The more you know, the less you know

July 14, 2014 § 23 Comments

Any young child can tell you that for every question answered about something real in the world, ten more questions are raised.

Another way of thinking about positivism and its epistemological cognates is that, recognizing the impossibility of becoming universally omniscient, it attempts to comprehensively fill in all possible knowledge within some limited scope.  If we can’t be God of everything, positivism hopes that we can at least be God of something: science, nature, technology, doctrine, mathematics, or what have you. So the area where we get to be God must be set apart from other kinds of knowledge – there must be a positive demarcation criteria, a neutral verification procedure for every proposed expression of knowledge to settle whether it is within scope and whether or not it is authoritative.

The postmodern is a positivist who has despaired of his project of becoming God, and who concludes that because he cannot be God anywhere at all the universe is meaningless.

§ 23 Responses to The more you know, the less you know

  • Chad says:

    This post made me laugh

    Thanks for such in depth explanations of positivism by the way. I have a feeling that, as you admitted, I’ll be pulling out weeds for years

  • […] think that they are God, that there may be ‘gaps’ in their knowledge but that those gaps are just contingent […]

  • Zippy says:

    Chad:
    One problem is that once we reach adolescence we know everything, and it can be extremely difficult to open our eyes and give that up. I sometimes wonder which capacity of human beings is more dumbfounding: our ability to take in and make sense of the world, or our capacity to avoid doing so.

  • CJ says:

    Zippy:

    I do appreciate your ongoing posts on positivism. On some level it’s something I’ve always understood but didn’t have a name for. It’s still confusing as heck when you definitively proclaim that you know the essence of Game, or HBD. Like, how can you know stuff when we can’t know stuff? I feel like one of those computers that Captain Kirk talked to death.

  • Zippy says:

    CJ:
    At least I don’t tell you ahead of time that it is going to be like an acid trip.

  • halec says:

    Speaking of positivism, what do you make of the arguments/points on these pages (Employment Equity is just like Affirmative Action in the US):

    http://www.bctf.ca/publications/NewsmagArticle.aspx?id=7362

    http://www.uwrf.edu/EquityDiversityInclusion/AffirmativeActionsMyths.cfm

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Employment_equity_%28Canada%29

    [What I make of them is that they have nothing much to do with the OP. –Z]

  • jf12 says:

    “there must be a positive demarcation criteria”
    such as between doctrinal statements and no-doctrinal statements?

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:

    such as between doctrinal statements and no-doctrinal statements?

    Or between science and non-science, or between theorems and non-theorems, etc etc.

    If you are jumping to “Zippy says that there is no difference between scientific statements and unscientific statements”, you are still trapped in the stable with the dwarves.

  • jf12 says:

    re: the demarcation problem. Recall that I don’t consider myself above (yes, above, not below) adjudging much science as bad science and therefore indistinguishable from non-science, in the exact same (i.e. trivial) way that much food is bad food and therefore indistinguishable from non-food.

    But what about that doctrinal demarcation problem?

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:

    But what about that doctrinal demarcation problem?

    A positivist might expect a fixed consistent text (let’s call it “The Bible”) and theorems deducible from it to be capable of ‘pre-solving’ all possible doctrinal controversies that could arise in the future. Since this – as a completeness claim – is (though perhaps subtly so) rationally incoherent, what we would actually see arise from this model is doctrinal disunity.

    A non-positivist (which is to say, a rational person) would expect doctrinal controversies to be resolved as they arise through a combination of appeals to texts, traditions, human authority, and perhaps other sources of meaning.

  • Peter Blood says:

    The more you know about less and less, eventually you know everything about nothing.

  • jf12 says:

    @Zippy, I commend you for appealing to an operational definition of resolving a *dispute* about a particular doctrine. But it is in fact doctrinal that the set of doctrines is immutable and hence if the church changes its teaching, due to increased understanding, say, then its earlier teaching was in fact quite wrong despite the successful resolving in favor of change.

    It’s that pesky demarcation problem between Truth and Untruth that seems tb be alive and well.

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:
    There is a difference though between something being real and finite, on the one hand, and completely specifiable via formalism, on the other. My Bernese Mountain Dog is the former but not the latter.

    As Morpheus said to Neo, welcome to the real world.

  • jf12 says:

    re: Bernese Mountain Dogs. Are you quite *certain* that it cannot be completely specified? Are you *certain* that there is secret physics that prohibits ever building a Star Trek type transporter?

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:

    Bernese Mountain Dogs. Are you quite *certain* that it cannot be completely specified?

    Absolutely. There is no possibility of fully specifying (e.g.) the dog’s love for his family using formal symbols.

  • halec says:

    [What I make of them is that they have nothing much to do with the OP. –Z]

    I accidentally posted the comment on the wrong post. You are still free to address them, though. Thanks.

  • jf12 says:

    So you are *certain* there is secret physics that prohibits ever building a Star Trek type transporter? What sort of stuff is in that secret physics?

  • Zippy says:

    jf12:
    I am certain that if building something is rationally incoherent, it is also not possible.

  • jf12 says:

    Did you ever look at the details of Gödel’s positivist, so to speak, constructive proof of God’s existence?
    http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/scientists-use-computer-to-mathematically-prove-goedel-god-theorem-a-928668.html

  • Zippy says:

    Analytic philosophers like Lydia McGrew tend to chamber a round whenever someone starts characterizing an argument as positivist. The reason is because postmoderns tend to level the charge “positivism” against any uses of formalism or definite claims of truth. This is similar to the way leftists abuse the term “racism”.

    Welcome to Babel.

  • […] the ones you like, not just the ones you dislike) are anti-realist, I do not mean that they are postmodern. Postmodern theories look at the hopelessness of the positivist project – which is an […]

  • […] to sacred ideas. Conservatism may properly set a high bar for the potential critic, and it is impossible to completely specify all propositions which are consistent with the truth. But when particular ideas become manifestly […]

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