Monthly Archives: July 2013
All science depends upon the record of the past, and a record other than that in the memory is plainly something which cannot be verified by direct observation.
…Verification is the watchword of Positivism. But it is easy to see that a proposition is no more verifiable by direct observation for being such as we can suppose (by a recognized falsification) to be observed unless it is also such as really can be observed. This maxim, therefore, must refer to really possible observations, not such as are supposably possible, for the proof they give leads to that or nothing.
…It is not a question capable of being decided by direct observation, what is and what is not direct observation. The logical rule, therefore, which is the whole basis of Positivism appears to me to be entirely false.
~C.S. Peirce, Notes on Positivism, in Charles S. Peirce: Selected Writings (Values in a Universe of Chance)
Peirce’s refutation is notable in several ways. First, his claim is only that Positivism “appears” false, a modesty born from his doctrine of fallibilism. Second, his refutation is a precursor of the famous Duhem-Quine thesis, which states that a scientific theory is not refuted on the basis of a single negative experiment because it’s always possible that some mistake was made in the measurement process and, in addition, the theory can be “rescued” by adding auxiliary hypotheses post-hoc. Similarly, Peirce’s point seems to be that Positivism fails to live up to its own standards because if we suppose the gold standard for knowledge is “direct observation”, how can we be sure that our observation was really and not seemingly direct? To verify that our observation was direct, we need a direct observation that our observation was direct. Thus, Positivism will either lead to an infinite regress or bottom out at a direct observation that we haven’t directly observed is a direct observation.
You might be wondering why this blog has recently downgraded to a series of quotes from random books I’m reading, but I want to assure you: it is not for lack of writing! Rather, as is typical during the summer, I am throwing almost of my writing energies into my Qualifying Paper, with a smidgen left over for emails, tweets, and fluffy blog posts (like this one!). To give you a flavor of the project monopolizing my scholarly willpower, the current but highly tentative title for the paper is “A Genealogical Defense of Normative Nihilism”. And if you can’t tell by the dreary and pompous title, yes, it is highly ambitious paper, perhaps too ambitious, a perennial problem for my philosophical projects. I can’t help it though. I loathe the idea of writing a paper that only moves a nanometer forward in conceptual space. I want to leap, not crawl.
There are thousands of books on happiness, and most of them start by asking what happiness really is. As readers quickly learn, this is approximately equivalent to beginning a pilgrimage by marching directly into the first available tar pit, because happiness really is nothing more or less than a word that we word makers can use to indicate anything we please.
~Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness, p. 31
Chips and circuit boards are useless without a source of energy. So is the brain. It took psychologists a while to realize this, and the realization came not from computer models but from biology. The transformation of psychology based on ideas from biology was one of the major developments of the late twentieth century. Some researchers found that genes had important effects on personality and intelligence. Others began to show that sexual and romantic behavior conformed to predictions from evolutionary theory and resembled aspects of behavior in many animal species. Neuroscientists began to map out brain processes. Others found out how hormones altered behavior. Psychologists were reminded over and over that the human mind exists in a biological body.
~Roy Baumeister & John Tierney, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, p. 42-43