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5/20/2018 11:23 am  #1

Verification critera and self-refutation

Edward Feser, and a lot of other philosophers, argue that logical positivism is false because of the classical argument arguing that the verification principle is self-refuting.

Yet, I read an interesting blog post saying that it isn't the case, because the principle can be construed as either an analytic statement, or an empirical statement, or a meaningless yet useful statement.
Here it is:

I was thinking about the "pragmatic" way: the verification principle as an heuristic principle. Now, could we still defend the idea of self-refutation, on the ground that it would mean that it's a ethic statement, with a "You should", and, as such, would still need a truth value.
What do you all think?


5/20/2018 12:04 pm  #2

Re: Verification critera and self-refutation

It is still self-refuting because in order to "test" it by seeing people's uses of the word "meaning" we already have to have a specific capacity of understanding universal terms. The meaning of a word is not a rock we find out there in the world; its meaning is not itself derived from a physical property - the soundwaves of the word "dangerous" are not what make it "dangerous" -, rather it is something public and universal that we have to grasp in abstraction and reason with. If that would be acceptable to the verificationist principle, then it is hard to see why metaphysics wouldn't. If we can see physical objects as signs that transcend their physical constitution - words with "meaning" -, why can't we see objects as contingent effects of a necessary creator? Why can't we see formal causes and final causes? And so on.

(Another problem: study the use of meaning and you'll quickly realize no common person adopts the verificationist criteria)

This goes for the second proposal as well. What sort of analytical recommendation lying outside of language would the verificationist principle be? If we could grasp it like that, surely we could also grasp metaphysics in general. Unless the verificationist principle is some sort of magic voodoo spooky thing that just mysteriously lies outside the boundaries it iself sets for everything else, yet we are able to come in contact with it and see its truth.

Finally, the third option is retarded. "Meaningless yet useful", well if we can sink that low in order to defend a failed philosophical principle, then whatever. And if they think something meaningless can be useful, then the same could be go for whatever meaningless bs people come up with.

So logical positivism remains self-refuting under pain of expanding the meaning of "verification" to something trivial that could also include metaphysics.

But I happen to think we don't even need to show logical positivism is self-refuting, because logical positivism is simply moronic. That's it. It is evident that we can get, or attempt to get, metaphysical knowledge, and it's something we have been doing for 2500+ years. It's not "meaningless", and it's not invalid. If a "philosopher" can't see any meaning behind Plato's forms, hylemorphism, atomism, cosmological arguments, actual causation, natural law, divine command ethics, and so on, then they are simply blind and moronic. Logical positivism is beyond the pale, just like dialetheism and eliminativism.

Last edited by Miguel (5/20/2018 12:14 pm)


5/20/2018 12:36 pm  #3

Re: Verification critera and self-refutation

Giving charitable readings is important. But at some point the question arises "Are we talking about the same theory?" A lot of logical positivist work is not at all plausibly read as treating the verification principle as a recommendation, for instance. That's an interesting suggestion, but the logical positivists would turn out to look to be a pretty dishonest bunch if you take them just to be recommending that we exclude unverifiable utterances from the language. Such a reading would take much of the wind out of their polemical sails.

​Likewise if you view them as recommending a new concept of meaning​ which rivals that in ordinary language. For then they seem to be trading on an equivocation. Yes, what folk understand as meaningless, like "’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe," is bad philosophy. But if you want to replace that concept of meaning​ with your own, you aren't entitled immediately to infer from "this is meaningless" to "this is bad philosophy".

​There will be a tension in any account of what the logical positivists are saying which attempts to hold that they are writing about our​ ordinary notion of meaning. For the verification principle is a principle for sorting utterances into the meaningful and the meaningless, on the basis of their verifiability. But how do I sort them? Well, I hear them and understand them; because I understand them, I can judge whether they are verifiable or not. But then my understanding them as meaningful must be prior to and separate from my judging of their verifiability. Relatedly, to judge that something is unverifiable I need to understand it already. There's no such thing as judging Lewis Carroll's nonsense as unverifiable. Because it's nonsense, it doesn't claim anything which may or may not exceed the possibilities of verification. I can only judge "There are undetectable fairies" as unverifiable because I know what it is claiming.

​And as Miguel points out, to judge empirically that people use the word "meaning" as the principle says, I need to have an independent grasp of the content of their claims.

​There are lots of doctrines in philosophy that "look like" verificationism from some distance--sometimes a lot of distance, sometimes not so much. I am not actually convinced that they're all bad or wrong, though because of the "look like" in the previous statement, the claim is exceedingly broad. But the sort of verificationism defended by the actual logical positivists is not, I think, very defensible, even if one is exceedingly generous in interpreting them. (It's not clear that logical positivists could not reply to some of these arguments. For the most part the possible replies do not seem very promising either. But the absence of anticipation of them is what indicates that they don't hold the more sophisticated views.)


5/21/2018 5:26 am  #4

Re: Verification critera and self-refutation

There's just one little thing I don't get in the smart logical positivists like Carnap: When you affirm the meaningfulness of abstracts like logical systems, then how can you reject metaphysics? They are the same abstract realm, even on the logical positivist view, aren't they?

And, as Greg pointed out, you cannot reject e.g. Lewis Carroll as unverifiable. Fairy tales and fiction are not meant to be verifiable in the first place, but this does not make them meaningless or useless. They can have enormous didactical value via analogical or symbolic reasoning. Why would positivists insist on making the world a smaller place than it is?


5/23/2018 10:43 am  #5

Re: Verification critera and self-refutation

Well, I think your answers are pretty much correct.
After thinking about it a little much, I think that basically the three ways that he's using is basically the same way to redefine what metaphysicans call truth, and then doing a fallacy of equivocation, which is pretty much useless. And I also think that Greg's remark for the difference beetween verification and understanding is devastating.

Thank's everyone.

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