An Introduction to Philosophy Part 3 Epistemology 1 - Transcript

Introduction and appreciation for interest in philosophy

[0:00] Hello there, it's Stefan Molyneux from Freedomain Radio at and I'd like to talk to you this afternoon.
First of all, thank you for making it to number three. I really appreciate your interest in philosophy.
I hope that I can do as much and as best as I can to reward the time investment that you're putting in.
I know when I'm looking at YouTube videos, the ones that look like 40 minutes long might not be my first choice, but I really appreciate you sticking it out.
I think that we can together come up with something that's going to be of real value to you.
And the next thing that we're going to talk about is the topic of epistemology, which is, you know, the first thing we did was we talked about some general principles of philosophy, and then we talked about metaphysics, and there were the three sort of categories within metaphysics of the nature of reality.
So now we're going to talk about epistemology, which is the study of knowledge.
And of course, I have my definition handy-dandy right here, and we'll start off with that, and this comes from Britannia.

[1:04] Epistemology, the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity.
A little bit more of a detailed explanation since it's a little bit of a complicated topic.

Historical issues and questions in epistemology

[1:20] Study of the origin, nature, and limits of human knowledge, some historically important issues in epistemology are whether knowledge of any kind is possible, and if so, what kind, whether some human knowledge is innate, i.e.
Present in some sense at birth, or whether instead all significant knowledge is acquired through experience, whether knowledge is inherently a mental state, or whether certainty is a form of knowledge, and whether the primary task of epistemology is to provide justifications for broad categories of knowledge claim or merely to describe what kinds of things are known and how that knowledge is acquired.

[1:59] Now, there's some congruence with the stuff that we were talking about in the Metaphysics podcast or videocast, which is, so, where the knowledge of any kind is possible.
And by that, they're talking about knowledge that is certain and knowledge that is objective.
So, if I say, as I mentioned before, I had a dream about a sparrow last night, then that may be considered human knowledge. It's not verifiable.
It's certainly not binding on you. You don't have to agree with it.
But there are other kinds of knowledge that if empiricism is true, if the world exists, independent of our consciousness, if you and I are two separate consciousnesses trying to communicate with each other, and it's a little bit one way, though feel free to post a rebuttal if I'm making mistakes. I certainly appreciate correction.

[2:51] Then there are certain kinds of knowledge which would be somewhat binding upon you.
And we'll sort of talk about that as we go forward.

Impact of different metaphysical beliefs on epistemology

[3:01] But this question of knowledge is very much related to metaphysics.
So, for instance, if we believe that everything is an illusion, that we're a brain in a tank being manipulated by some demon in some sort of unfathomable external fashion, then we're going to have have quite a different set of epistemology than if we believe that objective reality exists, consciousnesses are separate, we communicate through valid sensory organs and so on, you're going to acquire quite a different, basically develop quite a different set of epistemology.
The same thing would be true for that intermediate position we talked about in the metaphysics podcast about that physical intangible reality does exist but is inferior to the higher realm of sort of platonic ideals and so on, and the heaven and gods and so on.
Now, I'm sure you're getting the hang of this as a whole.
I just wanted to talk about the same kind of approach that I talked about in the last podcast, which was the approach of saying, if you argue with somebody, if you open up your mouth and begin to put forward some hopefully coherent ideas about something or other, whether you're talking about metaphysics or epistemology or any of these sorts of disciplines, the moment you do that, you are assuming quite a lot.
You are relying on the existence of quite a lot of things.

[4:25] And this is as true of epistemology as it is of metaphysics as it is for the other disciplines which we'll get to as we sort of build our case here towards a system of ethics that hopefully will be coherent and sensible and logical and and not necessarily based on the existence of a divinity or some sort of divine being.

[4:48] So, if I open my mouth and I start to communicate with you, obviously I can't say your senses are invalid.
I'm not sure that I can say very logically that you don't understand language.
You don't understand basic English or basic language skills.
So, for instance, if I sort of walk down the street and start to have a debate with somebody, maybe they're speaking in ancient Greek or something like that, and I have no idea what they're saying, and they have no idea what what I'm saying, well, we can't really productively engage in any kind of debate.
We could maybe do some hand signals or something like that, but we couldn't really engage in a debate.

Importance of language and shared understanding in debates

[5:24] So, if I'm going to debate with you, then it is incumbent upon me to assume, or in the nature, by the very fact that I'm debating with you, I'm revealing an assumption that is very important. You understand language.

[5:37] The world exists between us in some sort of objective way, so the words that come out of my mouth don't get transformed into their complete opposite meaning, meaning that you don't have a language structure within your mind that processes language and produces the exact opposite meanings from the ones that I'm putting out.
So when I say 2 plus 2 is 4, you don't interpret that as an arm that eats my armpit or something like that.
Or 2 plus 2 is 5, or 2 plus 2 is green, or whatever.
Pi plus pi equals good dinner, or something like that.
So we have to, and I've sort of tried fairly consciously to not use a lot of technical terms When we're talking about philosophy, that's partly because I don't know that they're that helpful.
They seem to be kind of alienating, and they seem to be a little bit on the overly academic side.
But also because, I mean, huge respect for Socrates, who started this whole ball rolling. God bless his immortal soul.

[6:31] But because Socrates, when he began talking with people, didn't have technical terms by which he could maybe impress people or maybe intimidate them or certainly confuse them, he had to use sort of basic English, basic ancient Greek, to get his ideas across.
I've always been very impressed by that. So I'm trying not to use technical terms that are open to misinterpretation but using the good old basic Anglo-Saxon words that shouldn't be overly subjective or overly interpretatable.

Cannot make claims contrary to the process of argumentation

[7:04] Interpretable?
Misinterpreted. So I have to assume that you are a separate consciousness from mine, that your senses work, that there's space in between us that is validly transmitting the ideas that I'm trying to put out, that your language center is similar at least enough to mine that you can understand what it is that I'm saying, and process it, and so on.

[7:26] So, really, when you think about it, anybody who's arguing about metaphysics in that kind of fundamental way, or epistemology in that kind of fundamental way, can't make claims contrary to the process that they're going through, the process of argumentation.
So that's sort of the first thing that I'll talk about, just as a sort of basis, that you can't, I think, make an epistemological claim that human beings do not share language, because you would have to use language to get the idea across.
If the idea was correctly received, then language would be effective.
If the idea was not correctly received, there would be no point putting it out.
So there's some basics there that I'd sort of like to mention that it's important to keep in mind if you're debating with people in this sort of arena. freedom.

Proposition arising from radical skepticism and Descartes' view

[8:11] Now, the next thing that I would like to talk about is the proposition that is sometimes put forward, which arises from the position of radical skepticism or the soul matrix brain in a tank world where everything is being manipulated by some external devil for his own nefarious purposes or whatever.
Then, if you believe that, then one of the things that you can say, as Descartes did with the exception of saying that he exists and something is fooling him.
Nothing, nothing is certain. You may have come across these kinds of beliefs or these kinds of philosophies in your conversations with people.

[8:50] So, when you say or when you hear the argument or when somebody puts forward the proposition, nothing is certain. You can be certain of nothing.
I mean, it's a very interesting question and it's well worth examining because you want to find out the frontiers of what human knowledge is capable of and they're pretty significant in my view.
But with that kind of statement, I think what's very important is to understand that there's a paradox involved in it, and we'll run into a number of these paradoxes, and we've already talked about them beforehand, where I say your senses are invalid while using your senses to transmit that information, but there's a very powerful and fundamental paradox which disqualifies the statement, nothing is certain, from having any kind of truth value, and I'm sure you're way way ahead of me here, the fact that somebody says nothing is certain is problematic, because they're saying, I am certain that nothing is certain.
I am positive that you can be positive about nothing.
It is indubitable that everything is open to doubt. See, there's a complete paradox there, which can't be solved.
So the statement that nothing is certain falls the moment it leaves somebody's mouth, because either they're certain that nothing is certain, in which case, something can be certain, right?
And if something can be certain, you can't say that nothing is certain.
Or even the statement that nothing is certain.

[10:13] Is itself uncertain, can't be taken as a fact, in which case things can be certain.
So it really doesn't add anything to any particular kind of human knowledge or truth or debate or productive conversation to say or put forward the proposition that nothing is certain.
So I think that's a very important thing to understand sort of right up front before you sort of get into sort of further depths and details.

The Invalidity of Self-Contradictory Statements

[10:38] Now, the next question that often comes comes up, is why, oh why, oh why should a self-contradictory statement be considered invalid?
So if I put forward a proposition that rests on the existence of a square circle, of a shape or an entity that is both square and circular at the same time, in the same place, then I have put forward something that can't be proven.
I'm probably not going to win the the Euclidean prize for ultimate rationality, if I put forward a proposition based on the existence of a square circle.
Now, why is it that, I mean, let's take nothing for granted here.
The question is, is logic valid? Just because I put forward something that's illogical, does that mean that it's not true?
But then the question is, that we have to start defining is, what is truth?
The fundamental question of epistemology is, what is truth?

[11:37] Now, truth has to be something a little bit different from opinion.

[11:42] So, for instance, I'm a big fan of the rock band Queen.

[11:46] My opinion is that the music is very good. Now, that's not quite the same as saying 2 plus 2 is 4.
2 plus 2 is 4, theoretically, and we'll get to sort of how this is the case.

[11:56] Should be considered somewhat binding upon you as well.
But the fact that I like a particular musical band, it doesn't have anything to do with your particular taste or whether you should or should not like them.
So it doesn't mean anything if I have an opinion.
It does, like in terms of binding or truth value or something that you should adhere to.
But if I put forward a logical proposition, then it could be said, and we'll sort of get to how, it could be said that that's something that's a little bit more binding on you than just, I like blue. blue.
I like blue is fine, and it's a true statement that I like blue, but it's not a binding statement that you must like blue or that blue is universally the highest value color.
I mean, it's a little bit sort of different. But the first question that we have to ask is, what is the difference between truth and opinion, and why is logic at all involved in the realm of truth?

Logic and Truth: Understanding the Difference

[12:50] I wouldn't want to take that for granted, because there's lots of people who believe that there are alternative forms of finding the truth than logic.
Religion would be one, lots of different kinds of spiritualism would be another, certain kinds of collectivist thinking, which we'll get into when we talk about politics or others.
There's lots of ways that people believe that they can get a hold of the truth without using logic.
Just think of the astrology pages in your local newspaper.

[13:16] So, the question is, why is logic related to truth? Where does logic come from?
Well, it's my belief, and not just my belief, but put forward as my belief, that the reason that logic is related to truth is because truth is something that is not defined simply within our own mind.
Truth is the confluence—that's a bad way of putting it, Let me try that again.
Truth is the congruence or the similarity between our mental propositions and the external universe.

[ Stef uses an Orange for a visual aid ]

[13:55] So, we're back to props, ladies and gentlemen. This looks a little washed out.
I'm just checking on the video.
It is, in fact, orange. If it looks kind of like a lemon to you, it's not. Orange.
Total eclipse of the ball. Anyway, so if I am going to come up with a proposition that says, this is an orange, I am holding an orange, then that's something that can be validated in the external world in a way that if I say, I had a dream about, as I mentioned last time, If I say I had a dream about a sparrow last night, there's no real way to validate that in the external world.
There's no null hypothesis, there's no way of disproving it, and therefore it doesn't really have any particular truth value or falsehood value or whatever.
It's just the statement, right? If I say I like blue, maybe you could validate that by the number of clothes that I have that are blue. Do I have any blue wallpaper?

(Stef uses an Orange as visual aid)

[14:51] Whatever, right? Right? So, there's ways that you could validate that, but that's not quite the same as saying, I had a dream about a sparrow last night, or this be an orange, my friends.
So, when you're starting to come up with statements that are related to external, tangible, material reality, then you're starting to deal in the realm of truth.
You're starting to deal in the realm of truth, which requires external validation independent of your own consciousness, your own sort of idea. idea.
So if I say, I'm thinking of the number nine in three minutes, and then you come back to me in three minutes and say, were you thinking of the number nine? And I go, yeah, yeah, absolutely.

[15:31] Then it may be true, it may not be true, there's no real way to validate it.
It's one of the big problems of psychology, of course.
There's no real way to validate it in the way that saying this is an orange can be validated by something in the external world, in this case, the all-seeing scientific camera.
So when we start to say that the truth value of a statement is how well it correlates to that which it describes in the external world, this is an orange and not a teacup or a bowling ball or something, then we're starting to come up with a reason why logic is important when it comes to making truth statements.
Because logic is not just something that human beings make up.
We didn't sort of arrive in this cloudy void of nothing in the world and just sort make up these ideas of logic.
There are three basic laws of logic, and you can look them up.
Aristotle defined them, the genius that he was.
You can look those up on the web, and they're very quite powerful and so on.
I've also done a podcast about them if you want to have a look at
But material reality is logical.
Matter, atoms, and energy is consistent Consistent and logical physical laws seem to be universal, seem to be consistent, seem to be inescapable, right?

[16:45] The reason that we have logic is because we have oranges. It's just the fruit-based syllogism theory.
And not just because of my accent. But the reason that we have logic is because the behavior of matter in the real world is logical. It's consistent.
This is an orange. Tomorrow, it will be a slightly saggier orange and so on.
It will be a decomposing orange. I guess it already is now.
But the behavior of matter in the real world is logical.
This is an orange. It's not an orange and a pterodactyl simultaneously.
It's not an orange today and a set of keys tomorrow, and after that, Dumbo, the flying animated elephant.
It is an orange. The behavior of the energy and the atoms that go to make up this orange is consistent.
The orange, because it has matter, is subject to gravity, right?
So I throw it up, it falls back down again.

The Physical Properties of an Orange

[17:35] And so we know that it's subject to all these kinds of properties.
It has a smell, it has a taste.
I'm not going to bite it because it's not open and I'm not going to peel it because I'm going to get something in my eye for sure.
But this orange has physical properties which are, it doesn't sort of fall through my hand and then evaporate into nothing and then coalesce over in the top left corner of the room. It has stable, predictable, object constant kind of properties.
And it's from that that we know that statements that we make about external reality have to be consistent and they have to be logical and they have to be non-contradictory in the way that physical, material, objective, matter and energy, the outside world that we get through our senses, it has to be logical and consistent in the same way that physical matter is.
Of course, that's the whole process of science.
Science is based on the idea that physical matter is stable and constant and subject to universal laws and this and that and the other.
And so you know that a scientific theory is not valid if it says all the rocks in the world fall down when you let them go held in midair. Right.

[18:45] There's one place up around Glasgow, all the rocks fall up. Now, unless there's some anti-gravity well in Glasgow, near Glasgow, or some massive updraft of air or something like that, then the logic of the theory is not valid.
Because you're saying something that is true in exactly the same universe, for the same matter, subject to the same laws.

Matter Behaves in a Consistent and Universal Fashion

[19:06] You're saying that, well, all of these oranges or whatever, they're going to fall down when you let them go.
But one orange, when you let it go, is going to sort of float up And matter doesn't behave like that. Matter behaves in a consistent and universal fashion.
And so inconsistency does not exist in the real physical, sensual, sensual material world.
You can talk all you want about string theory and quantum physics and so on, and we'll get to that perhaps a little bit later. I'm just talking in the realm of physics.
Quantum physics doesn't say that an orange will turn into a bat, right?
And so because physical, material, objective matter and energy is consistent and logical and not contradictory, as I mentioned before, it's how we know the difference between dreams and reality is that dreams are inconsistent whereas reality is consistent.
Consistent because material reality, what we experience through our senses, is logical and consistent.

[20:05] Anything which talks about material reality also must be logical and consistent.
This is sort of how we basically know that logic is involved with truth.
Truth is statements that you make about the real world, not statements you make about your invisible friend, not statements you make about dreams that you had last night.
Not statements that are unverifiable about your particular preferences, but statements that you make about the real world.
That's the difference between saying something that is a potential fact and saying something that is an opinion.
So if I say, a baseball team.
I have a particular passionate relationship to this team.
That's an opinion, right? And you can see the baseball side.
One side is cheering, the other side is cheering, and it's all just sort of made-up stuff.
But those are just opinions, right? These are not statements.

The Importance of Truth and Falsifiability

[21:04] If I say that the light over there in the corner of my study is broken, well, that's something that can be verified in the real world.
So, this is a very important thing to talk, to understand when you're thinking about epistemology, that you have to have some definition of what truth is.
And truth is a statement that you make about the real world.
It really comes down to something quite as simple as that, because otherwise it has no falsifiability.
You can't prove it, you can't disprove it, it's just a statement like, I like blue.
I guess even that one, it's a statement like, I drank about a sparrow last night.
It can't be verified, it's not a truth, it's just... You know what I mean?
So, when we talk about human knowledge, we can't talk about human knowledge like in some realm that's just completely subjective or completely, well, things can contradict each other, up is down, black is white, hot is cold, or anything like that, that the Earth both simultaneously attracts and repels this orange and so on, which doesn't happen in the real world, of course.
When we talk about human knowledge and truth, it's important to understand that truth is the measure of the confluence between what you say and what happens in the real world.

[22:23] And it's not something that's just a purely subjective state that you make up yourself.
So that's a very important thing to understand when we talk about epistemology, that epistemology is the study of knowledge.
Well, the knowledge that we are to gain that is of the most value is to do with, I mean, the sort of primary and first value. We've got to eat, we've got to drink, we've got to find shelter.
The knowledge that we're first going to find and gain is about the external world.

[22:50] And it is because of that relationship between a proposition and the behavior of matter in the real world that we can put forward tests for truth, that we can have the scientific method.
Then we can also have the free market as a value, which we'll talk about a little bit later.

Establishing Truth through Experiments and External Validation

[23:05] But when you think of sort of a medical experiment, let's say, if you take this ingredient, if you ingest this ingredient, then your XYZ illness will get better. Well, that starts off as a proposition.
And then what do you do to establish it as a truth?
Well, you give it out to the population. You measure their results both subjectively and objectively.
Some of it's a little subjective around antidepressants and so on.
But let's just say that that's something that's supposed to cure a particular kind of infection.
Or you go out and you talk to people in the real world. Look, you give it to them, you give it to a control group, you have a double-blind experiment, so you eliminate the possibility of the placebo effect and so on.
And so the whole idea is to say, well, I have a theory or a statement that I would like to validate called if you ingest it, your zits will go away.
That's a statement, and the question is, is it open to validation?
And it has to be open to validation through some sort of way of examining external matter, right?
So that's sort of something that I would like to talk about, and we'll talk about this a little bit more.
I don't think I can do, I mean, just based on your patience, I don't think I can do all of epistemology and.

[24:15] Going here, 36 minutes, maybe 40 minutes, but I don't want to tire out your patience.
But we basically, we have ideas in our head, we put them forward as propositions, and the relationship between what it is that we say and what actually happens in the real world is the degree of truth that our propositions have.
If there's no possibility of disproving a proposition, I had a dream about a sparrow, then it really can't be considered true or false.
There may be be reasons for believing it, as I mentioned before, but it's not really quite the same as 2 plus 2 is 4, or it just falls down and has the particular basis and so on.

[24:53] And so, for me, it's the degree to which ideas correlate or propositions correlate to what actually happens in the real world.
And from that standpoint, we can begin to really sort of lay the foundations for how How it is we're going to start to approach things like ethics, politics, economics, family relations.
You can even use this sort of stuff in romantic relationships and so on.
But the first and most fundamental thing to understand is that philosophy is designed, of course, as we mentioned at the beginning, to help you close the gap between what is ideal and what is experience.
Close that gap in the way that nutrition is supposed to as well.
To help you approach an ideal that is not obvious.
We'll get to this a little bit later. This is not obvious, the stuff that we're talking about.
If it was obvious, we would hope that it wouldn't take humanity 10,000 years, 100,000 years to come up with it.

[25:46] And that in the realm of metaphysics, we can look at the only way that you can ever come up with truth statements that are really validatable by other people, that really have truth statements rather than my opinion versus your opinion, is to take the third of the metaphysical approaches we talked about yesterday. today.
Not the one where everything is that you're a brain in a tank being manipulated by a devil.
Not the one where, yeah, okay, physical reality exists, but it's less important than this platonic realm of pure form.
To take the third one, that the only thing that exists is matter and energy, the only thing we can make truth statements about are external, validatory kind of... I don't just mean external to the bodies, right?
You could have a thesis that says, if I think of a fish tank, my temperature goes up three degrees, and that would be internal to your body.
I just mean external to our mere consciousness.
So I hope that that's helpful as an introduction. We want to always try and measure our thoughts against the real world.
That's why we have to use logic. And that's why the only things that are logical actually match what's in the real world.

[26:48] If matter didn't match in predictable ways, there'd be no such thing as logic.
So I hope that that's helpful to try and help you to sort of understand that logic is how we organize our thoughts to be valid relative to the real world.
And that's how we compare.
And all of the principles by which we organize our thoughts are derived from how things behave in the real world, from the logical.

Technical discussion on incorporating real-world logic into philosophy.

[27:14] So through some kind of technical stuff at the moment, I think it's well worthwhile because when we start to get into politics and ethics and so on, we kind of don't want to just be going back to the realm.
We want to sort of try and base it on things that are logical and things that exist in the real world otherwise the whole point of philosophy has sort of been lost and so i hope that this is of use and helpful to you thank you so much for listening and i will talk to you next round.

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