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The Verification Principle is Sound

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Voting Style: Open with Elo Restrictions Point System: Select Winner
Started: 2/18/2015 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 3 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,571 times Debate No: 70246
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (62)
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I do a lot of ethics debates and things of that nature, but I would like to discuss a topic that is perhaps a little more esoteric and philosophical.

To accept this debate, you must've already complete 2 debates. The ELO voting floor on this debate has been set at 2,000.

Full Topic

The Verification Principle is Sound


Sound - free from error, illogic, and fallacy
The Verification Principle - that a sentence only has cognitive meaning if it is analytically or empirically verifiable: (a) empirical verification involves using one's senses to confirm or disconfirm the statement; (b) analytic verification involves using truths of definition or truths of logic (e.g. syllogistic deduction) to confirm or disconfirm the statement. So, for example, I can empirically confirm that my dog is brown simply by observing it with my eyes, just as I can analytically confirm that all bachelors are unmarried by logically examining what a bachelor is. In other words, all cognitively meaningful claims are testable.


1. No forfeits
2. Any citations or foot/endnotes must be provided in the text of the debate
3. No new arguments in the final round
4. Maintain a civil and decorous atmosphere
5. No trolling or semantics
6. My opponent accepts all definitions and waives his/her right to add definitions
7. The BOP is on Pro
8. Pro must go first and must waive in the final round
9. Violation of any of these rules or of any of the R1 set-up merits a loss


R1. Pro's Case
R2. Con's Case, Pro rebuts Con's Case
R3. Con rebuts Pro's Case, Pro defends Pro's Case
R4. Con defends Con's Case, Pro waives

Thanks... whomever accepts; I look forward to a philosophical, fun exchange.


Disclaimer: This is me playing Devil's Advocate, I just really wanted to debate bsh1, since at the time we had not started a single debate together. I hope you enjoy this read. I have two requests: firstly that anyone who feels they did not "get" the debate please don't vote, only vote if you understood the debate; secondly that bluesteel and YYW abstain from voting.

On The Distinctions of Knowledge

Let us begin by understanding the fundamental distinctions in knowledge. In essence I defend the verification principle which deals with propositions, but these propositions express, a form of knowledge [or else they are literally incoherent]. So let us divide the forms of knowledge into two parts: that which is purely theoretical as a priori, and that which is either empirical or based off of empirical sciences as a posteriori. An example of a knowledge which seems theoretical and is in fact a posteriori is the statement: if I remove the foundation, this building will fall. Of course I have not seen with my own two eyes that this building will fall, but because this knowledge is taken from the experience of seeing similar buildings fall, it is based on experience and so is a posteriori.

All propositions make claims on one or the other form of knowledge. Let us divide the nature of these claims into two forms as well. Let us call the first analytic, and this claims that the sentence is self-referential, or its expression is a tautology [obvious], or that it is self-contradictory to deny. An example may be that all bodies are extended, or that all bachelors are unmarried, or an orange is an orange. The second let us name synthetic, and these are statements that form judgements which need to be verified, and are not self-contradictory to deny, nor do they assert themselves through themselves. An example may be: that sweater is brown, or you are a nice person.

It is now that we connect these two paragraphs and state that all propositions are of four fundamental types. Firstly all propositions either express a priori, or they express a posteriori. Secondly they do so either analytically or synthetically. So our four categories, and an example of this type of sentence is shown below.

analytic a priori: all mathematical judgements; analytic a priori means theoretical philosophy, and all other theoretical expressions, however they are self-referential and contradictory to deny.
analytic a posteriori: the oranges are oranges; all bachelors are married; expressions which deal with the physical world and are self-referential.
synthetic a priori: the Soul exists, there is a Heaven; statements which cannot be verified by themselves, are not tautologies, and express purely theoretical forms of knowledge which cannot be empirically verified. [Positivists deny this]
synthetic a posteriori: You're handsome, this is a nice person, water boils at 100 C; all such statements which are not self-referential, and express truths about the empirical world.

Clarifications and The Burden of Proof

The Verification Principle holds that all synthetic a priori statements are ultimately meaningless. Allow me to first explain what meaningless here means, it does not mean that you won't understand what the subject matter is about: by meaningless we mean that they hold no importance or value to us because they can not be verified. I am the Proposition, and I affirm the burden though bsh1 has a mountain to climb. To win this debate he must show that synthetic a priori knowledge is possible. Surely I cannot be expected to prove a negative! Te verification principle is sound, and I affirm that, and in affirming that I shall show that all 3 other propositions hold meaning, and then I can only state that synthetic a priori judgements do not hold meaning. Just as an agnostic cannot be asked to prove his position, in this matter, the burden will fall to Brian. I can only point out the lack of something, I cannot prove that the something does not exist, simply that the lack of evidence shows that it would not.

So in essence I will show analytic a priori, and a posteriori and synthetic a posteriori as propositions which show meaning. For Brian to win this debate he must either prove that one of the above three categories do not hold meaning, or that synthetic a priori propositions do hold meaning. That is not laying a burden on him, that is simply the only way he can offer a refutation.

The Proof of the Three Types of Propositions

analytic a priori/a posteriori: These are judgements which are self-proving and so they prove themselves as a general category. The statement that "all bachelors are unmarried" is self-referential and so it is literally obvious that these two categories exist, and can be verified. Mathematical judgements can be verified through geometry, or other tests in Physics; as statements like all bodies are extended [take up space] can be verified through eyesight. It is then simple enough that these categories exist.

synthetic a posteriori: It is also clear that this category exists. After all the belief that water boils at 100 C can be verified easily enough through a physical test. One can take a thermometer, and measure the tempreature at which water turns to steam. Now water boiling at 100 C is not analytic, it does not verify itself, but we can verify it by a simple enough test, and so the proposition holds cognitive meaning.

I have so shown that the three types of propositions that the verification principle supports are in fact meaningful and have a truth function for other sentient beings.

In Essence

I hold, through this principle, that everything should at least have the potency to either be tested, or be a tautology which is self-evident. if this is not the case then the proposition does not have a truth function and is meaningless or one could say useless to us. To prove this principle wrong, Brian must give a system of philosophy where synthetic a priori judgements can be made, or he must give reasoning to show that these three types of propositions may be doubted.

Brian must show why sentences like the Soul exist, or Heaven exists can be proved to be true, if he cannot present a method through which the Soul can be affirmed, or Heaven then he has lost this debate. I, again, as an epistemological agnostic here cannot be asked to prove that synthetic a priori does not exist, I can only show there is no proof that it does.

I See You

It is a common criticism to state that the verification principle falls on itself. Many claim that because the verification principle is a philosophy it does not verify itself and is so self contradictory. This would be true had I tried to show the verification principle through theoretical speculation. I have not done that though. You see Con can't claim that it destroys itself because I did not prove a principle, instead I showed that it can be deduced analytically.

I did not present speculation in favor of verificationism. What we did was that we effectively created divisions in the field of what propositions express. Then we said we can affirm these 3, and the fourth we cannot affirm and is so meaningless. We simply proved three, and the fourth we could not, and so we remain agnostic to that. The state of mind which holds that these three are meaningful, and the fourth is not, is called verificationsism. We called this principle, which we reached purely analytically the verification principle. As we reached it through obvious deduction, and not through metaphysical speculation the "principle" which is just a description of a state of mind is analytic and so does not contradict itself.


It is then simple enough, our stance. It is now Con's turn to either show one of the propositions that verificationsim allows is meaningless, or that synthetic a priori is meaningful. If he cannot do this, then s/he loses this debate. I thank Brian for instigating this debate, and everyone else who takes their time reading it.

Debate Round No. 1


Thanks, Ajab!. I will present my case.


Pro has the sole BOP (per rule 7) to uphold the resolution. This means that Ajab must show that the verification principle (VP) is indeed sound. If I can tie the arguments, show any logical flaw, or (notice it's "or," not "and") illustrate that there are cognitively meaningful sentences that are unverifiable, I have won the debate.

It is also important to clarify that I only need to critique the VP, I do not need to offer any kind of alternative to it, in order to win.

So, to summarize, Ajab's burden in this debate is to show that the VP is 100% free of error or fallacy, and I have no complimentary burden to defend any alternative to it. With these points in mind, we can proceed to the bulk of my argument.


Contention One: The verification principle is self-contradictory, and thus illogical

Recall from the definition of the principle that was provided in round one, that the principle asserts "all cognitively meaningful claims are testable." Clearly, the principle itself has cognitive meaning in that we can understand the principle on a cognitive level. In fact, the principle itself is a fact-claim; it is asserting a claim with truth-value (that can be true or untrue). Yet, the claim is not testable. It is neither true by definition (analytically) or empirically verifiable; so, in a sense, the principle refutes itself.

Contention Two: Empirical Verification

A. The Problem of Induction

The VP relies on two methods of verification to affirm the meaning of a sentence. I will show that empirical testing falls prey to the problem of induction, rendering it illogical.

"The original problem of induction...concerns the support or justification of inductive methods; methods that predict or infer...Such methods are clearly essential in scientific reasoning as well as in the conduct of our everyday affairs. The problem is how to support or justify them and it leads to a dilemma: the principle cannot be proved deductively, for it is contingent, and only necessary truths can be proved deductively. Nor can it be supported inductively--by arguing that it has always or usually been reliable in the past--for that would beg the question by assuming just what is to be proved." [1]

To illustrate this problem, we can look at the example of the sun rise. I know that the sun will rise tomorrow. Why do I know that? Because it rose yesterday, and the day before that. The question becomes: why will the pattern of the sun rising continue tomorrow? The answer is: because the pattern is that the sun always rises. The pattern becomes self-referential and circular, but it cannot justify itself on its own, since something could always disrupt the pattern (e.g. a supernova). So, inductive reasoning is alway question-begging, and thus logically fallacious. [2] "[I]t requires inductive reasoning to arrive at the premises for the principle of inductive reasoning, and therefore the justification for inductive reasoning is a circular argument." [3]

B. Unreliability of the Senses

The senses are notoriously unreliable. Eyewitnesses, for instance, are extremely unreliable due to stress, reconstructive memory issues, weapon-focus, and more. [4] Other experiments point out how easily our senses can be fooled, e.g. one well known psychology experiment where one person asks you questions, and is then surreptitiously replaced with another examiner. Most people don't notice the switch. [5]

C. The New Problem of Induction

Suppose we discover two new colors of crystals: Grue and Bleen. Grue crystals are: "all green crystals mined before the year 3000 and all blue crystals mined thereafter." Bleen is the direct opposite of Grue. In addition to these two colors, we still have all of our normal colors such as green and red and so forth. Now, let's construct two fact-claims using our inductive logic about the a particular crystal mine:

P1. All crystals mined there are green
P2. The past will be like the future
C1. All crystals from the mine will continue to be green after year 3000


P1. All crystals mined there are grue
P2. The past will be like the future
C1. All crystals from the mine will continue to be grue after year 3000

These two syllogisms (while not formally valid), illustrate two equally, inductively logical claims. However, these claims conflict. If you buy the first argument, all crystals will be green after year 3000, yet if you buy the second argument, all crystals will be blue ("grue") after year 3,000. Thus, the two arguments cannot both be right. The impact here is that induction can easily reach logical impasses where equally inductively valid hypothesis cannot both be true. This is clearly illogical; from what we know, both arguments are "true" inductively, but one must be false.

D. The Raven Paradox

In logic, contraposition is a law that says that a statement is logically equivalent to its contrapositive. So, for example, if I say "If something is a scarf, then it is cloth" then I can correctly assert it's contrapositive, which is "If something is not cloth, then it is not a scarf."

The paradox is shown in this example: "All ravens are black," the contrapositive of which is "everything that is not a raven is not black." Consider, inductive logic (for example, looking at 1,000 black ravens) would lead me to conclude the first statement, but it results in logical absurdity in the second. In other words, inductive logic results in claims that violate laws of logic.

Contention Three: Cognitive Meaning

What has cognitive meaning, and, generally speaking, what does it mean for a sentence to have cognitive meaning? A plain text reading of the definition for the VP would suggest that any sentence has cognitive meaning if we can make mental sense of it. Love, for example, has emotive meaning, but it isn't something we can rationalize or neatly understand in our heads, so it appears to lack cognitive meaning. On the other hand, the notion that 1 + 1 = 2 is something we can very easily process on a cognitive level, and so it has cognitive, but not emotive, meaning.

I contend that there are unverifiable sentences that contain cognitive meaning, including opinions and commands. If I were to say, "blue is the best color in the world," this is something we can comprehend on a cognitive level. I can even create neat mental images (such as a color hierarchy with blue at the top), to process my understanding of this claim. Yet, as an abstract opinion, it is not testable. Similarly, if I were to say, "pick up the trash," I have a very clear cognitive understanding of what that sentence means, yet it is obviously not testable since it makes no claim. Both of these sentences, at face value, appear to be cognitively meaningful, yet both are unverifiable.

Contention Four: Radical Confirmation Holism

Radical confirmation holism holds "that no theory of any type can be tested in isolation but only when embedded in a background of other hypotheses...Quine thought that this background involved not only such hypotheses but also our whole web-of-belief, which, among other things, includes our mathematical and logical theories and our scientific theories." For instance, my belief that the Earth Orbits the Sun relies on the validity of an entire scientific system, and impacts many other beliefs that I have. I cannot test this single belief without, by consequence, jeopardizing the validity of my entire web. Verificationism contends that single, isolated sentences are testable. If Radical confirmation holism is accurate, this is an impossible task, since testing any once sentence tests every testable sentence we've ever made.

Contention Five: Analytic Verification

"By definition; 'bachelor,' for example, is defined as 'unmarried man.' But how do we find that 'bachelor' is defined as 'unmarried man'?...Are we to appeal to the nearest dictionary, and accept the lexicographer's formulation as law? Clearly this would be to put the cart before the horse...Certainly the "definition" which is the lexicographer's report of an observed synonymy cannot be taken as the ground of the synonymy." [6]

Thus, we cannot use analytic verification to confirm that "bachelors are unmarried men" from the statement, "unmarried men are unmarried." Truths of definition rely on circularity in their relationships.



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5 - See video.
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a -
b -
c -
d -

Thus I affirm. Thanks! Over to Pro...


Ajabi forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2


Ajab has asked me to delay the debate. The new structure is as follows:

R1. Pro's Case
R2. Con's Case, Pro Passed
R3. Con rebuts Pro's Case, Pro rebuts Con's Case
R4. Crystallization and Summary (5,000 Character max)


Ajabi forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


The ignominy of a full forfeit...Oh well.

Please Vote Con.


Ajabi forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
62 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by CorieMike 2 years ago
I agree with WillYouMarryMe lol
Posted by WillYouMarryMe 3 years ago
why do literally all of Ajabi's more interesting debates end in forfeits?
Posted by bsh1 3 years ago
Posted by Ajabi 3 years ago
Could I ask that you lol just extend and ask them to ignore the forfeiture. :P
I'm so sorry, this week has not been good for me, I've been hospitalized and I can PM you my medical proof. :P
I'm also a horrible procrastinator. I know it would give me the final word but if you could do that I'd appreciate it.
Otherwise just extend and I'll fight with one less argument space. :p
Posted by Ajabi 3 years ago
Ill send you the google docs link within a few hours. Thanks again.
Posted by bsh1 3 years ago
You should be able to PM me now.
Posted by bsh1 3 years ago
Posted by Ajabi 3 years ago
Could you unblock me please Brian? I'd like to send ya a message.
Posted by bsh1 3 years ago
I know ;)

(Jk, lol...)
Posted by Ajabi 3 years ago
You. Are. The. Best.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by BLAHthedebator 3 years ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: FF.
Vote Placed by dynamicduodebaters 3 years ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: The forfeit was clearly against the rules- easy win for bsh.