I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Ten-plus-One Deadly Sins of Empericism

1. Empiricism cannot stand the rigors of its own criteria for knowledge, e.g., “Knowledge comes only through sense perception.” The truth of this proposition is not itself something known through sense perception or observation.

2. Empiricism, ultimately, can tell us nothing about the future, since the future is yet to be observed.

3. As David Hume observed, the causal relations presupposed by empiricism are (obviously!) not subject to empirical analyses, and therefore cannot be known (according to the rigors of empiricism). At best, two events or states of affairs, “brute facts,” occurring in close relation to one another are coincidental.

4. Pure empiricism’s history can’t even agree about the metaphysical reality we’re supposedly observing. Locke rendered “substance” to be inexplicable; Berkeley decided to simple do away with material reality; but, who really cares, since Hume discovered that there was no mental/immaterial self to do the observing!

5. Empiricism, assuming the principle of induction, without an internally coherent justification, always begs the fundamental question.

“It has been argued that we have reason that we know that the future will resemble the past, because what was the future has constantly become the past [if this sounds strangely familiar it’s because this is the same argument you tried to use to argue for the scientific method!]...But such an argument really begs the very question at issue...We have therefore still to seek for some principle which shall enable us to know that the future will follow the same laws as the past” (Burtrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy. 2004. 45).

6. The argument for empirical verificationism breaks a formal law of logic, and is therefore always fallacious. It goes like this: If hypothesis P, then effect Q will result; Q was the result, therefore P is verified and may be considered ‘theory’ or ‘law.’ This is the fallacy of affirming the consequent. And because every line of verification must proceed thus, no method of verification is logically demonstrable.

7. Empiricism cannot verify, much less account for the abstract, absolute, universal, invariable logical laws and concepts it takes for granted.

8. Empiricism begins, is checked, and ends with the subject’s mere (brute) perceptions; and those perceptions can only be verified by other perceptions, thus leading to solipsism. The epistemology which most loudly boasts “objectivity supreme” actually eliminates knowledge of any reality outside oneself—crass subjectivism.

9. Our senses are often deceptive, and empiricism has no means of determining which and how the data should be filtered.

10. If truth were dependant upon verification, then we’d never know anything to be true since every verification would itself need verification, ad infinitum. Empiricism has no answer to the problem of an infinite regress in establishing epistemic justification.

Finally, 11. Empiricism is destroyed by means of the so-called ‘problem of criterion.’ Empiricism is an epistemological ‘method’ for investigating reality; it is a chosen criterion for judging and verifying claims made about what ultimate reality is truly like. The problem comes when one asks, “How do we know that empiricism is the proper criterion, one that corresponds with reality?” You see, empiricists would already have to know in advance, and exhaustively so, what reality is ultimately like before they were ever able to identify their epistemological method. But, they tell us that such is only achievable by means of their method. The point is: They must already presuppose their metaphysical speculations before ever selecting their method of investigation—the very thing they attempt to condemn others for!

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