The principle of empirical verifiability by David Hume is flawed.
Debate Rounds (3)
Second, Hume's verification theory blocks claims that everyday language users consider to be endowed with meaning. To speak more accurately, Hume's verification theory blocks claims that everyday language users themselves endow with meaning. For example, most English speakers in the United States endow words like love, hate, liberty, justice, with meaning, even though they are meaningless terms according to Hume's theory. In other words, it cannot be confirmed empirically that justice exists outside of individual and collective consciousnesses, even though most language users conceptually understand justice as something that exists outside of their own consciousness. Since Hume's theory fails to address the use of these terms and the meaning that language users endow with them, Hume's theory is a flawed theory of the meaning of language.
Finally, from the above analysis, it can be claimed that Hume's theory inaccurately would claim that terms like God, Satan, and soul are meaningless. Since language users typically endow such concepts with meaning, i.e. they have definitions and one can use the terms correctly or incorrectly according to convention, and since Hume's theory excludes them as meaningful, then Hume's theory has made a mistake, and, therefore, is flawed.
I will leave my argument at that, and I wish my opponent the best of luck.
To begin, I believe that you are misrepresenting Hume, as well as unclearly stating your own objectives. You say "Hume's theory of language seems to exclude large amounts of data that is otherwise considered to be meaningful." Meaningful by what standards? What Hume is trying to argue is that empirically verifiable claims are meaningful in the search for TRUTH, and that without this ability we are almost always proven wrong. Let us use your rabbit hole example. If you told me that there was a rabbit in what appeared to be a rabbit hole, your claim would have already been empirically verified in several ways. We see a hole, in the ground, and either recognize it having seen a rabbit hole before, or else we recognize it as a hole in the ground that looks like other animal burrows and is about the size for a rabbit, which we have both seen. If indeed you saw the rabbit go into the hole, your claim is just. If however you are talking about an imaginary rabbit hole, one that nobody has seen, which simply exists in your own mind, then you are right to say that Hume would consider it to have no meaning!
Or perhaps you think that Hume means that the rabbit would not exist until someone had seen it to verify its existence. That is of course absurd. Hume would say that we don't know if the rabbit exists, and have no way of knowing until we see it (or hear it, or smell it, or verify it through our senses. I use sight because it is easiest). Therefore for our purposes, the rabbit really DOESN'T exist, until we know that it does. The rabbit has an entirely different point of view, but the point is that it isn't important for us to know it.
Additionally, requiring empirical proof in the manner of David Hume does not block fringe scientific theories, it simply relegates them to their proper place (read: FRINGE) until they can be proved. Without getting into a quibble about the definition of a theory, empirical verifiability is the foundation of the scientific method (being able to show your results repeatedly) and why theories tend to remain as theories until they can prove otherwise.
As for your second argument, I believe your focus on existentialism is drawing your attention away from Hume's basic point. Your theory about the meaning behind the language you use, words like love, hate, liberty, and justice, come from sensory experience. To use your example, your understanding of the word and concept of "justice" comes from seeing just things happen in your daily life, from hearing about them, and from reading about them. In any infinite number of ways that you jumble together your sensory memories to form new concepts, they are all still based on senses that you've already experienced. In the words of Hume:
"What never was seen, or heard of, may yet be conceived; nor is any thing beyond the power of thought, except what implies an absolute contradiction. But though our thought seems to possess this unbounded liberty, we shall find, upon a nearer examination, that it is really confined within very narrow limits, and that all this creative power of the mind amounts to no more than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing the materials afforded us by the senses and experiences. When we think of a golden mountain, we only join two consistent ideas, gold and mountain...a virtuous horse we can conceive; because from our own feeling we cam conceive virtue, and this we may unite to the figure and shape of a horse...all our ideas or more feeble perceptions are copies of our impressions of more lively ones." (1)
Finally, to address Hume's claims on religion (you really pulled out all the stops for this one, eh?), it is wrong to say that terms like God, Satan, and the soul are meaningless. This is not what he claims at all. Hume has a great deal to say about the empirical viability of religion, but since you are currently focused on meaning, I will respond to that. At the risk of oversimplifying, our concept of the Judeo/Christian/Islamic God is an infinite and all powerful being. The meaning that we attach to this concept is simply our minds taking the idea of "powerful" and "really really big" and stretching them both out to infinity, making omnipotent and infinite structures of God in our own minds. Similarly we invent our idea of the Devil, combining our idea of God with our concept of oppositeness. Hume does not say that these are thoughts without meaning. He simply argues that their meaning has come from outside us, into our minds through our senses.
Additionally, and perhaps speaking more to your point, Hume readily acknowledges the effect that religious ideals have on a person. Just because you cannot point your finger at something and say "look, there's God!" does not mean that feelings of faith do not influences men's thoughts, and thus their actions. In Chapter XI, Hume relates an argument he had with a friend. To paraphrase Hume, "The argument, said my friend, is solid; politics should have no connection with disputes on metaphysics and religion.
There is one circumstance, I replied, which you have overlooked. Though I should allow your premises, I deny your conclusion. You conclude that religion can have no influence on life, because it ought not to; forgetting that men do not all reason as you do. Whether their reasoning is just or not, is of no importance." (2)
As you can see, Hume applies meaning to much more than you assumed. He was not a skeptic trying to show everything was meaningless, but rather only that all we actually know is what comes to us through our senses (and is thus empirically understood).
I think at this point there are only two things that you can do to. The first would be to re-examine Hume's writing and find evidence to support your claims of meaninglessness. The other would be to find a different way in which Hume's theory is flawed. Of course, that's only what I think, and I can't wait to see where you go with this! Best of luck!
1: Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Chapter 2
2: "" Chapter 11
Meaningful by the standards of everyday language users, including philosophers. In other words, the only truth that can be obtained is through the human lens, and since the human lens has produced synthetic a priori concepts, i.e. love, justice, truth, being, etc. Hume's theory of language is flawed. In other words, as an analysis of what has meaning, Hume's theory fails miserably because it fails to account for synthetic a priori judgments that humans consider to have meaning. Truth is secondary, and it is not an accurate goal to aim at in epistemology. Rather, the philosopher is aiming at what CAN be known by humans.
Con: If you told me that there was a rabbit in what appeared to be a rabbit hole, your claim would have already been empirically verified in several ways. We see a hole, in the ground, and either recognize it having seen a rabbit hole before, or else we recognize it as a hole in the ground that looks like other animal burrows and is about the size for a rabbit, which we have both seen.
One of the major flaws in Hume's theory lies in this very point, which is why Ayer modified Hume's theory in the 20th century. The rabbit has not been verified, rather, there is evidence for the existence of a rabbit. Ayer's theory states that things that are verifiable in principle are meaningful, which would obviously include the rabbit example. However, Hume's theory excludes this example until the rabbit has been directly verified.
Con: Additionally, requiring empirical proof in the manner of David Hume does not block fringe scientific theories, it simply relegates them to their proper place (read: FRINGE) until they can be proved.
Once again, this type of example is why Ayer modified Hume's theory of meaning in order to include those entities that are only verifiable in principle. Since Ayer's theory is better formulated to include these exceptions, Hume's theory is flawed.
Con: Finally, to address Hume's claims on religion (you really pulled out all the stops for this one, eh?), it is wrong to say that terms like God, Satan, and the soul are meaningless. This is not what he claims at all. Hume has a great deal to say about the empirical viability of religion, but since you are currently focused on meaning, I will respond to that. At the risk of oversimplifying, our concept of the Judeo/Christian/Islamic God is an infinite and all powerful being. The meaning that we attach to this concept is simply our minds taking the idea of "powerful" and "really really big" and stretching them both out to infinity, making omnipotent and infinite structures of God in our own minds.
Since you admit that the concept God has meaning, I will point out the source of error in Hume's reasoning. To state that we (humans) can grasp the concept of infinity or omnipotence based on our finite experience clearly defies reason and everyday experience. In other words, we are never able to experience infinite, yet we are able to assign certain entities the quality of infinity. In other words, we are able to come up with synthetic a priori judgments that clearly have meaning. Aside from the concept of God, an exponential function such e to the x is clearly infinite. We can clearly understand and apply the concept of infinite without ever actually experiencing it. Hence, we are able to imbue terms with meaning that are not 'put together' from various empirical sources.
Con: "What never was seen, or heard of, may yet be conceived; nor is any thing beyond the power of thought, except what implies an absolute contradiction. But though our thought seems to possess this unbounded liberty, we shall find, upon a nearer examination, that it is really confined within very narrow limits, and that all this creative power of the mind amounts to no more than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing the materials afforded us by the senses and experiences.
Another more powerful example would be that of Gabriel's Horn, which seems to be a direct contradiction to common experience. If you take the function 1/x and then rotate 2pi around the x axis, and then take the integral of that function from 1 to infinity, you find a form that has finite volume but infinite surface area. This conclusion clearly follows the logical rules of calculus, but defies everyday experience. Hence, once again, one must admit that Hume's theory is flawed since our minds are able to come up with an entity that cannot exist in the physical universe.
1.) You start with the idea that "since the human lens has produced synthetic a priori concepts, i.e. love, justice, truth, being, etc. Hume's theory of language is flawed." The definition of an a priori concept is "existing in the mind prior to and independent of experience, as a faculty or character trait."(1) That means you are arguing that the concepts of love and justice and truth exist in our minds before we open our eyes or ears and have any sense of the world.
Clearly this idea is simply not true. Does an infant understand the concept of justice? Can a newborn attach a meaning to the concept of hate? No, a child learns these ideas. From dependence on our parents and the support they give us we learn love, from learning of consequences we slowly understand justice, and from painful experience with illusion we learn to seek truth. This is the essence of empirical reasoning, and the cornerstone of Hume's writing.
2.) Just as a point of decorum, I would ask that when you cite a third party such as Ayer, you cite your sources. That makes it possible for the rest of us to follow your thought process and verify your information.
To address your concern though, you bring up the very ‘problem of induction' that Hume is famous for. Inductive reasoning is simply the process of formulating a law based on limited observations of recurring phenomena. Or another way to put it is:
I observed that the sun set yesterday
I observed that the sun set the day before that
I observed that the sun set every day before that for my whole life
Therefore I conclude that the sun will set every day
Hume argued that this style of reasoning was not deductively logically valid. He was right. Inductive reasoning is NOT deductively valid. He did NOT say that that this style has no meaning. Hume was the first to say that we needed this kind of reasoning to survive. The example he used was that we believe bread will sustain us because it has done so in the past, but this is not a guarantee that it will always continue to do so. He quickly points out however that a man who doubts this too much and insists on deductive logic will quickly starve to death! (2)
But I'm sorry, I feel I may have missed your point. You say that Hume denied any meaning of or about the rabbit hole. This is not so. I still do not know what kind of meaning you hope to take away from such an encounter, but you would certainly come away with a greater personal experience with rabbit holes, thereby expanding upon the sensory impressions in your own head, making a greater amount of ideas available to you. All Hume would say is that you cannot know for certain that there is a rabbit in the hole until you have seen it! Where is the flaw in that?
3.) PRO: "Once again, this type of example is why Ayer modified Hume's theory of meaning in order to include those entities that are only verifiable in principle. Since Ayer's theory is better formulated to include these exceptions, Hume's theory is flawed."
Ok, I'm afraid you may have lost me here. You say that Hume's theory is flawed because it does not allow for things that are verifiable only in principle. Since you have given no example of something that is "only verifiable in principle" I'm going to have to assume that you mean something like an analytic judgment. An analytic proposition is something that is true by definition, the classic example being "All triangles have 3 sides." which is of course true every time it is said. If you ever find a triangle which does NOT have 3 sides, you've just discovered a shape that is not in fact a triangle. Hume's argument for empirical viability in no way rules these out.
4.) PRO: "To state that we (humans) can grasp the concept of infinity or omnipotence based on our finite experience clearly defies reason and everyday experience. In other words, we are never able to experience infinite, yet we are able to assign certain entities the quality of infinity."
Did you not read my last argument? We need not have experienced omnipotence or the infinite in order for our minds to expand upon existing ideas. Hume does not argue that our ideas are formed exactly by our sensory impressions, but rather that they are derived from them. To have the idea of omnipotence we need only have the idea of potency. Our minds imagine this potency as powerful as all encompassing. True, we will never have a sense of what it is like to be omnipotent, but we have an idea. That idea comes from experience. Just like Hume said, we can see gold and see a mountain, and in our minds for the idea of a golden mountain...that doesn't mean we've experienced one.
5) PRO: "If you take the function 1/x and then rotate 2pi around the x axis, and then take the integral of that function from 1 to infinity, you find a form that has finite volume but infinite surface area."
For everyone who doesn't have a graphic calculator, you're probably thinking: What?!
Sorry, that's an awful lot of math. But that's basically what your argument here boils down to: math. You're using advanced mathematics with imaginary numbers to support the idea that we can know things a priori, that is to say completely divorced from our sensory experience. It certainly appears that way when you jump into the deep end of the pool like that, but a little examination shows that things are actually a good deal simpler. Math is made up of building blocks. Nowhere else is it so true that you have to crawl before you can walk, walk before you can run. By seeing a circle, we understand its shape. By measuring the circle, we begin to understand abstract ideas like pi. By beginning to understand abstract ideas, we get advanced mathematics. But this math does not simply spring to our heads unbidden. It is learned from our empirical experience.
2: Of course, having used this example I can no longer find the page number, so here's another place for a summary. If anyone really wants the page number in the text, I can find it later http://en.wikipedia.org...
First, it is essential to understand the difference between an analytic and synthetic claim. "Analytic" sentences, such as "Ophthalmologists are doctors," are those whose truth seems to be knowable by knowing the meanings of the constituent words alone, unlike the more usual "synthetic" ones, such as "Ophthalmologists are ill-humored," whose truth is knowable by both knowing the meaning of the words and something about the world (http://plato.stanford.edu...). Therefore, my opponent is correct to assert that "all triangles have 3 sides" is an analytic claim because "3 sided figure" is contained within the definition of triangle. However, my opponent stops too soon, which will be evident once one understands what a synthetic a priori claim entails.
Synthetic a priori reasoning is presented by Immanuel Kant in response to Hume in "A Critique of Pure Reason." Kant claims that there are certain types of knowledge that one knows a priori, or before experience as my opponent defined it. This type of knowledge is related to the lenses that we see the world through. This is known as the Copernican Revolution in philosophy. Kant claims that spatial, temporal, and causal knowledge are built into our innate lenses. For example, I might not know that there is a computer on my desk at any given time, but I do know that if a computer does exist in my room, it will have a spatial relationship with my desk. Therefore, Kant claims that there is certain a priori knowledge that a human knows from birth. However, this does not cover all kinds of synthetic a priori knowledge that one can obtain, and does not address my objections to Hume's theory. http://plato.stanford.edu...
The second kind of knowledge that one can obtain that is synthetic and a priori was determined by Kant in response to two of Hume's assertions, both of which my opponent pointed out. The first is the problem of inductive reasoning, and the second is the assertion in question, i.e. the principle of empirical verifiability. My opponent made a common error by asserting that mathematical concepts are learned, and, thus, must be known a posterori. Rather, math is built upon axiomatic (an assertion that we cannot prove, but that seems obvious, i.e. a=a, a+b=b+a, etc.) foundations. From these axiomatic foundations, one can deductively prove a number of amazing conclusions that are clearly synthetic (http://thesamovar.net...). However, the question on point is whether or not one can also consider them a priori, and this is where Hume's own assertions come back to haunt him. Hume claims that all knowledge is either analytic if it is a priori knowledge, and a posteriori (after experience) if it is synthetic. Hume also claims that only analytic knowledge can be known to be true through deductive means (see opponent's explanation about the problem of induction). However, certain claims in math seem to be both synthetic and are known to be true before one experiences them every time, since one uses deductive methods to determine their truth. This is known as synthetic a priori knowledge. For example, a triangle contains 180 degrees, but the idea that a triangle contains 180 degrees is not contained within the definition of a triangle. One could come by this knowledge, admittedly, by measuring the angles of many triangles, however, this is not the point. The point is that once one has determined that 3 sided figures contain 180 degrees, one knows that all 3 sided shapes in the future will also contain 180 degrees. Hence, one has knowledge about an entity before one experiences it. Since one can obtain knowledge about all 3 sided figures in the future before one experiences them, then one has obtained knowledge through non-empirical means. Thus, Hume's theory is flawed.
I chose the example of Gabriel's Horn in the above section to point out a non-contentious synthetic a priori claim. One obtains the knowledge of Gabriel's Horn through deductive processes and reason, and Gabriel's Horn clearly cannot exist in the physical universe as we know, nor can we put together any pieces of our experiences to produce Gabriel's horn, and once we determine the result of the deduction, we know that the processes will produce the same results into the future (http://en.wikipedia.org...). Thus, Hume's theory is flawed based on all synthetic a priori knowledge that can be gained through mathematics.
I will now move on to the second prong of my argumentation, which ought to have been secondary since, as my opponent points out, math is the most obvious objection to Hume's theory. The second prong of my argument dealt with the appearance of the logical positivists in the early 20th century. The logical positivists are essentially empiricists like Hume, and wished to show that no claims are synthetic and a priori. A.J. Ayer, who I mentioned earlier, was among this group. Ayer proposed that "a sentence is factually significant to any given person, if, and only if, he knows how to verify the proposition which it purports to express—that is, if he knows what observations would lead him, under certain conditions, to accept the proposition as being true, or reject it as being false" ("Language, Truth and Logic" p 35). Ayer goes on to emphasize that a statement need only be verifiable "in principle" to be meaningful. Clearly there are parallels between Ayer and Hume, but Ayer's theory is more complete, as I attempted to point out in previous rounds. First, claims such as Einstein's theory of relativity are meaningless under Hume's theory until they are empirically verified. However, since Einstein's theory clearly proposed a way to verify it's truthfulness, and because it seemed intelligent and logical, one ought to include it among sensible sentences. The same can be said about nearly all existential claims on a more basic level (see rabbit example from round 1). Since these scientific theories and existential claims are clearly synthetic and not analytic as my opponent claims, and since Ayer's theory is better able to embrace these seemingly meaningful statements, Ayer's theory is clearly superior, and, hence, Hume's theory is flawed.
The final point of my argumentation deals with the concepts such as 'truth,' 'justice,' 'love,' 'God' etc, however, I would like to retract this argument, even if it is to my detriment. My opponent is correct to point out that these claims do have analytic a priori truths, i.e. definitional truths, but Hume has no problem embracing these contingencies.
However, if one agrees with either point of my argumentation, then one must vote Pro. Therefore, if one agrees that mathematics are a clear examples of synthetic a priori knowledge, which cannot exist in Hume's theoretical framework, then one must vote Pro. If one agrees that Hume's theory is inferior to Ayer's, and is therefore flawed, then one must vote Pro.
This debate has taken on several tangents as it has progressed, which is generally a sign of an active and inventive mind. There is danger however when the focus of the argument gets sidetracked, and the end does not match to propositions of the beginning. So far we have covered existentialist claims, mathematical proofs, many rabbits in many holes, and finally we arrive at Kant's Copernican Revolution. Yet for all this, have we remained true to the goal of proving that Hume's theory of Empirical Verifiability is flawed? I say to you we have not.
The point here was to find evidence of failure in Hume's theory, not to debate the relative merits of competing theories. But I would be remiss if I did not address the Kantian claims regarding the limits of empirical verifiability. After all, the two are closely related. Kant famously states that it was Hume who "awoke me from my dogmatic slumber." (1) As my opponent has so eloquently explained above, Kant is in total agreement with Hume about everything, except our ability to gain knowledge (mostly mathematical) through the use of synthetic a priori statements. For Hume's purposes, and therefore my own in this particular debate, it is important for us to examine whether Kant's mathematical claims negate Hume's own theory.
My opponent states that I was mistaken in asserting that mathematical concepts are learned, and thus posteriori in our reasoning. Not so, even in Kant's own reasoning. Kant claims that "objective reality is known only insofar as it conforms to the essential structure of the knowing mind." (2) Our concepts of spatial relationships (which gives rise to geometry) and sequentially (the basis of arithmetic) are hardwired into our brains as a way to organize the vast amount of sensory data we gather every second. Kant therefore claims these concepts, the basis for mathematics, are a priori. At the same time however, these claims are dependant on our ability to gain sensory information and empirical knowledge. Kant's weak point is that he is never actually able to prove his claims on synthetic a priori knowledge, at least not to the liking of future philosophers. Additionally, Kant backs up Hume's claim that we can only have true knowledge about those things that we can verify with our senses, saying "Only objects of experience, phenomena, may be known, whereas things lying beyond experience, noumena, are unknowable, even though in some cases we assume a priori knowledge of them" (3)
This sticky wicket brings us to the heart of that matter of what constitutes as true knowledge. We can use your example of Gabriel's Horn. You claim "Gabriel's Horn clearly cannot exist in the physical universe as we know, nor can we put together any pieces of our experiences to produce Gabriel's horn, and once we determine the result of the deduction, we know that the processes will produce the same results into the future." Within the confines of any rational presuppositions you can continually prove the same result repeatedly. This does not make it true knowledge, but rather an interesting mind puzzle. Where you to show you an example of Gabriel's Horn in the real world, it would merit your claim. Until you do, we are arguing about something that for practical purposes does not exist. The basis of Hume's theory is exactly this; something cannot be considered truth if it does not actually exist. Instead, it contains "abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number... [and] experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence... [therefore] it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion." (4)
As for A.J. Ayer, I fail to see how his theories make a significant impact on this discussion. His argument is certainly not "clearly superior," nor have you given any real evidence that his argument shows a flaw in Hume's. All that you have demonstrated is that Ayer assigns more meaning to certain sentences than does Hume. His idea of "meaning" is entirely subjective, and has nothing to do with the verifiability of truth. Therefore I say that Ayer is no evidence whatsoever against Hume's theory, and thus discard that argument.
If you have made it this far dear reader, then I applaud your tenacity! I'm sure few enough will have both the interest and ability to read and understand the minutia of our debate. However if you have made it this far, please keep in mind the original point of this debate. My opponent had the burden of proving that Hume's theory of Empirical Verifiability was flawed. In doing so, he never once even cited any works of Hume, and instead offered only vaguely related theories. Since each of these competing theories was rebutted, and no actual flaws were conclusively proved, I strongly urge you to vote Con. Thank you.
4: David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section XII (last sentence in the book, actually)
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by studentathletechristian8 7 years ago
|Agreed with before the debate:||-||-||0 points|
|Agreed with after the debate:||-||-||0 points|
|Who had better conduct:||-||-||1 point|
|Had better spelling and grammar:||-||-||1 point|
|Made more convincing arguments:||-||-||3 points|
|Used the most reliable sources:||-||-||2 points|
|Total points awarded:||7||0|
You are not eligible to vote on this debate
This debate has been configured to only allow voters who meet the requirements set by the debaters. This debate either has an Elo score requirement or is to be voted on by a select panel of judges.