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Analysis of Robert Spillane Quoting Roger Kimball

Rather than spend time constructing new sentences to respond to your questions and comments, I quote Roger Kimball (who made Americans aware of David Stove's essays).

'At the center of Popper's thinking about the philosophy of science is a profound skepticism, derived from David Hume, about the rationality of inductive reasoning...

This is incorrect. With Popper, I hold there is no inductive reasoning. Induction is a myth. No one has ever induced a conclusion. Since inductive reasoning doesn't exist, judging it as rational or irrational is beside the point. (This is why I try to ask questions about instructions for doing induction, or about which ideas to induce in a given situation. Without answers to these questions, then induction can't be done and can't reach any conclusion at all, rational or not.)

So the quote you're giving doesn't engage with the position I'm advocating.

Like the young Hume, Popper concluded from the fact that inductive reasoning was not logically valid - that inductive evidence does not yield absolute certainty - that it was therefore incapable of furnishing compelling reasons for belief.

This assumes one has induced some conclusion(s) and the issue is to debate whether we should accept those conclusions are rational, valid, practical, partially certain, etc.

But, as above, that isn't the issue. So this isn't engaging with the position I'm advocating.

Popper was a deductivist. He dreamt of constructing a philosophy of science based solely on the resources of logic.

No he didn't. Quote? Source? Conjecture – which played a huge role in Popper's epistemology – isn't deduction. Popper also emphasized explanation and problem solving, which aren't deduction.

He was also an empiricist: he admitted no source of knowledge beyond experience. As Stove shows, the combination of empiricism and deductivism - in Hume as well as in Popper - is a prescription for irrationalism and cognitive impotence. An empiricist says that no propositions other than propositions about the observed can be a reason to believe a contingent proposition about the unobserved; an empiricist who is also a deductivist is forced to conclude that there can be no reasons at all to believe any contingent proposition about the unobserved.

Popper explained what we can do instead of having positive reasons: we can make unjustified conjectures. We can then use criticism to improve our ideas and make progress. Error elimination, not justification, is the key to epistemology.

Whether Popper (and I) are correct or incorrect about this view, the quote isn't discussing it. The quote isn't a reply to us.

Hume himself, in his posthumously publishedDialogues Concerning Natural Religion, ridiculed this "pretended skepticism" as a juvenile affectation...

'Popper resuscitated Hume's brand of skepticism, dressing it up in a new vocabulary. In Popper's philosophy of science, we find the curious thought that falsifiability, not verifiability, is the distinguishing mark of scientific theories; this means that, for Popper, only theories that are disprovable are genuinely scientific...

What's wrong with that? And how can theories be verified? The quote doesn't say.

Popper denied that we can ever legitimately infer the unknown from the known;

Yes, but Popper says we can know about the unknown by methods other than inference. This quote doesn't discuss that.

audacity, not caution, was for him the essence in science; far from being certain, the conclusions of science, he said, were never more than guesswork...;

Right. What's wrong with that? Do you claim we can be certain – meaning we can have infallible knowledge? How?

and since for Popper "there are no such things as good positive reasons" to believe a scientific theory, no theory can ever be more probable than another; indeed, he says that the truth of any scientific proposition is exactly as improbable as the truth of a self-contradictory proposition - or, "in plain English", as Stove puts it, "it is impossible".

The quote isn't providing a criticism of Popper's view. It also, so far, hasn't said anything about the two questions I asked.

'...What was novel [about Popper's doctrine] was the amazing thought that positive instances do not - in principle cannot - act to confirm a proposition or theory. For Popper, if every raven anyone has ever seen is black, that fact gives no rational support for the belief that all ravens, in fact, are black.

Correct: if you want to argue that all ravens are black, you'll need a different argument that doesn't have a logical hole in it. This quote isn't stating what the logical problems with positive support are that Popper explained, nor answering Popper's arguments.

Scientific laws, he says, "can never be supported, or corroborated, or confirmed by empirical evidence". He goes even further: of two hypotheses "the one which can be better corroborated, is always less probable." Whatever else these statements may be, they are breathtakingly irrationalist...

Rather than provide a criticism of Popper's view, the author states the view then calls Popper irrationalist (without defining it).

What am I supposed to learn from this?

'It would be difficult to overstate the radical implications of Popper's irrationalist view of science. Popper was apparently found of referring to "the soaring edifice of science". But in fact his philosophy of science robbed that edifice of its foundation. Refracted through the lens of Popper's theories, the history of modern science is transformed from a dazzling string of successes into a series of "problems" or ... "conjectures and refutations". On the traditional view, scientific knowledge can be said to be cumulative: we know more now than we did in 1899, more then than in 1699. Popper's theory, which demotes scientific laws to mere guesses, denies this: in one of his most famous phrases, he speaks of science as "conjectural knowledge", an oxymoronic gem that, as Stove remarks, makes as much sense as "a drawn game that was won." (This paragraph contradicts your statement that Popper supports a cumulative view of science).

Overall, the quote is full of conclusion claims instead of arguments. It also doesn't speak to the two questions I asked.

(Roger Kimball, Against the Idols of the Age, Transaction, 1999, pp. xxi-xxiii).

I have answered your questions #1 and #2 directly and indirectly.

To repeat: in The Rationality of Induction, Stove has answered your questions.

I have the book but you didn't tell me which pages you believe answer the question. When you provide the page numbers which you claim answer me, then I'll read them.

Needless to say, I agree with him.

Specifically, Stove reduces inductive inferences to the inference from proportions in a population. As mathematician, James Franklin, writes: 'It is a purely mathematical fact that the great majority of large samples of a population are close to the population in composition'. In cases such as political polling the observed, if based on a large enough sample, is probably a fair sample of the unobserved. 'This applies equally in the case where the sample is of past observation, and the population includes future ones. The sample is probably still a fair one, and one can make a probable inference (unless, of course, one has further reason not to: probable inferences are always relative to the evidence at hand).' (J. Franklin, Corrupting the Youth: A History of Philosophy in Australia, 2003, p. 338).

For any finite set of data, there are multiple ways to infer from proportions in the population which contradict each other. So which inferences from which proportions is one to find (by what means?) and then accept?

Note that this is the same two questions I asked in my previous email. The questions were about (1) which ideas do you induce and (2) how much inductive support do they have (so, if there's more than one, which is accepted over the others for having more support?)?

Also, related, the future always resembles the past in some ways and not other ways. So how do you approach the issue of which proportions of populations will hold in the future and which won't?

If Stove answers this, simply provide a reference (page numbers) where I can find the answer.

A quick look at 'The Analytic-Synthetic Distinction' on Wikipedia gives a list of those philosophers who have, quite rightly, rejected Quine's criticism. Quine is routinely quoted by philosophers and psychologists who, I suspect, have never read Ayer, Quine or Strawson. I say this because they rarely, if ever, make clear exactly what Quine's arguments were.

I don't care about lists of people who took some position, I care about arguments.

Admittedly, your short rejection is not Quine's but the criticisms of Quine can be applied to you.

Which criticisms?

You will never convince me that the following two propositions are logically and empirically the same: 'All tall men are tall' and 'All tall men are blond'. By rejecting the a-s dichotomy, you deny the possibility of necessary truths. Do you accept, then, necessary falsity?

No I don't accept necessary falsity. It's the same issue. To judge if 1+1=3 you still have to sum 1 and 1 and compare the sum to 3. The arguments I gave about 1+1=2 apply to this too.


Elliot Temple on July 29, 2017

Comments (8)

Kimball says:

>Scientific laws, he says, "can never be supported, or corroborated, or confirmed by empirical evidence". He goes even further: of two hypotheses "the one which can be better corroborated, is always less probable." Whatever else these statements may be, they are breathtakingly irrationalist...

Why doesn't Kimball engage with Popper's actual arguments instead of calling him names?

From Chapter 11 of Conjectures & Refutations:

>some theories expose themselves to possible refutations more boldly than others. For example, a theory from which we can deduce precise numerical predictions about the splitting up of the spectral lines of light emitted by atoms in magnetic fields of varying strength will be more exposed to experimental refutation than one which merely predicts that a magnetic field influences the emission of light. A theory which is more precise and more easily refutable than another will also be the more interesting one. Since it is the more daring one, it will be the one which is less probable. But it is better testable, for we can make our tests more precise and more severe. And if it stands up to severe tests it will be better confirmed, or better attested, by these tests. Thus confirmability (or attestability or corroborability) must increase with testability.

what's his crit of this?

Anonymous at 7:32 AM on August 6, 2017 | #8894
> Why doesn't Kimball engage with Popper's actual arguments instead of calling him names?

Presumably the standard reasons: ignorance, lack of skill, and a career focussed on social status games.

Why have so few people come up with anything similar to Paths Forward? E.g. academic paper discussions follow a totally different ethos (and most don't discuss at all).

Because they are trying to fit in, advance their career, etc. Most "thinkers" do little or no original work, and just quibble over which contradictory mix of previous thinkers to accept. They try to sound smart rather than be smart – and that's adequate for the social status they want.

No doubt many of them would like to do better, and they try sporadically. But stuff gets in the way, and they back off before fucking up their life, and they go back to their rationalizations.

Anonymous at 9:20 AM on August 6, 2017 | #8895
You can see from Spillane's choice of quotes that he's quoting Kimball's opinion of Popper rather than quoting arguments. Very sad, irrational, and second-handed...

Anonymous at 10:26 AM on August 6, 2017 | #8896

Induction?

> With Popper, I hold there is no inductive reasoning. Induction is a myth. No one has ever induced a conclusion. Since inductive reasoning doesn't exist, judging it as rational or irrational is beside the point. (This is why I try to ask questions about instructions for doing induction, or about which ideas to induce in a given situation. Without answers to these questions, then induction can't be done and can't reach any conclusion at all, rational or not.)

Seems to me I use induction or inductive methods all the time. I've learned that arriving at my bus stop five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive generally leads to a short wait before the bus arrives. Isn't this induction, i.e., anticipation based on experience?

I seek clarification.

Anonymous at 1:51 PM on August 6, 2017 | #8900

Induction? Oops

That was from me.

Alan Nicoll at 1:51 PM on August 6, 2017 | #8901
Induction makes specific claims about *how* you learn from experience. E.g. that you do it by *generalizing* data to theories.

Popper says you did use experience and learn, but you actually did it by the method of guesses and criticism which doesn't fit the inductive viewpoint.

I recommend David Deutsch's books to learn more about this.

http://fallibleideas.com/books#deutsch

curi at 2:00 PM on August 6, 2017 | #8902

Still confused

> Induction makes specific claims about *how* you learn from experience. E.g. that you do it by *generalizing* data to theories.
> Popper says you did use experience and learn, but you actually did it by the method of guesses and criticism which doesn't fit the inductive viewpoint.

Thanks for the quick response. I think you're distorting my (plain English) meaning to fit technical terms. I hope that's not necessary.

> With Popper, I hold there is no inductive reasoning.

It appears that "inductive reasoning" is intended in some technical sense which I did not immediately grok. This conclusion probably should follow what I wrote earlier, i.e., the following. If that's correct, then there's no need to read the rest here.

My experience leads me to "generalize" to the theory: "arriving five minutes early is efficient (or "good" in a Jamesian sense)." You could call that "theory" a "guess"; but then whence comes the "criticism"? I think it takes a philosopher to argue that my example is not an example of "induction."

My MacBook dictionary defines "induction" thus (in part):

"3 (Logic) the inference of a general law from particular instances."

It is my intention to communicate in "plain English" by default; I do not aim for "Popperspeak" or "technical correctness" or any other standard that I'm aware of. I'm not going to go off and read a book to continue this discussion--it's not that important to me. (I've read some Popper and Deutsch but claim no expertise. I'm a layman, not a professional philosopher.)

Alan Nicoll at 3:10 PM on August 6, 2017 | #8903
That dictionary definition is the kind of thing I'm talking about. If you read _The Fabric of Reality_, Deutsch will explain why induction is a mistaken concept and what the alternative is (especially ch. 1,3,7).

Induction is common sense, yet false. People don't know much about how their own thinking process works. We don't object to what you're saying just because it's vague and non-technical, it's also mistaken.

Induction fails to explain how general ideas are created, which ones to create instead of others, how to choose between rival ideas, some steps a person could follow to do induction, etc. Steps like "generalize" aren't followable because they don't say what to generalize or how to do it. (So what people end up doing is creating generalizations with guesses and criticism, not induction.)

Criticism is necessary for figuring out which ideas are good or bad. To get good ideas we have to find and fix mistakes.

curi at 3:35 PM on August 6, 2017 | #8904

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)