Classical Realistic Philosophy
Classical Realistic Philosophy
This mini-course deals with the question of the trustworthiness of human knowledge. In discussing this question we seek to know what guarantees the same process as fruitful of true and certain knowledge.
This mini-course is divided into the following four Sections:
Section 1 - Truth and Certitude Section 2 - Various Doctrines on Certitude Section 3 - The Sources of Certitude Section 4 - Scientific Certitude and Its Acquisition.
a. The Nature of Truth; b. Classification of Truth; c. The Mind and Truth.
a) The Nature of Truth
Truth is a relation; it exists between two things. The two things are mind on the one hand, and something judged by the mind, that is, some judged reality, on the other.
When the judging mind forms a judgment which accurately squares with the reality about which the judgment is made, there is truth in the judging mind. In other words, when we know things accurately and factually, we have the truth about them. And since things are knowable, since they can be rightly judged upon by the mind, there is truth in them to know. Truth, therefore, is the relation of equality, of squaring-up, of adequation, between the mind and reality. The opposite of truth is falsity.
b) Classification of Truth
Since truth is the relation of equality or adequation between the mind and reality, it can be looked at from two standpoints, that of the mind, and that of reality.
Inasmuch as the mind can square up to reality by knowing it accurately, the mind can obtain and possess truth. This is truth in the mind, or truth of thought, or truth of knowledge. Its technical name is logical truth. Inasmuch as any reality is knowable, inasmuch as it can be rightly known and accurately judged by an adequate mind, truth abides in it. This is truth in things. Its technical name is ontological truth.
Hence we have two classes or types of truth: the truth of thought and the truth of things.
There is a third type of truth which does not concern us here beyond a simple mention: this is the truth of speech and it consists in the agreement between the knowledge and the words of a speaker or writer. Truth in its logical and ontological aspects is verity; truth of speech is veracity. Veracity is called moral truth. This matter is discussed in the mini-course on Ethics.
Now, things or realities are what they are. And they are necessarily knowable as they are. If a knowing mind does not judge them truly, this is not the fault of things but the inadequacy of the mind or its precipitate use. Hence, things are necessarily true; there is no such thing as the falsity of things; there is no ontological falsity.
When we call things false as we often do -- for we speak of false teeth, false whiskers, and false friends, to name but a few of a long list of such expressions -- we speak figuratively, not literally. For false teeth, false whiskers, and false friends are not teeth, whiskers, or friends at all; they are things which bear the appearance of teeth, whiskers, and friends, and so an unwary mind may be led to judge that they are really teeth, whiskers, and friends. Thus it is manifest that the falsity touches the judgment about things, not the things themselves. It is logical falsity, not real or ontological falsity.
There are, then, three types of truth: ontological truth, logical truth, and moral truth. In other words, we have truth of things, truth of knowledge about things, and truth of utterance or speech. But there are only two types of falsity: logical falsity, which consists in mistaken judgment; and moral falsity, which consists in telling lies.
Strictly speaking, there are no degrees of truth. A thing is true of necessity, for it is what it is. A judgment is true or it is false. An utterance is true or it is mendacious. There is, therefore, no comparing of truth and seeing it as true, truer, and truest. But here again we have a way of speaking as though truth could be parceled out in degrees. We say, for example, "Your view of this matter seems truer than John's view." But what we mean is, "You seem to know more about this matter than John does," or "Your view is more extensive, more complete than John's." The degrees are in one's knowledge of truth, not in truth itself. We may always learn more about a thing, but our knowledge does not become truer as we advance; it becomes more ample. What we knew at first, if we had logical truth about it, remains true knowledge; our subsequent learning does not make the first truth truer.
There are, however, degrees of falsity. The full-grown tree which casts a shadow does not grow taller or shorter, but the shadow grows longer or deeper with the shifting, or the change of intensity, of light. Falsity is like the shadow; it has degrees of length and depth, but what casts the shadow remains unchanged. For falsity is all in the mind or in speech, whereas truth is based upon adamantine reality. The mind can be more deeply and deviously deceived; the lips can utter more and more details of falsehood. To take a new analogy, there is only one surface of the lake upon which the boat floats safely, but if it sinks, it may sink deeper and still deeper into the water. There are, therefore, degrees of falsity, but no degrees of truth.
c) The Mind and Truth
Philosophers list for us a litany of "states of the mind with reference to truth." Such states are the following:
1. Ignorance is absence of intellectual knowledge in a person. It is a negative state of the mind with reference to truth. Ignorance may be an absence of knowledge which ought to be present, such as ignorance of legal procedure in a judge; and then it is called privative ignorance, for it constitutes a privation, a hurtful lack, in the person who suffers it. Or ignorance may be the absence of knowledge which we have no right to expect to be present, as ignorance of legal procedure in a farmer who has never studied law; and then it is called negative ignorance for it is a simple negation or simple absence if knowledge. The absence of knowledge in beings that could have it in any case is called nescience and not ignorance.
2. Doubt is the suspension of the mind between two contradictory judgments, between "It is" and "It isn't." When this indecision is owing to seemingly equal evidence on each side, it is called positive doubt; when it is owing to the absence of evidence for either side, it is negative doubt. A balance-scale stands even when there is an equal weight in each pan; it also stands even when there is no weight at all in either pan; here we have a telling illustration of positive and negative doubt.
3. Suspicion is the first inclination of the doubting mind to make a decision one way or the other. In doubt, the mind is like a man standing on a fence-top, perfectly erect, inclined to neither side. In suspicion, the mind begins to incline towards one judgment and away from its contradictory.
4. Opinion is the decision of a mind not wholly free of doubt. It is a decision; the mind gives judgment; but it is not a wholly confident and unhesitant judgment; there is in the mind some fear that maybe, after all, truth lies on the opposite side. It differs from doubt, for in doubt the mind stands hesitant; it differs from suspicion, for in suspicion the mind is inclined to make judgment but does not make it. Opinion is a clear decision and judgment of the mind, upon evidence that appears sufficient to win its assent, but it is not a judgment made with full and perfect confidence of being in the right.
5. Certitude or certainty is found in the mind's unhesitant assent to truth. It is a judgment wholly confident, completely without fear of being wrong. In doubt, a man "doesn't know what to say"; in suspicion, he "inclines to think"; in opinion, he "believes it to be thus"; in certitude, he knows. But cannot a man be certain of what is not true? Yes, but we have a special technical name for such certitude; we call it error. The name certitude, strictly used, is reserved for the mind's unwavering assent to known truth.
It is manifest that the only knowledge that is worth winning is certain knowledge of truth. The human mind naturally wants truth; it wants true knowledge; it wants to hold true knowledge with certainty. Here in a single sentence we have the whole object of the science of epistemology; we may sum up that object in three words out of the sentence: knowledge, truth, certitude. Nay, we may sum it up in one word, certitude; for certitude means certain knowledge of truth.
Summary of the Section
In this Section we have defined truth, and have distinguished three types of truth: ontological truth or real truth which is the truth of reality or of things; logical truth which is the truth of judgment, of thought, of knowledge; and moral truth which is the truth of speech.
We have noted that the opposite of truth is falsity, which cannot exist in the ontological order (for things are what they are), but can exist in the logical and in the moral order.
We have seen that there are no degrees of truth, but that there are degrees of falsity, just as there are no degrees of variance in the straight line that runs from point A to point B, but there are endless degrees of variance of lines that run from point A and miss point B.
We have listed various states of the mind with reference to truth: ignorance, doubt, suspicion, opinion, certitude, error.
We have noticed that the Epistemological Question focusses upon certain knowledge of truth, or, in a word, upon certitude.
a. Skepticism; b. Idealism; c. Sensism; d. Traditionalism; e. Dogmatism.
Skepticism is the doctrine which denies the possibility of achieving certitude. It is called absolute skepticism if it denies that man can have even probability, that is, a justified opinion, about reality. It is called qualified skepticism if it accepts the possibility of attaining knowledge that is probably true. After all, there can be only two fundamental doctrines about the possibility of achieving certitude, that is, about the value or trustworthiness of human knowledge. One of these doctrines holds that certitude is possible, the other holds that it is not possible. Between skepticism, on the one hand, and what is called (perhaps regrettably) dogmatism on the other, there is no room for new doctrines. Hence, every doctrine on certitude will be either skeptical in character or it will be dogmatic. We shall advert to this fact when we come to the description of the several doctrines we are to discuss.
Skepticism as a theory of knowledge, or rather as a theory of the nonexistence of true knowledge, offers the following arguments:
(a) Our faculties -- that is, our knowing-powers -- often deceive us.
Experience is proof sufficient of this fact. We may think we see a thing when as a fact we do not see it; we may judge that a distant mountain is ten miles off and then find to our surprise that it is thirty miles off; we may judge a wheel which whirls with great rapidity to be standing still; a child at its first motion picture show thinks the pictures are real persons. Since, then, our faculties are at least sometimes deceiving, we have no assurance in any instance that they are giving us truth. Just as a man who is known to be a liar cannot be trusted in any utterance, even if he be actually telling the truth, so our faculties are never to be trusted. In other words, we never can have certitude. Even if our faculties sometimes actually tell the truth, we have no means of knowing that this is the case. Therefore, the quest of certitude is vain. Man must be content to remain in ignorance or, at best, in doubt.
(b) We cannot know but that we are the creatures of a Power that delights to see us milling about hopelessly in tangles of doubt and error.
(c) To know a thing with certitude we must have proof or evidence that the thing is true.
But then we must also have proof or evidence that the proof or evidence is reliable. And then we must have proof for this proof. And so we go on endlessly. Now, it is acknowledged on all hands that one cannot build a solid argument on an endless series of proofs. There cannot be a useful "progress unto infinity" in argument. There must be some solid starting-point, some absolute ground on which the whole edifice of evidence rests. But, as we have seen, there can be no such solid ground. Therefore, the mind cannot achieve certitude.
Such are the arguments of skepticism. We must look into them to see whether they are of any value. But, before all, we must notice these facts:
The defender of skepticism asks us to accept his doctrine that it is certain that there is no certitude. He offers evidence for a doctrine which denies the value of all evidence. He uses the mind to work out the argument that there is no use using the mind.
By his own confession, the skeptic is confounded as well as confuted. We may tell him that, by his own argument, skepticism is not a true and certain doctrine as he professes it to be. In a word, the skeptic contradicts himself; one part of his doctrine cancels out the other, and the result is zero.
A sincere skeptic has no recourse but silence. The minute he speaks to explain his doctrine he makes factual declaration of these things:
That he certainly exists, and knows it; That he has certain knowledge of the doctrine he holds; That other people certainly exist to listen to him; That others have minds capable of being certainly influenced by what he has to say; That what he has to say is truth, that is, a thing to be grasped with certitude.
Therefore, the skeptic cannot speak; he cannot express his doctrine without denying it; he cannot defend his position without showing it to be false. Only in absolute silence, in which he must doubt the existence of his own doubt, can the skeptic steal away from reality. For if a man has not even certitude of the meaning of his words, how shall he dare to ask us to listen to them?
Since skepticism is thus ruinously self-contradictory, we have no need to investigate its arguments for the purpose of refuting it. But we have need to investigate these arguments for our own enlightenment and to equip ourselves for the charitable task of keeping unwary minds from being taken in by them. Therefore we shall glance at them briefly.
(a) Our knowing-powers deceive us, says the skeptic, but he is wrong.
Our knowing-powers, used rightly, are infallible. When we are deceived, it is because we make a headlong judgment without waiting for our knowing-powers to bring in their evidence. Or we use our knowing-powers for purposes they were not meant to serve. Or (in the case of the senses) we fail to make allowance for organic defects or for the conditions under which the knowing-powers should operate, like a colorblind man making decisions on tints and shades or a person matching colors under dim or tinted lights.
Our faculties do not deceive us, but we frequently misuse our faculties. The man who "thinks he sees a thing" (as at a magician's trick show) when he does not see it, asks more of his eyes than they were given to report; for, as we shall see in a later part of this study, the sense of sight is for one essential purpose and no other, the perceiving of colored surfaces. Similarly, when we judge distances by the eye, we may be wrong, especially if we are in an atmosphere rarer or less rare than that in which our ordinary daily experience is gathered; but distance-judging is not the proper work of the sense of sight. Nor is it the first and proper business of the eye to discern rest and motion, nor to determine at once whether a movie-image is a picture or a person.
In all these cases, the deception is in the judgment of the mind, not in the eye or other senses, and it is there by our fault, not by the fault of the mind itself. We judge rashly, precipitately; we do not wait to test conclusions; we make them headlong. But we could wait, we could test, we could find solid evidence and true certitude. Therefore, the assertion of the skeptic that our knowing-powers deceive us, and the instances offered in proof of the assertion, come to nothing. This argument is manifestly valueless.
(b) Perhaps we are the creatures of a Power that delights to see us deceived.
The sane answer to one "perhaps" is another "perhaps." We might dismiss this silly assertion by saying, "Perhaps not." But we need not be so abrupt. No normal man can look upon existence as a hopeless confusion, a milling about in toils of error and deception.
Nature is constant; the farmer plants wheat in confidence that the crop will not turn out be be pineapples; the child grows into a man and not into a griffin. Our knowing-powers serve us well for business and even for pleasure; we can add up the bill at the grocer's and know when we have been given the correct change for the money we offer in payment.
And why should a malign Power to to the bother of furnishing to man sense-organs of most wondrous design and delicacy, admirably adapted to what we call their normal use, if these things were to be utterly meaningless and if man could be plunged into witless miseries and contradictions without them?
(c) That there must be an endless series of proofs to establish certitude is an untrue statement.
There are certain fundamental truths which need no proof, and which cannot have proof, for they are their own proof. These are self-evident truths which it is impossible either to doubt or to deny. These are lightsome truths as the sun is lightsome; and one needs no lantern or searchlight to go in search of the noonday sun or to identify it when it is discovered. These self-evident truths are the basis of all certitude; they give us the ultimate ground for evidence which skepticism mistakenly says we cannot find. In recognizing these truths the mind by one and the same indivisible act sees the truth and the evidence or proof of the truth. Such fundamental and inevitable truths are:
(1) The First Fact, which is the fact of one's own existence; (2) The First Condition, which is the character of reason as capable of knowing truth by thinking it our; (3) The First Principle or First Guiding Truth (called "the principle of contradiction") which is the truth that a thing cannot be simultaneously existent and nonexistent in the same way.
These truths cannot be doubted or denied.
Try, for example, to deny the fact of your own existence. Say, "I do not exist." Then what right have you to say "I"? What you say amounts to this, "I'm here to say I'm not here." Or try to doubt your existence. Say, "I doubt whether I'm here." You words mean, "I am certain that I am here and that I am entertaining a doubt about my being here."
Thus any attempt at doubt or denial of a self-evident truth results in an affirmation of the truth. Such a truth is inescapable. It is not only a truth which contains proof; it is its own proof which you cannot evade. Hence the statement of the skeptics that every truth requires a proof other than itself is a fallacy, and upon that fallacy the who case for skepticism is wrecked and forever shattered.
But what of qualified skepticism, the skepticism which admits that man can attain knowledge that is probably true and certain? Well, it hasn't a leg to stand on. For the man who says that the best we can achieve is probability is a man who denies certitude, and thus be is an absolute skeptic in spite of himself. If he cries wildly that he is not, and attempts to explain his position in such way as to give value to what he calls probability, then he is actually a dogmatist and not a skeptic at all.
There is no middle ground between the positions described by the contradictory judgments, "We can achieve certitude" and, "We cannot achieve certitude." Since they are contradictories, these judgments exhaust the possibilities. For the rest, there is no conceivable probability which does not rest upon things certainly known. The man who says something is probable affirms the fact that something else is absolutely sure, just as the man who thinks it probable that the local politicians are a tricky lot, bases his opinion upon facts which he has certainly observed; the probability is in an interpretation of data which are not merely probable but certain.
Idealism is a kind of blanket-term for all doctrines (and their name is legion) which in any way minimize reality and tend to turn things into thoughts or mental images, that is, to make reality a kind of dream in our own minds. Sometimes this sort of doctrine is called subjectivism (for the person who knows, or thinks he knows, is called the knowing subject), and sometimes it is given a special name by the person who professes it, as, for example, in the case of Immanual Kant who called it criticism. But all doctrines of whatever name which minimize reality and make things into thoughts or images or ideas in the knowing subject, are idealistic or subjectivistic.
It is manifest that idealistic doctrines are also skeptical. For if man's knowledge is subjective and not trans-subjective, if it is a home-product of the mind, if man is walking in a dream-world, then his certitudes about things are really not certitudes at all but errors, and certitude is unobtainable. And here we are back at the untenable position of skepticism.
In whatever form it may appear -- whether in the theories of Hume, Berkeley, Kant, Hegel, von Schelling, Fichte, or in the will-philosophies and power-philosophies of the later Germans from Schopenhauer and Nietzsche to Hitler, or even in the so-called practical doctrines of the pragmatists and the neo-realists -- idealism fails to come to grips with reality. Even sensism or positivism which in one way is the opposite of idealism is like it in another way; it fails to recognize a tremendous primal reality, the reality of mind as well as the reality of what the mind represents.
Idealistic doctrine cuts away its own foundations. For if reality is ultimately reducible to states of the mind, what basis have we for accepting as reliable or real the states of the mind? If the world is all a dream, is not the dreamer a part of the world and therefore a part of his own dream; and have we not then a dream in the void without a real dreamer? Surely there can be no more complete skepticism than this.
Again, the idealist, like the skeptic, must be forever silent. For if he talks about reality, even to deny it, he affirms reality. The idealist supposes that his words have real meaning, and that his theories deal with something that is there, even as he endeavors to deny that it is there and to assert that it is all in his viewpoint, or all in his mind, or all in an unconscionable image.
There is one type of idealism (rightly called so since it minimizes the reality of common experience) known as relativism or the relativity of truth. This doctrine refuses to recognize the existence of solid reality as a knowable thing, and makes truth dependent upon "the way you look at it" or "the way you experience it." Relativism holds that what is true for one may not be true for all, or may not be true for one in all circumstances.
Thus I may truly say that today is hot; but at the same moment in the far north an Eskimo may truly say that today is cold. All this is mere foolery. For manifestly any statement of concrete fact necessarily takes in the pertinent circumstances of that fact. What I say when I declare that today is hot is that here and now it is hot; so the Eskimo in his far abode says that there and then it is cold. There is no conflict in these statements; one does not deny the other. Neither I nor the Eskimo spoke for all times and places, but each for his own place and time. And what was said was true and eternally true; for unto eternity it remains true that in one precise place and at one precise time it was hot, and in another precise place at a precise time it was cold.
As for truths of the rational order, such as the truth that two and two make four, or the truth that any effect must have an adequate cause or sum of causes, these truths are independent of concrete circumstances and are in so sense relative to place, time, or other material factor.
You should be on the alert for the pernicious doctrine of relativism, and you will have many opportunities of noticing how prevalent among unthinking people is this idealistic theory. You will hear people talking of "philosophy suited to the needs of our times," as though philosophical truth were relative to the progress of centuries or the multiplication of mechanical devices or the tastes of men in employment and amusement. You will hear people say that certain teachers are men or women of "advanced thinking" as though truth were relative to some kind of foot-rule; you will hear of "liberal views" as though fact depended upon the way it is viewed, and were relative to the viewpoint. All such idealistic theory is tainted with the fundamental insanity of skepticism.
Sensism (often identified with Positivism and Empiricism) is the doctrine which relies upon the senses, and minimizes the value of the reasoning mind. Thus, upon the face of things, sensism is the opposite of idealism. But we have seen that sensism is itself idealistic and subjectivistic inasmuch as it minimizes the reality of mind.
Sensism is, as a philosophy, wholly inarticulate. We have seen that the skeptic and idealist dare not talk, for they open their mouths only to contradict themselves. But the sensist cannot talk, for talk is an expression of reasoned thinking which, for the sensist, has no value.
Our senses are wondrous channels of knowledge. Their value is in no way to be minimized. Without their service, intellectual knowledge would be unavailable in this life. But sanity demands that we recognize both senses and mind. For if it is only by the service of the senses that the mind can find materials to work upon, it is only by the mind that the value of the senses can be estimated and recognized. A man makes himself a cripple if his philosophy of left-footism denies the existence of the right foot, or if his theory of right-footism denies the existence of the left. The sane man is grateful for two feet, and he uses them both to walk in safety.
The laboratory technician who relies upon test-tubes and physical analyses, and says that his task is merely one of observation and experiment; that he amasses data, but reaches no reasoned conclusion upon his findings, is not telling the truth. For one thing, he has some intelligible program which directs his choice of experiments. For another, he has some rational scheme of collating his findings.
It is, indeed, impossible for rational man to live or to experiment in a wholly sentient manner, excluding the mind and the value of its reasonings. For the rest, we are quite well aware that many, if not most, of the wild theories which startle the world every day or so, and are forgotten a day or so later, come bounding out of the laboratory which professes to fight shy of all theorizing or "indoctrination," and to concentrate on the amassing of data.
Of course, the sane laboratory technician does not profess to be a philosopher, and happy is he if he can overcome the temptation to philosophize. But his science, to which we owe a great deal that makes for convenience and comfort, and even a great deal that makes for the extension of knowledge and the enlightenment of the mind, is taken by the sensist (who professes to be a philosopher) as an embodiment or expression of the sensist theory. We trust, says the sensist, the positive findings of the senses, and of experimental science; we deny the value of your reasonings, your metaphysics.
Well, as we have seen, the sensist must offer reasons for the rejection of reason; he does, and they are inadequate as well as contradictory of his own thesis. The sensist must transcend sense, and even become metaphysical, for the purpose of casting a slur at metaphysics. In all this we observe (in the best scientific manner) the self-contradiction of skepticism, the "suicide of thought," the abandonment of all certitude even as the theory presents itself as certain.
Traditionalism is a theory which asserts the incapacity of individual minds to reach truth and certitude. We must rest upon the racial reason, upon the strong reasoning power of the whole human race, and not upon the weak reasoning power of Tommy or Jane. Now, the reasoned certitudes of the race are handed on from age to age by the human tradition; hence the name of this theory.
If the minds of individual men are like the threads of a tapestry there might be some value in this theory. But the minds of men of successive generations are rather like the links of a chain; and no chain is stronger than its weakest link. A series of weak links will never make a strong chain. If you cannot rely upon individual reason, and the evidence it can discover and offer, you cannot rely upon an agglomeration of many individual reasons, for the character of the thing in either case is the same.
Even if the minds of men were like threads in a tapestry, you could only have a tapestry if each thread would bear some weight, however slight. But the traditionalist will not admit that the individual reason can achieve any certitude, however slight. You cannot make a tapestry of threads too weak to bear their own weight.
If the individual human mind has a value of zero in the establishing of certitude and in the recognizing of certitude with clear assent, then the agglomerate reasons of all mankind suffer the same defect. A sum of zeros, however large, still comes to zero.
It is true that what many men have recognized by reason as the truth stands so far recommended to the individual minds of people who come after them. Tradition has a value. But not as tradition merely. Its value lies in its recognizable reasonableness. In religion, Divine Tradition rests upon the recognizable authority of God, and gives the mind absolute certitude; but there is not here any question of Divine Tradition. Here we speak of human tradition.
There is a doctrine, allied to traditionalism, which declares that the human mind, as individual or in agglomeration, is incapable of knowing truth with certitude, and asserts that all certitude rests upon an original revelation made by God to man, and handed on by human tradition. The theory which reposes all certitude upon this original divine revelation -- and which declares that man's certitude is always a certitude of faith in this revelation as given to our knowledge by tradition -- is called fideism. This doctrine falls, with traditionalism, under the arguments which show that the minimizing of the natural force and value of human reason below its normal limits is a form of skepticism and is therefore destructive of all value in human knowledge and is self-contradictory.
There is another doctrine, called agnosticism, which unwarrantedly limits the field of human knowledge, and declares that, for the rest, we must have human faith. The field of human knowledge is indeed limited. But it is not limited except where there is no evidence to work with and to rest upon. Agnosticism arbitrarily limits knowledge even where evidence is available. Some agnostics are idealists and say we cannot have certitude except about our own subjective states; some are sensists and say we cannot be certain of anything that lies beyond the range of the senses. Both sets of agnostics admit that some reality lies beyond these limited spheres, and that we do well to believe in it, but that we cannot have reasoned certitude about it. Agnosticism falls with idealism and sensism, and ultimately with skepticism. It does not demonstrate its doctrines; it simply declares them.
On the other hand, there is a doctrine that the human mind is capable of knowing all reality thoroughly, and that what cannot be known is simply not existent. This theory is called rationalism and ought to be called irrationalism. For the human mind, like the human eye, can take in much and see it clearly, but it cannot take in all. There are hows and whys that lied outside the range of reason just as there are bodily objects that lie outside the range of vision. Indeed, in every question reason must admit the atmosphere of mystery. But mystery is not fog. It is the reach of fact which cannot be fully explained by the human mind.
The word dogmatism has a harsh and unwelcome sound in modern ears. But this is merely an accident of speech or rather of the current fashion in the use of words. We here employ the word dogmatism in its ancient Greek meaning of thinking. And a dogma, which literally means "a thought," is here employed to mean a self-evident truth.
Dogmatism is the doctrine which holds that the human mind, recognizing, with certitude, self-evident truths, can build upon them a body of knowledge that is certainly true.
The critical question, put as an actual interrogation, is this, "Can the mind of man achieve certitude?" Notice, it is not, "Can the mind of man achieve all certitude." Sanity compels us to acknowledge the fact of limitation in a nature essentially limited. But can we have certitude; can we attain to true and certain knowledge? The skeptic says we cannot. The idealist, the sensist, the agnostic, the traditionalist, the fideist, all say that we can have a short of broken or incomplete certitude in certain fields. The dogmatist says, "Yes, the mind can have certitude wherever it discovers solid evidence for its judgments."
Dogmatism is a doctrine which finds the mind capable of squaring with reality; in other words, of obtaining logical truth. Dogmatism does not merely assert that certitude is obtainable; it does not even rest on assertion that self-evident truths are known with certitude. It investigates. It looks for evidence. And it sanely accepts evidence.
In the judgments which the mind makes necessarily and spontaneously, dogmatism seeks for evidence and finds it in the judgments themselves; it finds that, as a fact, the subject and the predicate of such a judgment are identical, and that alien proof is therefore neither needed nor available. In other judgments, dogmatism looks for evidence in causes, in explanations, in proofs which it weighs and applies by the strict rules of logic.
It thinks, it reasons calmly, clearly, consistently, legitimately. It requires evidence suited to the nature of the facts in each case, and sufficient to establish these facts if they are really facts. And it looks only for that degree of certitude which the nature of the facts indicates as possible.
Dogmatism never makes blind assertions. It never makes affirmations or denials which the mind is required to swallow without question or investigation. First and last, dogmatism is the doctrine of the possibility of certitude as obtainable by the mind through the presence and power of objective evidence.
Thus dogmatism recommends itself to the mind as eminently sane. It involves no self-contradiction as opposed doctrines do. It rests on no blind assumption. It makes no unwarranted limitations or extensions in the field of knowledge. It attaches no value to mere assertion. It seeks to come into clear alignment with reality. It stands alone among all theories or doctrines on human knowledge in the fact that it offers a rounded and complete treatment of the Epistemological Question. Therefore, it stands alone in its intrinsic claims for acceptance as the true theory of knowledge.
Now, the certitude which dogmatism shows to be possible, is of three chief degrees. There are no degrees in truth, but certitude is the mind's hold upon truth, and there are degrees in such a hold. Not in its firmness; for the least infirmity in the hold of mind upon truth, the least wavering, would destroy certitude and put the mind into a state of opinion. The degrees of certitude are degrees in the compelling force of the evidence upon which certitude rests. As we have said, there are three such degrees.
First, the mind's assent may be absolutely compelled because the predicate of a judgment is found to be identified completely or partially with the subject. When once the mind knows what is meant by a circle, and by roundness, the mind judges with certitude and necessity that "a circle is round." There is no possibility of a circle being anything but round, for roundness is of the very essence of a circle. When the mind recognizes such a judgment its certitude is called absolute or metaphysical.
When, however, the evidence is not essential and intrinsic, but rests upon something other than the essence of the things judged, the certitude is not absolute but is relative to the evidence in the case. Now, relative certitude is of two types, physical and moral.
When the evidence of our certain judgment is the consistency of the physical universe, we have physical certitude; thus I have certitude that the apple tree will bear apples and not (barring an ingrafted branch) plums. But my certitude is not absolute.
Moral certitude is based upon the evidence of normal human conduct. I am certain that a mother loves her child, even though it is possible than an unnatural mother should detest her child.
All these types of certitude -- absolute, physical, moral -- are types of real certitude, not of opinion. In each type we have the wholly unwavering assent of the mind to known truth. But the evidence by which the truth is known is in one case metaphysical or absolute necessity, in the second case, it is physical necessity, and in the third case, it is moral necessity.
I have metaphysical certitude when my certitude is founded upon the essences of things; I have physical certitude when it is founded upon the natural mode of action of things around me in this world; I have moral certitude when it is founded upon the mode of free activity characteristic of normal men. My certitude that a circle is round or that a man is a rational animal is metaphysical or absolute certitude. My certitude that a dead man will not come back to earthly life is physical certitude. My certitude that a man who knows what he is talking about, and who is no liar, is actually telling the truth is a moral certitude.
Dogmatism seeks the degree of certitude which is necessary and sufficient according to the nature of the case. It could not reasonably seek metaphysical certitude for the facts of history, nor physical certitude for the free acts of a person.
Summary of the Section
In this Section we have weighed and criticized various types of doctrine on the possibility of achieving certitude.
We have considered skepticism, idealism, relativism, sensism, traditionalism, fideism, rationalism, agnosticism, and dogmatism.
We have found that the one doctrine which meets the requirements of reality and human reason, and which involves no self-contradiction or unwarranted assertion is the Classical Realistic doctrine known as dogmatism.
We have studied a brief description of dogmatism, and have seen that it shows the possibility of achieving certitude.
We have noticed the various degrees of certitude.
a. Evidence; b. Evidence of the Senses; c. Evidence of the Mind; d. Authority
Evidence is the light of truth shining into the mind and making it see. It is the understandable object or thing as clearly known.
Sometimes evidence is immediate, that is, sometimes it requires no thinking out, no medium of reasoning through which it can be made to appear. It appears at once and directly, even as a blazing light appears at once and directly, and we need no other light with which to seek and find it. An immediately evident truth is called self-evident. Thus it is immediately evident to the mind that "a totality is greater than any of its parts." The very meaning of "totality" and "part" necessitates this judgment.
Sometimes truth does not immediately appear and must be sought by other light than that which manifestly abides in it. Thus the schoolboy's knowledge that the sum of the angles of a triangle is 180 degrees is not immediately evident, but must be worked out through the medium of reasoning. Evidence that must thus be worked out is called mediate evidence.
Evidence, to be of value, must be objective, or, more accurately, trans-subjective. It must not be the mere feeling or the mere viewpoint or the mere taste of the person (called the subject) who seeks it or is influenced by it; it must not be subjective. Objective evidence is the ultimate criterion of truth, the ultimate basis of certitude. For it is the truth "right there looking at you"; it is reality unfolded before the mind; it is the light shining from reality into the understanding and making the mind see.
b) Evidence of the Senses
The channels of knowledge for man are the senses and the mind. These bring in their findings; they note and accept evidence; they are sources of truth and certitude.
Man's knowing beings with the senses, and with the exterior senses. It does not end there, but it necessarily begins there. The mind takes the findings of the senses and peers beneath their materiality and their limitations to grasp essences and form ideas, and from ideas to form other ideas, and with ideas to make judgments and reasonings. But it all begins with the action of the senses upon this bodily world.
There are two classes of senses, exterior senses (commonly listed as five: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch or feeling) and interior senses (listed as four: sense-consciousness, sense-memory, imagination, instinct). [Note: the term "instinct" here has a different technical meaning than it does in the empirical sciences of psychology and zoology.]
Each sense lays hold of reality in its own way. That is, each sense has its own object. The external senses take in bodily reality (in cognitional image or species) but no one sense takes in all bodily reality.
The object of a sense is proper if that one sense alone can perceive this object. It is common if two or more senses can grasp it. The sense of sight or vision can perceive actual physical color, or, if one choose to be more accurate, the reflection of refracted light from bodily surfaces. No other sense can perceive color. Color (which is fundamentally "light") is therefore the proper object of the sense of sight. But both the sense of sight and the sense of touch can perceive bodily motion; I can see that a wheel is turning, or I can place a hand upon it and feel the motion. So also with the shape of a body; I can see that a ball is round, or I can take it in my hands and feel its roundness. Thus shape and local movement are common objects of sense.
Both proper and common objects of sense are perceived in themselves. By experience the senses also learn to grasp objects which are not themselves perceivable by the senses employed; these objects are said to be perceived accidentally. Thus a man can perceive that an apple is sour by tasting it; he perceives the sourness in itself. But a man who knows apples may be able to see that the apple is sour because his experience tells him that apples of that size, color, and kind are sour apples; he sees the sourness, not in itself, for it is not visible; he sees the sourness accidentally by reason of its known association with what he sees.
Now, the senses are to be judged, in respect to their reliability, upon their proper action; upon the fact that they do nor fail to do what they are manifestly framed for doing. When a single sense is used upon a common object, or when the senses are used for accidental perception, we have surely no right to cry "deceit!" if the judgment founded on such sensings turns out to be false. The senses are wonderfully versatile, and we tend to use them upon other than their proper objects, but we have no right in the world to demand precise and accurate reports from senses so used.
Rightly used, the senses are infallible. And the senses are rightly used when, and only when, the following requirements are observed:
(a) A sense must be employed upon its proper object; (b) The sense-organ must be sound, not defective; (c) The medium in which the sense is used must be suitable; (d) The proper object itself must be so presented to the sense-organ as to lie within the normal range of that organ's activity; (e) The sense-organ must be given sufficient time for its normal function.
The assertion that, so used, the senses are infallible is thus established: All human knowledge acquired in this life begins with the action of the external senses, and rests upon sensation (that is, sense-action) as upon its ultimate foundation. If this foundation is insecure, no human knowledge is reliable. And if no human knowledge is reliable, we are once enmeshed in the insane self-contradictions of skepticism, which is a wholly impossible position.
Therefore, we are compelled to acknowledge the reliability of the senses. For the rest, the senses, rightly used, in accordance with the requirements noted, are found to square with reality; the test of experience finds in them no deceit, no contradiction, no twist or difficulty. And reason compels us to acknowledge the justice of the five conditions or requirements for the right use of the senses.
The senses therefore can be the source of valid evidence; the senses can be the remote source of intellectual certitude. The fact that judgment based on sense-findings is sometimes erroneous is owing always to one of two causes:
(1) Either the findings are not genuine findings (because the conditions requisite for infallible sense-action are not met); or (2) The evidence of the sense-findings is not properly weighed by an attentive mind.
c) Evidence of the Mind
An idea or concept is the representation or the re-presence in the mind of the essence of a reality. Ideas or concepts are compared by the mind, and used as the subjects and predicates of judgments. Judgments are thoughts. Judging is thinking. But judgments are not always available upon the simple comparison of a subject-idea and a predicate-idea. Sometimes they must be worked out from other judgments so connected as to lead to them as necessary conclusions. This working out process, this extension of thinking, is called reasoning.
The question now before us is this: are judging and reasoning reliable; do these processes present acceptable and even compelling evidence to the mind so as to beget certitude?
To answer this question we must proceed with great exactness. The judging and the reasoning (that is, the "thinking") here to be investigated are fundamentally a matter of ideas or concepts. If the ideas are truly representative of reality, then the relations among those ideas are surely capable of supplying evidence for certain judgings and reasonings. Our question comes then to this: are ideas actually representative of reality?
We assert that they are, and for these reasons:
(a) Ideas are legitimately derived from sense-findings. Now, as we have seen, sense-findings are, when rightly gathered, truly reliable, Therefore, ideas are reliable and can be used in judgments which (again, when rightly formed) express truth with certitude. (b) No doctrine which denies the objectivity or trans-subjectivity of ideas is admissible. For such doctrines, though various in name, come always into two classes: those that proclaim that ideas do not perfectly represent reality, and those that declare that ideas are a home-product of the mind and are turned out of a kind of mental mill without reference to reality. But if the first type of theory is true, then ideas do represent reality, though imperfectly, and the case is ours. If the second type is true, then we must accept subjectivism or idealism, which we have seen is an inadmissible theory which involves a fundamental skepticism.
Ideas are valid. In judging, the mind accepts the evidence which the ideas afford. When the mind takes other evidence than that which the ideas themselves afford, it judges by reason of authority, of which we have yet to speak. Here we consider only the fact that the mind can find evidence intrinsic to ideas. Of course, the mind may make erroneous judgments, but these are made through accidental causes, chief of which are presumption which leads the mind to judge upon ideas that are obscure (that is, to judge without really knowing the evidence) and a headlong impatience for reaching judgment without due labor (again, without knowing and weighing the evidence). Erroneous judgments come, not from evidence, but from the lack of it or the failure to take it. But when the mind proceeds with caution, prudence, and honest effort, there is no error.
Ideas are built upon evidence gathered from the senses. Judgments are built upon evidence presented in ideas. Reasonings are built upon evidence afforded by judgments. Now, if the first foundation of all this building (that is, sense-action and sense-findings) be secure and solid, as it can be secure and solid; if the work of building be legitimately done according to the requirements which the nature of the process indicates, there can be no sane doubt about the security and solidity of the whole edifice. In a word, intellectual evidence, rightly taken, is a valid source of certitude.
Authority as a source of certitude is reliable testimony. It is evidence gathered from the words of a reliable speaker or writer, or from such works of man as reliably express a fact or a doctrine.
Can testimony of this sort be relied upon? Reason declares that it can when it meets certain definite requirements. That the source of testimony (the witness, or the thing which embodies an expression of fact or doctrine) be of value, it is required:
(a) That the testimony be clearly understood; (b) That the witness be thoroughly informed; and (c) That the witness be truthful.
In a word, if you understand exactly what a man says and what he means; if you know, or he can show, that he is telling the truth, and that he knows what he is talking about, you reasonably accept his word. You believe him; you put faith in him. You have the moral certitude which called the certitude of faith, although, where there is question of merely human testimony, you cannot have absolute or philosophical certitude which is called the certitude of science.
Authority offers evidence which recommends itself to reason and which invites the will to issue the command, "Accept this." Human authority cannot compel assent, as intrinsic evidence does; human authority is always extrinsic evidence.
Once you know what a circle is and what roundness is, you cannot refuse to be certain that a circle is round; the evidence is intrinsic; it is right in the ideas of "circle" and "roundness." But if a man tells you that a large building is perfectly circular (a thing you cannot safely judge by merely looking at the building) you want to know something about that man before you take his word. You want to know whether he is a liar, or a joker, or a person stating a fact, and you want to know how he knows the building is circular. But if you are satisfied that he has knowledge of what he reports, and that he is neither a liar nor a joker, you realize that, while you could stubbornly refuse to believe him, it would be silly to do so. You realize that in the circumstances it would be imprudent to cling to doubt. You have here the least and lowest sort of evidence from authority; it is called "the imprudence of doubt." It can give you a true moral certitude, however.
Now, suppose you have knowledge that the man who tells you the building is circular is the architect who designed the building. Suppose, too, you have his word confirmed by the contractor who controlled the work of building, and also by the owner who made the specifications. Suppose, too, you have the world of other men who have measured and tested the building for circularity. You have then a series of witnesses to a fact, and these lend increased power to the evidence, not by reason of their number, but by the fact that they check and confirm one another.
As a consequence, you are no longer impelled to accept the evidence by a mere imprudence of doubt in the circumstances; you have positive evidence evidence which urges you to accept it. You have a much stronger basis for certitude than the simple imprudence of doubt. Still, you could refuse it; for in matters of human faith, in points of moral certitude, the mind assents to evidence only under the orders of the will; for this reason faith is sometimes poetically described as "a genuflection of the will."
The most noteworthy expressions or embodiments of testimony are what we are told orally, what is written in history, and what is memorialized in statues, coins, relics, inscriptions, etc. These types of testimony are known as tradition, history, and monuments. They are valuable in so far as they meet the tests of human authority, that is, in so far as they can be shown to be the testimony of one who knows, and of one who speaks truly, and of one what is clearly understood. Then they meet these tests, the three types of human authority or testimony are reliable objective evidence and a true source of certitude.
Much if not most of our knowledge is based upon the objective evidence of authority, of testimony. All historical knowledge is so evidenced, and indeed much scientific knowledge even in the realm of the laboratory. For each experimental scientist cannot spend his life repeating the experiments made by his predecessors. Now, if authority is thus commonly accepted as the source of certitude, if the demands of daily life make it imperative that it be so accepted, if its acceptance does not bring us into conflict with reality but serves us smoothly in our dealings with reality, then it proves itself authentic stuff. It is to be accepted as a reliable source of moral certitude; to reject it stubbornly would be merely silly.
However, much deceit is in the world. Historians can make mistakes; nay, historians can lie, and they sometimes do. Men may speak out of their ignorance or their malice; they may embalm their mistakes and their deceits in lasting works and printed books. Yet all this does not invalidate our argument that human authority can be and often is the source of true certitude. For we have means of testing the reliability of testimony. What a witness says can be checked and rechecked against other testimony, against the witness of contemporaries, against facts discovered by patient research. And if all truth which relies on human testimony cannot be thus established, at least a great deal of it can be. In the patient and painstaking application of the tests for credibility we can, for instances, know the major facts of history. As to historical circumstances, those lesser facts, we are often left hopeless of achieving true certitude.
On the one hand, then, we must not be gullible, and take every statement, especially every printed statement, as proof of the truth of what is stated. On the other hand, we cannot reasonably refuse to accept the tested evidence of tested witnesses.
A final word. We live in a credulous age, and its babyish credulity is large in direct ratio to its smug conviction that it is a learned and enlightened age. We are too apt to accept unquestioningly any evidence that is offered, especially if it purports to come from "experts," that eerie modern band of soothsayers. We are all too ready to believe firmly in "anything we see in the papers" or anything that is told to us by men or women who broadcast news by radio or television.
As a consequence, much of what we think is our true and certain knowledge is really opinion, and often very shaky opinion. The cant words, "science," "modern views," "progressive thinkings," "experts," "leaders," "reliable sources," and so on, easily deceive us. Although we think ourselves hardheaded and clear-minded, we are in fact the most bewildered and bamboozled generation that the world has ever known. For modern agencies of communication are so multiplied, that from every side, from every angle, come shouting voices that order us about, and plead with us, and make up "propaganda" for us, and press us, and bring us under stresses and influences and tendencies.
We have need now, as never before, to subject human testimony to rigid and searching inquiry; to know, before we believe, that the testimony is straight, that we understand it in its plain meaning, and that the witness is not a teller of lies or a clear twister of truths.
Summary of the Section
In this Section we have learned the meaning of evidence.
We have seen that objective evidence, which can be intrinsic, or extrinsic, is the ultimate source of certitude, and the ultimate criterion of truth.
We have investigated the senses, the mind, and authority as fonts of evidence and consequently of certitude.
We have tried to establish the value of these fonts.
We have noticed some sources of mistaken or falsified evidence which are likely to deceive the unwary mind.
a. Science; b. Method.
The Latin word scientia which we transliterate as science means "true and certain knowledge based on intrinsic evidence."
First and foremost, science is certain knowledge in the mind; and the reason this knowledge is certain is that the mind has a grasp of how and why the facts that it knows must be so. Further, this how and why are not furnished by human authority or by direct sense-experience. They are supplied, mediately or immediately, by the searching quest of reason. Science is "knowledge that is certain because evidenced by causes and reasons."
We may be certain of a thing we know by direct sense-experience; we may be certain of a thing about which a reliable person has informed us' but in these cases, while we have certitude, we have not science. Only when we can give some reasoned account of what we know, and of how and why we know it must be so, have we science. Thus science is another name for scientific certitude or scientific knowledge. A schoolboy may know that a triangle has angles that add up to 180 degrees because he reasonably accepts the word of his teacher or of the textbook that this is a fact. He has knowledge, and indeed certain knowledge, but not science or scientific knowledge. His certitude is the certitude of human faith and not the certitude of science.
But when the schoolboy has worked out the theorem about the sum of angles; when he has understood the whole problem and every step of its solution, he knows the truth in a new way. For he not only knows the fact that the sum of the angles of a triangle is 180 degrees, but he also sees the reasons for the fact; he sees how it is so, and why it must be so. In a word, he now has scientific knowledge or scientific certitude of the fact.
The word science is also used objectively to indicate the recorded findings of persons who have achieved scientific certitude. Thus when the schoolboy tells us that he is "studying science" we know he means to tell us that he is studying books, or lessons designed by a teacher, in which certainly evidenced data are set forth for him to learn. In our day, this objective and general use of the term science ordinarily indicates experimental science; when the schoolboy says he is "studying science" we think at once of physics, or chemistry, or astronomy, or biology, or a hodgepodge of all these called general science.
But this accidental employment of a term must not blind us to its fuller meaning. For science, in its full objective meaning, is the whole body of ascertained and reasoned truths which human reason has established as truths and has systematized and arranged, no matter what various fields of speculation or experiment such arrangement may entail. And each specific department of that universal body of reasoned and certain knowledge is a science.
A science is, therefore, a body of related data set forth in an orderly manner which is marked by completeness and by the consistent manifestation of the causes and reasons which justify each step of its development. In this sense, biology is a science; epistemology is a science; philosophy is a science.
Sciences are of various types. Speculative or theoretical sciences enrich the mind with truth and certitude, but do not point on to anything that is to be done; practical sciences equip the mind with knowledge that points on to action; experimental sciences gather their data by laboratory methods; rational sciences are developed by the use of reasoned principles; theological science is developed according to revealed truth; physical sciences deal in some manner with the bodily world; mathematical sciences deal with pure quantity; metaphysical sciences deal with real but nonmaterial being; logical science deals with the mental processes and their fruits or achievements; moral science deals with free and responsible human conduct.
Each science has a material object and a formal object. The material object of a science is the subject-matter of the science, the subject with which it deals or of which it treats. The formal object is the precise aim, point of view, or aspect with which the science treats its material object. The formal object of a science specifies it, gives it its character as a distinct science among other sciences in the same general field, that is, among sciences that have the same material object.
Method is an English form of the Greek met'-hodos which means "a way after." Method is a way after truth, a reasonable and orderly procedure in the attaining of truth and certitude. It is a seemly mode of acquiring truth.
The chief types of method are the deductive method and the inductive method. The deductive method develops truth by working from general principles to particular instances and applications of these principles. The inductive method works from particular data to build up general principles. These methods are not in opposition. They are supplementary.
Some sciences require, by their nature, more of the deductive than the inductive method; other sciences are, by their nature, largely restricted to the use of the inductive method. The fashion of regarding the inductive method as the sole instrument of science is merely silly and impertinent unless the term science is unreasonably limited in meaning (as it usually is today) to indicate only experimental or laboratory science. But, with reference to learning in general, the two methods are like the two feet of a pedestrian; he gets on safely, gracefully, and comfortably by the use of both.
Different types of sciences have different general requirements, but it is possible to formulate certain inclusive rules governing all methods. Such rules are the following:
1. Proceed from the easy to the difficult; from the simple to the complex; from what is well known to what is less known. 2. The procedure must be continuous, not broken by gaps or jumps; the connection of poin
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