Topic: problems with empirical truth

topics > philosophy > Group: meaning and truth

empirical truth
meaning by language as a whole
metaphysics and epistemology
philosophy of science
problems with analytic truth
science as measurement
skepticism about knowledge
what is truth


How can there be a problem with empirical truth? Isn't this what is true?

Philosophers have often questioned empirical truth. Aren't the senses fallible? How can experience be the source of truth when it is so chaotic, confused, and arbitrary? How can we make a statement from a small number of observations? What about concepts such as "fragile" or "length"? Even if observables confirm an hypothesis, where does the hypothesis come from?

If we dealt with experience alone, there would be no intuitive leap to go from the particular to the general. Often, speculative knowledge comes first. For example, Galileo discovered the law of gravity as a rule of proportionality and then confirmed the law with experiment.

One solution is to expand the scope of what it is that is true. This is the approach of Frege in going from words to sentences, and that of Quine, in going from sentences to knowledge as a whole. Then observables and concepts have a certain freedom.

More than this, it appears that language concerns much more than reality. Sensory experience is of course an important part of language. But so is ethics, imagination, games, and ideas. (cbb 4/94 4/98)

Subtopic: empirical truth requires faith, convention, other worlds up

Quote: Copernicus believed that Venus goes around the sun even though Venus when far from the earth was nearly the same size as it was when close to the earth [»galiG_1632]
Quote: Galileo discovered the equation for acceleration in free fall by seeking a general rule of proportionality for uniform growth of distances, times, and speeds [»drakS5_1973]
Quote: all languages are anchored in other worlds rather than in sensible experience [»mitcR_1979]
Quote: the unit of empirical significance is the whole of science and not statements (Frege) or terms (Locke) [»quinWV1_1951]
Quote: we cannot abandon magic; our language assumes the existence of abstract entities; so with mankind and gravity comes Lady Luck and fate [»mitcR_1979]
Quote: the system of concepts is the creation of man. It is bound by simplicity and the most nearly possible certain, intuitive connection to the totality of sense-experience
Quote: because the geometrical behaviour of real solid bodies depends on conditions, geometric predicates and physical laws about reality are conventions. They are selected so that geometry and all of physical law are in accord with experience [»einsA_1923]
Quote: knowledge cannot spring from experience alone; the human mind must first construct forms independently before comparing them against observed fact [»einsA11_1930]
Quote: young children and tamarins expect all falling objects to fall straight down, despite evidence to the contrary [»hausMD_2000]

Subtopic: limitations of empiricism up

Quote: the third dogma of empiricism is a dualism between a schema that organizes experience and the experience itself; it is vacuous [»daviD11_1974]
Quote: nothing makes sentences and theories true; "My skin is warm" if true iff my skin is warm; no reference to a fact or experience [»daviD11_1974]

Subtopic: empirical truth is not logical up

Note: any logical definition of empirical significance appears to run into trouble; gives example [»hempCG_1951, OK]
Quote: non-demonstrative inference confirms an hypothesis with evidence; what is the origin for the hypothesis used to infer a model of reality? [»turvMT_1984]
Quote: there is no empirical method without speculative concepts and no speculative thinking that does not stem from empirical material [»galiG_1632]

Subtopic: measurement up

Quote: could define empirically significant terms via reduction sentences, but couldn't handle concepts such as length (could be irrational) [»hempCG_1951]
Quote: if insist on empirically defined terms, how can one handle disposition terms such as 'fragile'? [»hempCG_1951]
Quote: can not separate atomic operations from their measuring instruments; all description is inherently classical
Quote: can only study different complementary types of atomic phenomena [»bohrN_1949]

Subtopic: unbounded domains up

Quote: problem of unbounded domains--a universally quantified sentence can not be empirically confirmed; so without a truth value [»hempCG_1951]
Quote: extensive knowledge is as nothing because understanding a thousand intelligibles is nothing to the infinity that exist [»galiG_1632]

Subtopic: ethics up

Quote: if objectivity is the foundation of knowledge than ethics is not part of knowledge [»monoJ_1971]

Related Topics up

Topic: empirical truth (47 items)
Topic: meaning by language as a whole (26 items)
Topic: metaphysics and epistemology (99 items)
Group: philosophy of science   (10 topics, 406 quotes)
Topic: problems with analytic truth (20 items)
Topic: science as measurement (36 items)
Topic: skepticism about knowledge (34 items)
Topic: what is truth
(67 items)

Updated barberCB 11/04
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