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Tuesday, November 22, 2011


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You accept (2) based on the following:

"(2) is a good induction based on two and one half millenia of philosophical experience."

But this is a self-defeating argument.

Induction is certainly a philosophical problem. If (2) is true, then the problem of induction is insoluble. But if the problem of induction is insoluble, then we do not know whether it is a reliable form of inference. And since we do not know whether induction is a reliable form of inference, we should not rely upon it to support any proposition; particularly, we should not rely upon induction to support (2).

Hence, you do not have an argument on behalf of (2). Therefore, I reject (2) and any syllogism of which it is a premise.


I would say that we know that induction is a reliable form of inference whether or not we can solve the problem of induction just as we know that motion occurs whether or not we can answer adequately all of Zeno's arguments.

We would be in very bad shape indeed if our reliance on any cognitive procedure had to wait upon our having solved all the philosophical problems thrown up by that procedure. Note that the following two propositions are consistent (with each other):

1. The problem of induction is insoluble.

2. Some of what we know we know reliably on the basis of induction.

Induction is not the problem of induction. The fact, if it is a fact, that we are incapable of understanding how induction is possible does not show that induction is not a source of knowledge.

When you come to my door tomorrow I will know it is you just by looking -- and this depsite the fact, if it is a fact, that the problems of perception are insoluble.


I am not sure how to understand your response. If we already know that induction is a reliable form of inference, then what is the philosophical problem of induction? And why it is not solved? After all, if we do know that induction is reliable, then we could identify our justification that grounds this knowledge and rely on this justification to solve the problem of induction. But we do not know whether induction is a reliable form of inference. Hence the philosophical problem of induction.

The mere fact that in every day life we do (and even must) rely upon induction (perception, motion exists, etc.,) in order to conduct our life is far from conclusive evidence that we do not have a philosophical problem of induction (perception, motion, etc.). For if such reliance were grounds to dismiss the philosophical problem, then there would not be philosophical problems at all. These problems arise very often because while we rely upon these assumptions in order to conduct our life, they do not seem to be supportable on rational grounds.

Since your argument is a philosophical argument, the justification for each premise needs to be rationally grounded. But the justification for premise (2) is not so grounded, because it relies upon induction and this form of inference may not be rationally justified.

What does it mean for a problem to be solvable?
A: a solution exists?
B: a solution-that-exists can be found?
C: an accessible-solution-that-exists can be articulated to the "satisfaction of all able practitioners"?

It would appear that you're using "C".

In that case, I also lean toward the third syllogism -- but certainly not due to inherent difficulty of philosophical problems! :-D

"If you have any answers, it is time to start asking more difficult questions."

Hi Bill,

Philosophy is hard work; it requires its practitioners to be athletes of the mind, and it requires also the painstaking construction of a great deal of complex intellectual scaffolding -- all just to enable the erection of an edifice that you've now said you believe can never be built.

A metaphilosophical question, then: If you really are serious in saying that you think the core problems of philosophy are insoluble, why should one keep at it? Crypto-optimism?

The practice of philosophy surely keeps the intellectual faculties in excellent working order, but there are plenty of brainy pursuits that do that, and pay higher practical dividends. Why work so hard chasing rainbows?


Good comment. Those are the right questions to ask. Yes, I gravitate toward (C). That of course requires defense in a separate post.

Roughly: there are no problems in themselves. There are problems only for us. So solutions have to be accessible to us to count as solutions. Furthermore, the disagreement of able practitioners gives us good reason to suspect that a proposed solution is not a genuine solution.


You too are posing an excellent and important question.

Starting with your last comment, I fully agree that justifying phil. activity on the ground that it keeps the intellect tuned up is a pretty lame justification for the very reasons you gave.

I want also to say that I would prefer genuine solutions if such are attainable to the stance according to which the core problems are insoluble. But better no solution than a pseudo-solution. So there is some crypto-optimism hiding behind my pessimism. But note that if I am right then my pessmism is really realism.

Why do philosophy if one believes that the central problems are absolutely insoluble? Here are some possible answers.

1. Solutions relative to cognitive values and background assumptions are attainable, and these solutions are good enough. (Rescher) I don't endorse this, but it is a possible position.

2. Though the problems are insoluble, studying them gives us insight into the limits of the human intellect, and this is a very good thing. On this approach, the task of philosophy is mainly negative: the debunking of epistemic pretense a la Socrates. This includes the exposure and critique of bad philosophy, in particular the scientistic pseudo-philosophy of certain scientists.

3. The study of philosophy and its problems has a civilizing and humanizng effect. Someone who fully appreciates the intractability of the problems and the extreme difficult at arriving at truth will be less like to embrace dogmas which when put into practice lead to strife and bloodshed. E.g., the commies murdered 100 million in the 20th cent. and surely their dogmas played a role in this.

4. A Zen Buddhist could immerse himself in problems he considers intractable with the same goal in mind that he has in mind when he works on a koan. Arguably, the probs of phil are koans that a Westerner can take seriously.

5. A Christian Pyrrhonist can take the insolubility of the probs of phil as yet another proof of the infirmity of reason and of man's fallen nature.

6. There is the sheer pleasure of studying the whole range of problems, their interconnections, and all their details. The hiker doesn't hike to get somewhere, but to enjoy the local cartography. A philosopher may similarly take pleasutre in the cartography of the mind even if he is convinced that he will never 'get anywhere.'

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