Philosophy Lesson Eleven: Twentieth Century Empiricism

The 1930’s, in Vienna, was a cultural, artistic and Philosophical golden age. During this time, the world was full of positive and negative possibility, and in certain ways, humanity flourished. In this little city, a group which called themselves ‘The Vienna Circle’, created one of our more modern Philosophical theories, known today as ‘logical positivism’.

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The Vienna Circle was composed of many members, including Bertrand Russell, G.E. Moore, and Alfred Ayer. This group would meet and ponder regularly, and came out with many theories and ideas. The logical positivists agreed with Hume that any real fact can be experienced by the senses. If something is can be seen, it is possible. They believe that knowledge comes from observing the world.

They also agree that analytic truths are tautologous, yet do not regret them as worthless, and thus choose to view them as deductions made about the world.

The Verification Principle is the tests The Vienna Circle created, in order to decide if a statement is true or not. Anything true is deemed as meaningful. In order for something to be true, it must be verified by sense experience. Anything you, yourself don’t experience is meaningless…

Meaning god, emotions, and stories are irrelevant to existence.The effects of emotions can be seen tho, but other than that, they are invisible to the world.

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Philosophy Lesson Ten: Humes Mitigated Skeptism

Flashback: Skepticism is a philosophical theory which states knowledge of the world is impossible.

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Hume had a different idea, and this is called ‘Hume’s Mitigated Skepticism’. This theory he created stated that knowledge was attainable, but only through the senses. He also admitted to understanding that your senses can make mistakes… Such as mirages, hallucinations, illusions etc. but he intended to highlight the fact that we can count on our senses to provide us with a lot of accountable information.

#Mitigated Sceptic - A moderate Sceptic. He doesn’t take the same stand as global skeptics, but believes that knowledge is attainable from what we, ourselves experience.

Hume also argued that a priori knowledge is a ‘tautology’ because it’s based on analytic proposition and relations of ideas. Something I tend to agree with.

Tautology - A phrase to refer to needless repetition of the same idea, teaching us nothing new about the world.

Hume argued that rules of logic and mathematical equation are a tautology because real knowledge, can only be experienced. This is why Hume refers only to a posteriori ideas. Basically, he’ll believe it when he see’s it. This is why his argument focuses on fact.

Hume give’s three ways in which our senses can betray us. These three arguments are why Hume is an empiricist, and his arguments are defended by the idea that knowledge can only come from our senses.

These arguments are…

- The problem of abstract concept
- The problem of casualty
- The problem of induction


The Problem of Abstract Concept
If everything we know is based off of experience, then how can we create otherworldly beings in our minds? Hume says we create ‘God’ in our minds, drawing from other human beings, he also states that all abstract thoughts are ‘useless’. Hume goes on to say we create god from…

A. Cause and effect…

Who/What --> Us


B. We give ‘the creator’ a mask as ‘God’, and humanize them by giving them a consciousness.


C. Ideas of self/morality create a world where we create an ideal from what we believe about good or bad. This creates not only a self image, but a moral compass. We have an idea of ‘God’ the divine light, and what some choose to call, ‘the Devil’ the darkness of the world.


The Problem of Causality
The problem of causality is the idea that every event has a cause.

For example...

A. You pull the trigger --> the gun shoots --> the bullet hits the pin --> you win the stuffed bear

The chain of events can be anywhere from a simple cause and effect… to a long chain of cause and effect… The chain above can be added onto…

You win the stuffed bear --> You impress the girl --> You get a kiss --> You start a romance --> You end up married

Although this is a grand leap from simply aiming a gun, you ended up married. Chain reactions are going on around you everywhere, even your own existence is simply the result of a chain reaction, dating back to the beginning of time.

Empiricists problem with cause and effect is, not all causes and effects can be witnessed with the eye, this is why it’s part of Hume’s three magic exceptions.


The Problem of Induction
An argument that is true, if all the premises of the statement is true.

For example…

All men are mortal
Socrates was a man
Therefore Socrates is mortal

Most knowledge claims are created from inductive arguments.

Inductive reasoning agrees that the past can be used as a guide for the future, but as long as you can conceive something, there’s no certainty it won’t come true.


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Philosophy Lesson Nine: Propositions

Analytical Propositions
Analytical propositions are ideas that are simply true, and cannot be misconstrued. Analytical ideas are the foundation of a priori ideas.

For example…

1. All red kettles are red.
2. All squares have four sides

Synthetic Propositions
A statement that isn’t necessarily always true, and is the basis of a posteriori ideas. Synthetic propositions are only contingently true.

#Empiricists choose to only accept matters of fact to be true, and thus reject all relations of ideas.


To simplify this…

- Think of a priori ideas, and Analytical propositions as the same thing.
- Think of a posteriori ideas, and Synthetic propositions as the same thing.

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Philosophy Lesson Eight: Humes Fork

Hume argues that there are two forms of idea...

This is called Hume’s fork, because it’s the point in idea, where they fork out into two distinct categories…

Matters of Fact Relations of ideas


Matters of Fact
Matters of fact are things you, yourself have directly experienced, and therefore are true. Matters of fact are built from original truth, which becomes a concept that can be mentally conjured at any moment.

Like many aspects of philosophy, matters of fact can be broken down into sub categories…

Contingent: If a fact is contingent, it a general fact, which can be proven wrong under ‘unusual’ circumstance…

Such as…
a. Humans have ten fingers
--> not all humans have ten fingers

#Philosophers refer to contingent ideas, a posteriori.

A Posteriori - Latin
--> Meaning ‘after experience’.

Hume argues that all our claims on existence, come from our posteriori ideas, which he calls ‘matters of fact’.



Relations of Ideas
There are certain ideas that you cannot see in the literal reality, but still are known. These ideas aren’t a posteriori ideas.

Such as… Love, justice, and arrogance for instance.

Another example of this, is common ‘truths’ which cannot be expressed in reality…


Such as… two parallel lines will never meet. We all know this must be true, but we do not have two cosmic infinite parallel lines available to us, to test this theory.

These are called a priori ideas…

A Priori - Latin
An idea that cannot be seen to exist in reality, but is always true due to reason.

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