was expecting DeWitt to use something of a self-defeating example (correspondence theory could be true for you, coherence theory true for me). If we make group beliefs the standards by which we judge coherence, then defining and delineating the group becomes a problem as well.

In summary, individualistic versions of coherence theories seem to degenerate into an unacceptable sort of relativism. Group versions of coherence theories, on the other hand, seem to avoid the relativism problem, but in doing so they introduce new and substantial problems (958).

Chapter 3: Empirical Facts and Philosophical/Conceptual Facts

DeWitt distinguishes from empirical facts, which can be directly experienced (this pencil is on the table), and philosophical facts, which work in assumptions (the same pencil that was on the table is now hidden in the drawer). There is no clear distinction. Even empirical facts need some sort of philosophical assumptions (my senses are generally reliable). But the point is that many of our beliefs are built from inferences from our worldviews. They fit into the and come from our entire web of beliefs, not from our direct experiences.

Also, when he says fact, he means not something necessarily true, but something generally believed, and reasonably justified at the time (e.g. all things in motion tend to come to a stop).

Chapter 4: Confirming and Disconfirming Evidence and Reasoning

Confirming reasoning goes:

If T then O
Therefore probably T

This can be problematic because an enormous number of theories (T) can entail O. So in come disconforming reasoning.

If T then O
Not O
Therefore not T

Confirming evidence is inductive (true premises make the conclusions more likely, not certain), and disconfirming evidence is deductive (true premises logically guarantee the conclusion).

The main problem with disconfirming evidence is that one can add auxiliary hypotheses to prevent the theory from being disconfirmed. One can discard any part of a web of beliefs instead of the one attempting to be tested (my instruments were off, I made a mistake, there were skeptic waves in the air, you did not pray with sincerity, cold fusion messes with neutrons differentl, etc.) .

Chapter 5: The Quine-Duhem Thesis and Implications for Scientific Method

There are three parts to this, from the note:

we will look at three of the key ideas associated with the Quine – Duhem thesis, namely, the idea that (to borrow a phrase from Quine) our beliefs face the “tribunal of experience” not singly, but in a body; the claim that there can typically be no “crucial experiments” to decide which of two competing theories is correct; and the notion of underdetermination, that is, the idea that the available data typically does not pick out a unique theory as being correct (1362).

Aristotle’s view of science was to begin with axioms and then draw out all the implications through deductive reasoning. Science was meant to achieve certainty. Descartes tried to achieve knowledge in the same way, but couldn’t really come to any good agreed upon first principles.

On the hypothetico-deductive model of science:

The basic idea behind the hypothetico-deductive method is that from a hypothesis or set of hypotheses (or theories, broadly speaking) one deduces observational consequences, and then tests to see if those consequences are observed. If so, then for the reasons discussed earlier in relation to confirmation reasoning, this is taken as support for the hypothesis. If the consequences are not observed, then again for the reasons discussed earlier in the context of disconfirmation reasoning, this is taken as evidence against the hypothesis (1603).

it is safe to say that this method plays an important role in science. However, consider again the issues we have discussed -the inductive nature of confirmation reasoning, the possibility of rejecting auxiliary hypotheses in the face of disconfirming evidence, the underdetermination of theories, the difficulty if not impossibility of designing crucial experiments, the notion that hypotheses are tested in groups rather than singly, and so on. The view that science proceeds by a relatively simple process of generating predictions from hypotheses and then accepting or rejecting hypotheses depending on whether the prediction is observed seems, given what we have discussed, to be at best an overly simplistic account of science (1616).

Chapter 6: Problems and Puzzles of Induction

Hume’s problem of induction points out that using inductive reasoning is circular. Inductive reasoning rests on the assumption that the future will resemble the past. We can’t justify this assumption, except with more inductive reasoning- since the past has resembled the future before, it will do so in the future. But this assumes exactly what we’re trying to prove, that the future will resemble the past.

Hempel’s Raven paradox points out the fact that if we’re trying to prove that all X’s are Y, then both X’s that are Y are evidence for the proposition, but so is each Non-X Non-Y thing. E.g. if we want to prove that all quasars are a great distance from earth, then each quasar we see that is a great distance from earth is evidence for this. But each non-quasar thing that is not a great distance from earth is also evidence. My computer next to me is evidence that all quasars are a great distance from earth. This is supposed to be a paradox, but extremely weak evidence is still evidence, and my computer is extremely weak evidence for the proposition.

Lastly is Goodman’s Grue problem. Each green emerald we find supports the statement, “All emeralds are green.” But it also supports the statement, “All emeralds are grue,” where grue means: “green until 2050, then blue.” It’s hard to figure out why one conclusion is better. I’d say something about complexity, assumptions, etc. Not sure what a good answer is though.

Chapter 7: Falsifiability

We call an idea falsifiable when evidence may potentially lead one to discard it. The concept is more complicated than it seems because some people may not accept the same considerations as evidence. This makes it appear that their ideas are unfalsifiable when it is actually the case that they have a different idea of what counts as evidence. For example, one may only accept textual information from the the Bible as evidence, so when they resist empirical data, it looks like their ideas are unfalsifiable. In fact, their ideas are falsifiable, just by different evidence.

So it may be important to get on the same page as to what counts as evidence instead of presenting facts that will not affect the other person’s ideas.

DeWitt’s view is that it is more people’s views of ideas that are unfalsifiable than the ideas themselves. One can have an unfalsifiable opinion of pretty much any view.

Chapter 8: Instrumentalism and Realism

one says that a theory explains a piece of existing data or observation if one could have predicted the data from the theory (1961).

whether we require theories to reflect the way things really are – is a controversial issue. It is the issue that distinguishes instrumentalists and realists. For an instrumentalist, an adequate theory is one that predicts and explains, and whether that theory reflects or models reality is not an important consideration. For a realist, on the other hand, an adequate theory must not only predict and explain, but in addition it must reflect the way things really are (1991).

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