An Introduction to Philosophy Part 3 Epistemology 2 - Transcript


[0:00] All right, so this is Introduction to Philosophy, Part 2 of Metaphysics, which is Part 3.
I do actually change my shirt from time to time, but I've decided to keep going because I'm for sure going to get lost if I try and wait a day or two before doing the next one, because I kind of have a lot of balls in the air when it comes to epistemology.
So I'm going to keep going, and hopefully we'll be able to close this topic off then relatively quickly.
And move on to all of the juicy stuff that comes after it.
So why is it important to talk about epistemology?
I mean, the larger question is why is it important to talk about philosophy, but that will come for sure. But let's just talk about this one right now.
Why, oh why, oh why, is it even important to talk about epistemology?

[0:54] Well, human beings disagree with each other. Now, of course, I know that you haven't disagreed with anything that I've been saying so far, but let's just imagine that you did.
Let's just put on crazy hat for a moment and imagine that you disagreed with even one syllable of what it is that I was saying here.
The question is, the reason that the study of philosophy is so important, and the reason that the idea that reality exists independent of consciousness and that human beings have to rely on logic and empiricism is because human beings disagree.
Now, I know I'm going a little bit towards the effect and putting the cart before the horse, but this is why it's so important to talk about things and to understand epistemology, so that you can understand how conflict resolution can occur using philosophy, how it is that we can end up coming to a greater brotherhood as a mankind, as a species.
Species, philosophy will help us with that because it takes the sort of mad absolutist opinions out of the mix as far as things that are true and things that are false.
Only philosophy can do that. But before we get into how philosophy will do that, let's talk about how science does that.

The Role of Science in Resolving Disagreements

[2:08] Why is this approach to epistemology so important and so helpful?

[2:12] Now, picture that you and I are scientists. We're both physicists.
I'm going to bring... I haven't had time to go go get more fruit.
So we're going to bring our famous little orange back into the mix.
So let's just say you and I are scientists, and we have differing beliefs about gravity.

[2:36] So you think that things fall up, and I think that things fall down.
Okay, so maybe we're not the most modern or enlightened of scientists, but this is the debate that we're having. Things fall fall up versus think, fall down.

[2:50] Now, the reason that epistemology is so important is, how do we know who's right?
So many disagreements in the world. So many things that human beings don't agree on.
And the real question is, how do we resolve those disputes or disagreements, hopefully without pulling out guns or sticking knives in each other?
Well, epistemology will actually help us with that.
Philosophy will actually give us the answer as to how we disagree without violence and war and so on.
And what epistemology says is it says that truth is relative to reality, objective, tangible, matter and energy kind of reality, not interstates of nirvana or my vision of Zeus's instructions from the Mount Olympus or anything like that.

[Stef uses an orange as a visual aid]

That truth is relative to what happens in material objective reality. reality.
And so, if you and I are physicists and we have a disagreement about whether this orange is going to fall up or is going to fall down, we get into a room, we hold up the orange, and we let it go.
Yeah, which doesn't really sound that big now I'm talking about it, but let's just say I think it is.
It's not so big in the realm of science, but when we start talking about other disciplines of human knowledge, you'll see just how important this proposition becomes.

[4:20] So, this fundamental thing, the fall or the rise of the orange, this is the fundamental thing that philosophy and epistemology can provide to us. Who is right?
Maybe there's another guy who says it falls sideways. Well, the guy who says it falls up and the guy who says it falls sideways are incorrect.
The guy who says it falls down when you hold it up and let it go is the guy who gets to take home the prize for being Mr. Truthiness.
So, that is a very, very important and fundamental thing.
How do we know what truth is with reference to either logic or external reality?
And the reason that epistemology gets so mucked up is because, and this is my theory, so forgive me if it seems abstruse, the reason that these rather basic and simple principles get really mucked up by a lot of people in the world is because a lot of people in the world don't like the conclusions of philosophy.

[5:31] And maybe you know where this is going. We'll sort of continue on with this and this journey, and I hope that it will be of value to you.
Actually, I know it will be of value to you.
Maybe a little surprising to you at times, and maybe even a little shocking.
The reason that these very sort of basic ideas get so mucked up and so confused and convoluted is because there's a lot of people who don't like the conclusions that philosophy, a logical empirical philosophy, will provide to them, and so they muck it up in order to keep their beliefs intact.
And we'll get to that sort of in a little bit.
But the question really And the reason why in the definition that we talked about in the last podcast is so important is how do we acquire knowledge?
Now, it's a big question and there's no real answer to it.
There are some general principles that I think are worthwhile, but it really comes down to two approaches to knowledge. You could say the Aristotelian and the Platonic or the Kantian versus the Lockean.
It doesn't matter. We'll just go over the basics and you can let me know what you think.

[6:36] So in the realm of how we acquire knowledge, now why is it important to even talk about how we acquire knowledge?
Well, it's important because if we only acquire knowledge through the senses, if we only acquire acquire concepts, if we can only organize our mind, if the contents of our mind fundamentally, not completely, but fundamentally come in through the evidence of the senses, then if there is a contradiction between our ideas and the evidence of the senses, our ideas must give way.
I'm going to say that again because it's really, really important.
One of the fundamental things about philosophy.
If there is a contradiction between the evidence of the senses and the ideas in our head, which one gives way? One of them has to.
Contradictions can't exist because matter doesn't contradict itself.
I mean, contradictions can exist in our head, but they're not valid.
You can't put them forward as true because true is logical and consistent.
Something that is true has to be logical and consistent.
So if I say up is down because black is white, it's not really a true statement, right? Because it's not consistent or logical.
So if there's a contradiction between what comes in through our senses and what is in our minds, which one wins?
They can't both win. Contradictions can't exist.

[8:03] Which one gives way? This is very important. And this is why Plato focused so much on this world of the higher realms.
And this is why Plato focused so much on making the argument that we have in this floaty kind of hypnotic way, all of these ideas and forms we talked about, remember, there's a different piece of fruit, it was the banana, the essence of banana, that we have these ideas of concepts within our minds before we're born, which we then come into the world.
I have seen a perfect orange before I was born. I think that's a poem.
Anyway, I have seen a perfect orange before I was born. I come into the real world, the sort of, quote, sensual world.
I see this, and there's a dim memory of this perfect orange I saw before I was born, and blah, blah, blah.
Well, why would Plato focus so much on that?
Why have so many philosophers focused so much on that idea? Well.

[8:55] It's because of this question of which wins, the sensual evidence or the concept.
It's hugely, hugely important, and we'll sort of get to why in a moment, but I want you just to simmer on that question.
And the reason that Plato focused on having a kind of knowledge in the world, or in the mind, that was not derived, was not derived from the evidence of the senses, was because he wanted to be able to retain the primacy of concepts.
Oh man, sorry, I'm getting a little technical here.
What he wanted to do was he wanted to retain in this sort of conflict, right?
So you've got something that's really banging against each other, evidence of the senses and the ideas in the mind.
He wanted for the ideas in the mind to be the ones that could kick out sensual evidence.

[9:51] So, if everything that is true and valid within our minds is derived from and consistent with sensual evidence, then if we have a belief that is not supported by direct, tangible, sensual, physical evidence of some kind, or logic at least, then we've got to kick that idea out.
It's a bad tenant not paying his logical rent. Throw him on the street and don't look back.

The conflict between ideas and sensual reality

[10:18] So, in this conflict between what we have as ideas or propositions within our mind and what the evidence of the senses are, the real question is, which one wins?
The mind or sensual reality?
Now, science says, of course, between these two, sensual reality wins every time.
So, if I have an idea in my mind that the orange is going to fall sideways, but it instead falls down, down, then I can't say yes, but it still falls sideways.
I mean, I can, but I'm just not right. I'm fundamentally wrong because I've got a proposition in my mind that is not borne out by what actually happens in tangible and physical reality.
So, in conflicts between what we have in our mind and what occurs in reality, what goes on in our mind always has to give way, always is incorrect.
So, I said at the very beginning of this, the mind is capable of error.
The mind is capable of error. The world looks flat, but it's really round.
Sun and the moon look the same size. They're really not.
So the human mind is capable of error.

[11:25] And that's actually a good thing. I mean, that's part of how we progress as a species, right? Because we can make mistakes.
And so one of the mistakes that we make is looking at the world and knowing that it's round, despite the fact that it looks flat.
We can talk about that another time. Mistakes are pretty important.
That's how we move forward.
Denying the evidence of the senses is very important because, as I said, the evidence of the senses is that the world is flat when it's really round.
So denying the evidence of the senses is pretty important.
I mean, this is a very fundamentally powerful and positive thing that human beings do.
But the human mind is capable of error, and the question is error in relation to what? Well, error in relationship to two things.
There's sensual evidence and logic.
Logic is derived from sensual evidence. So, for instance, when you are a very—you probably don't remember this, and neither do I, but maybe you do.

Object constancy and the behavior of matter

[12:20] In which case, let me know if this makes sense to you. But—, At the very beginning of your life, sort of, I guess, you know, shortly six to 12 months into your toddlerhood, you would play with the ball.
So when you're a very, very little baby, right, you play with the ball and the ball drops and rolls under the couch.

[12:42] And, you know, for your mind, it's like, bing, ball has just vanished into beyond my reach other than baby land. And that process is a very important one to understand.
It's out of sight, out of mind. Or actually, in the baby's world, it's out of sight, out of reality.
It doesn't exist, right? So it's like the ball, the baby ball exists, exists, exists.
Oh, it goes out of the frame. It now ceases to exist. Oh, it's back, right? It's this idea that when you blink, the whole world vanishes and then reassembles itself when you stop blinking.

[13:17] And then at around sort of six months, eight months, ten months, swarms, whatever, you begin to get the magical thing called object constancy.
And what that means is that when you drop the ball as a baby and it rolls under the couch, you then go and crawl and look for it because you get in your mind that it has not ceased to exist because it's no longer visible.
It has gone under the couch. You can reach in there and get it back out.
So that is an important thing just because it's no longer directly uh part of your sensual framework right so you're looking at the ball you can see it and it rolls away right you can no longer see you can't touch it smell it taste whatever right so you still know that it exists though because you've started to understand that matter has properties that things that roll under a couch don't simply go into an alternate dimension cease to exist turn into ash or whatever right It seemed to me at times when I was a bachelor, they would turn into dust bunnies, but that's another story.
So once you start to get object constancy, you start to understand a little bit about the nature of matter.
And this is a whole process. You can look it up and look it up in psychology, the whole process that goes on about how we slowly, slowly, slowly begin to mount up to get different ideas, all of which are derived from the behavior of things in the world, the The behavior of matter, the behavior of energy, the behavior of atoms.

[14:41] And it's because matter is so consistent in its behavior that we derive the concepts of logic.
Object constancy would be impossible if balls that rolled under a couch really did vanish into another dimension and then popped back in a shelf up there somewhere or maybe never return at all or turn into a set of car keys or dust bunnies or whatever.

[15:05] If the behavior of matter was that in constant, of course, we wouldn't exist because we'd be a baby, then a bonfire, then a tree or whatever.
But we get the idea of object constancy because objects are, in fact, constant.
And that's a very important thing. We derive the idea of logic, of something existing and continuing to exist even though we can't see it, because that's how things really are.
Just because we can't see something doesn't mean that it doesn't exist, right?
I've just closed my eyes. It's not like you've just vanished or anything.
So because matter behaves in very predictable and stable ways, we can develop logic, object constancy, conceptual organization of our thoughts, and so on, all of which is dependent or derived from the constant properties and predictable behavior and stable behavior of matter and energy.
Now, this is very important, because if the validity of our—if truth within our minds, if concepts within our minds are valid, because we derive that validity or the principles of validity from the behavior of matter—Lord, am I ever getting complicated. Let me try that again.

Matter wins over ideas: the basis of the scientific method

[16:23] If within our mind—, we have logic because the material world is logical, then in any contradiction between what is in our mind and what is in the real world, what is in our mind has to give way.
Because what is in our mind is derived from what is in the real world.
We have the idea of logic in our mind because of the consistent behavior of matter. matter.
And what that means is that matter wins over ideas.
Now, this is the basis of the scientific method. I have a proposition.
That's fine. It's great. Let's make some predictions based on it.
Let's go measure what actually happens in the real world, and the real world wins.
Science only exists because of the existence of atoms, because of the existence of stable and unpredictable properties and behaviors of matter and energy, universal and predictable and stable laws of physics, and so on.
So, science only exists because of the behavior of matter.
Therefore, any contradiction between a scientific theory and the behavior of matter, the scientific theory must be thrown away, must be reformed until it perfectly conforms with the behavior of matter. Matter wins, ideas lose.

[17:45] Because we only have ideas because of the stable properties of matter.
So we can't dominate matter with our ideas.
Because we only have ideas because matter does what it does.
I think I've bounded that point far, far down into the ground.
So I'm sure you understand that.
So then, when we start to talk about human conflict...

[18:09] Then we can start to see what a powerful tool philosophy, and in particular epistemology, is in helping us resolve those conflicts.

[18:19] So, in the Middle Ages, and this is prior to the Middle Ages, but it's particularly true in the Middle Ages, you had a discipline called scholasticism, where they would argue about the properties of matter, and this and that and the other.

[18:30] And they would simply argue about it, but they would never actually go out and do experiments. This is a generalization.
I mean, even Aristotle suggested that experimentation was very important, But generally, people will talk about things in the Middle Ages.
They would talk about things within their own minds, but they would not do experiments to test the validity of those theories.
That really only came along after Francis Bacon a couple of centuries later.
And this is really how science works.
This is really how philosophy works, that if we have logic within our minds, truth values within our mind, if truth is how close our ideas reflect material objects in the real world, world, in other words, if things are only as true as they accurately represent things in the real world, then truth can never be superior to the behavior of things in the real world.
It would be totally the tail wagging the dog, putting the cart before the horse, however you want to put it.
It would be completely invalid if truth is only the degree of accuracy by which we describe things in the real world to say, my truth doesn't have to accurately describe things in the real world.
My truth can be completely independent of what actually happens in the real world.
My truth, my opinion is physics. I am physics.

The Importance of Behavior in Logic and Truth

[19:57] I mean, that wouldn't make any sense. We only have logic because of behavior of things in the real world.
The truth value of our propositions is only relative or only worthwhile relative to the degree with which it accurately talks about things in the real world, right? If I say my theory is that this falls down, then it's good.
If my theory is this falls up, my theory has to be thrown out because it falls down.
I can't say, well, this falls down, but I'm going to keep my theory.
I mean, I can say that, that this falls up. I can say that, but it's got no truth. It's false. It's a false statement.
And this really is, as I mentioned in the first section on epistemology, this is the difference.
Between opinion and truth, between opinion and fact. Fact is that which accurately describes the behavior of things in the real world. Opinion, not so much.
So I think it's fairly easy to understand then when we talk about Plato's idea that we have these perfect ideas within our heads of which material reality, is but a pale, inconsequential, shadowy derivation or substitute for those perfect ideas within our head, the reason that he says that is because for Plato, and for a lot of philosophers like Plato, right, let's get back our two fists of thinking, or.

Plato's View on the Superiority of the Mental over the Physical

[21:16] Sensual, mental, right?
In the scientific method in empiricism, and certainly in what I believe, physical always beats mental.
So in any conflict between the two, you throw away the mental, and you re-wrap it around the physical.
Now, for Plato's world, though, the physical is much, much less important.
The mental is superior, right? So, in conflicts between the two, you throw out the physical and you keep the mental because the mental is the idea of the perfect form, the pure ideal, that which is not sensually derived.
And so, the question around epistemology is where do we get our knowledge from, the truth value of our statements from?
Is it through divine revelation? relation? Is it through floating in some ethereal perfect world before we're born?
Well, then you can legitimately make the claim, based on the premises, I don't think legitimately overall, that in any conflict between sensual reality and ideas in your head, you throw out sensual reality because the idea is in your head.
Now, they're the ones that really count.
But in empiricism, in certainly what I think is valid.

[22:24] The ideas in your head are only derived from the material world, and therefore you can't have ideas in your head and call them valid if they directly contradict the properties and behavior of the material world.
So that's a very important thing, I think, to understand in the realm of epistemology.
There are huge consequences to each one of these two positions.
And just before I alienate you completely from these video podcasts or podcasts, I won't get into them right now.
We'll save that for next time when we start to talk about truth.

[23:01] But there are huge consequences to each one of these two opinions.

[23:06] Massive consequences directly related to your life.
Your life as a citizen. Your life as a lover. Your life as a family man.
Your life as a family woman.
Your life in your community, your life in school, your life as an ethical human being.
There are absolutely enormous consequences to each one of these two positions.
I'm going to argue for what I think is the right consequence, both in terms of logic and in terms of practical effect, but I definitely want to try and make the case for the other side as well, just so you understand that I do know the other side, and I've just studied it and rejected it.
But I think that That's very important to understand.

[23:44] Massive, massive consequences. And I think not just in terms of like right and wrong, but in terms of good and evil, which we'll get to in time, my friends. Thank you so much for listening as always.
I will look forward to chatting with you in the next one where I may in fact have a different shirt on. Thanks again.

Blog Categories

May 2024

Recent Comments

    Join Stefan Molyneux's Freedomain Community

    Become a part of the movement. Get exclusive content. Interact with Stefan Molyneux.
    Become A Member
    Already have an account? Log in
    Let me view this content first