Epistemic Status: Spitballing about deep philosophical questions
A couple weeks ago, at a frisbee tournament, a teammate of mine called Deepak told me about his studies in Indian logic, by which he meant a certain style of philosophical argument in the Upanishads.
Indian logic, [he said] had syllogisms, but was not completely deductive, in that you could not have a syllogism that was practically false, but logically valid. (As in: All men have five legs. Socrates is a man. Therefore Socrates has five legs.)
There has to be an inductive part, that is based on an empirical observation of the world. The example he gave was:
Where there is smoke there is fire, as we see in a kitchen. There is smoke on the hill. Therefore there is fire on the hill.
Now this syllogism is true (valid? – I’m not sure there was a distinction) and accurately describes the physical world, until somebody comes up with an empirical example of there being smoke without fire, at which point it becomes false.
The way he put it was, you *have* to accept this, unless you can come up with a counterexample.
This reminded me of stuff I was thinking about at ESPR, the question of dealing with arguments you can’t (in the moment, at any rate) logically refute. I could always resort to epistemic learned helplessness, but that’s boring and means I never get to change my mind.
In the conversation, though, the first thing that came to my mind was, to quote my friend Andrew, “That’s bullshit!” . More precisely, “My prior on logical or empirical arguments of the kind you are making being undone by later findings is pretty damn high.”
Then Deepak pointed out that this is pretty much how science works. We do believe the current paradigm, until such time as it is overthrown. So now I’m not sure. There should be a way of distinguishing the two cases (when you should believe and when you shouldn’t), and I can vaguely sense it, but I’m not sure. Plausibility? Our intuitions get worse and worse the further we move from direct experience. (eg, quantum mechanics) Track record? What actions and consequences are implied for us ? That seems a little…. how do you say… biased. Meta level considerations? What somebody else stands to gain based on persuading you?
How do you figure out what is true?