Underdetermination: Not Just For Developers of Doctrine

January 5, 2007 § 7 Comments

Pedantic discussions about mathematics and logic are interesting to me, but they only scratch the surface of the depths of pedantry to which I am willing to go. The war on positivism (it is a very small war) is basically a war on the peculiarly modern attempt to rule out underdetermination: to make it so that trust is unnecessary, because everything pertinent follows from the application of formal rules. The problem with mathematics and logic is that it isn’t entirely clear how they relate to what philosophers call intension: that is, it isn’t clear that they are (or are not) about anything other than themselves. The good thing about them is that they are where the rubber of rigor meets the road of positive claims: to the extent we human beings are capable of thinking rigorously, math and logic are as good – that is to say, as rigorous – as it gets.

And the problem with underdetermination is that it gets worse (assuming that you are the sort who doesn’t like underdetermination), not better, as we introduce more about-realityness as opposed to about-itselfness into what we are representing with our various languages. I’ve mentioned before that even the physical theory of quantum mechanics is underdetermined by the mathematical formalism which represents it. The formalism is about reality, but it doesn’t capture the reality completely: it underdetermines the reality. This is something we all have to live with: almost as if there was a big “trust Me” written into the basic fabric of the universe.

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§ 7 Responses to Underdetermination: Not Just For Developers of Doctrine

  • <>The war on positivism (it is a very small war)<>It might be small yet, but I’ll keep doing what I can to spread it…

  • Anonymous says:

    <>This is something we all have to live with: almost as if there was a big “trust Me” written into the basic fabric of the universe.<>And that’s why authority, with its correlates of human and divine faith, is necessary for apprehending truth. Not sufficient, but necessary.As for the specific application of that to DD, that is why a magisterium is necessary for distinguishing between those instances of DD which are authentic, and thus call for the assent of faith, and which are at best <>theologoumena<>. Scott Carson admits as much.Once magisterial determination has been made, the deductive arguments he favors can be easily constructed. But as I’ve argued, that’s relatively uninteresting. The real work of DD consists in the discernment and, when called for, the authoritative endorsement of premises functioning as interpretations which are underdetermined by the relevant texts. That is why I believe that Scott’s attempt to limit DD to “non-ampliative” inference doesn’t even begin to get us where we need to go.

  • zippy says:

    <>And that’s why authority, with its correlates of human and divine faith, is necessary for apprehending truth. Not sufficient, but necessary.<>Right: and not just <>some<> truths or <>religious<> truths but pretty much any interesting truth whatsoever.<>Once magisterial determination has been made, the deductive arguments he favors can be easily constructed. But as I’ve argued, that’s relatively uninteresting.<>In other words it is reasonable and maybe even of apologetic utility to do a post hoc consistency check, and a failure in a consistency check means that either the conclusion is false or we don’t fully understand the truths behind the premeses yet. But of course at least in this life the latter will always be the case anyway, so the hubbub about logic and underdetermination may be even more uninteresting than you imply.

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  • […] ultimately illusory way) “meaning” from the hard and fast objective domain of reality, over which we have no control, to the domain of the […]

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