On Falsifiability

I have, previously, discussed how absolute ontological certainly is precluded by the structure and nature of knowledge. I also recently engaged in a public debate that touched on the nature of the null hypothesis and reasonable beliefs.  My opponent from that debate recently asked me to clarify my position on the issue of falsifiability. Specifically, the request was:

[W]hat is ‘falsifiability’? You seem to take it to mean that a proposition yields predictions which can then be compared to empirical evidence and shown to be false. Is that correct?

My response was that that statement was “Pretty much” accurate, but that I’d need to write up a blog post “since the answer is somewhat lengthy.”  Dr. Chenvi’s followup question was:

[H]ow that definition is applied to beliefs like “There are no transcendental truths” or “We cannot have real knowledge of deep reality” or “We should only accept claims based on evidence”, or “the external universe actually exists”, etc… None of these claims are falsifiable, on the basis of your definition. So whatever statements you make about whether or not we should believe ‘unfalsifiable’ claims should wrestle with statements like these.
The response will, by necessity, be a bit lengthy. I also don’t think that all of the above statements are necessarily accurate quotes or paraphrases, so I’ll do my best to address specifics. If anybody disagrees on the accuracy of a quote, please let me know in the comments.  In a nutshell, my argument is not a metaphysical statement on the nature of being, but a razor designed to winnow epistemic systems with the metric of objective reality.
 teapot
Evidence And Falsifiability:  Absent falsifiability, we can posit whatever we’d like and there would be no way to winnow the possibilities. This is a simple truth that is true-within-the-structure-of-deductive-logic; only a biconditional premise can eliminate competing answers. To claim otherwise is, necessarily, a logical fallacy, specifically the fallacy of Affirming the Consequent.
  1. P -> Q
  2. Q
  3. ∴ P

In simple English, the fallacy can be put it as “If it rains, the street will be wet. The street is wet, therefore it rained.” But, of course, as there are other possibilities (e.g. a fire hydrant was opened), you cannot conclude P from Q. You can, however, fail to prove the falsity of a claim if you don’t look for evidence of it. The only way to negate P is to change the proof to:

  1. P -> Q
  2. ¬ Q
  3. ∴ ¬ P

That is, mere conditionality does not prove a necessary truth: only a biconditional can do that.  Absent a biconditional, one may only state that P is a sufficient cause of Q. And when P is merely one potential, a lone disjunctive premise merely leaves us with possibilities. All that simply touches on validity. Soundness remains absent without the ability to confirm that P –> Q  is valid in the first place; in order for a proof to be sound, we must be able to both confirm that it is  valid, and that all of its premises are true.  Absent the ability to verify its truth value, a proof can only have indeterminate soundness. That conclusion is a statement about the language game of logic, and is true-within-the-system-of-deductive-reasoning: it’s no more a metaphysical statement than “you can’t use your hands in a game of soccer unless you’re the goalie.”

Falsifiability Via Utility, As Evinced By Objective Reality
: The discussion ultimately rests on utility, and the structure and limitations of inductive and deductive reasoning. Utility relies on objective changes in reality, and while there are endless brain-in-a-jar and living-in-the-matrix objections to this, the ultimate fact of the matter is that our survival, in the context of this reality, rests upon the assumption that reality is ‘as real as it gets’. Various logically consistent ‘other realities’ can be posited, in point of fact an infinite number may be posited – but without a winnowing criteria, there is no way to know which one is true. A lone inclusive disjunction cannot validly prove any of its terms. For example, the following proof is invalid.

  1. A ∨ B ∨ C ∨ D
  2. ∴C

In a nutshell, it is invalid to conclude C unless one can also prove ¬ A,  ¬ B, and  ¬ D.

We can construct cogent inductive proofs to argue for C, but inductive proofs are not, and can not be, truth preserving. Denying falsifiability in deductive logic leaves one with the unenviable position of arguing for an epistemic system that can’t differentiate between fact and logical possibility. To put a finer point on it, without falsification criteria, it isn’t possible to know if A, B, C, or D are even ontologically possible, let alone existential potentialities.

This is not a statement about metaphysics any more than “a home run scores one point in baseball”; which is to say, they are both deductively sound, provided that one accepts their axioms. If, then, we accept that an epistemic system is to be judged by its utility, the rest falls into place neatly – it’s a fairly easy metric to use. But it must be stressed, again, that this is not a statement on the ultimate nature of reality; it is a maximally fit epistemic system predicated upon reliably and repeatably producing changes in objective reality in conformity with will.

Empirical Evidence: If we rely on utility, the ultimate standard becomes objective reality; the difference between a viper and a stick; the difference between food and poison; the difference between a person and a corpse. Again, one may choose to abandon this standard. But if we do not, then we must necessarily privilege any epistemic system that evinces the greatest ability to provide us with the highest degrees confidence in the truth value of claims, repeatably and reliably.  Otherwise, we’re left with a sea of disjunctive claims where the premises may be logically but not ontologically possible, let alone actually true.

Transcendent Truths And Knowledge of Deep Reality: There may exist transcendent truths, but as demonstrated in the first link in this post, they are impossible to know, provided that one accepts one basic axiom. Rather than a metaphysical statement, this is a simple deductive statement which must be taken as true, if one accepts that everything we know about the universe is not wrong.

If everything we know isn’t wrong, then there is a limited processing capacity in the human nervous system, and hard limitations inherent in physics and biology, that prevent perfect knowledge. All the facts we have, from Uncertainty to the inability to perceive anything that hasn’t had its light reach us, prevent perfect knowledge. With cogent inductive support, we can use probabilistic reasoning to verify the strength of the premises in a proof. But since induction is not truth preserving, all premises supported by induction must be probabilistic, and are therefore precluded from being justified beliefs.  When faced with disjunctions which cannot be winnowed down to actual truth – we  have no way to know if 9/11 Troofers are correct, if global climate change is a massive hoax, if evolution is just an atheistic conspiracy, etc… Without knowing if something is even ontologically possible, let alone true, no objective truth claim can be reasonably held.

To deny this is to go beyond the limits of both inductive and deductive logic.

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15 thoughts on “On Falsifiability

  1. Hi Daniel,
    There’s a lot to talk about here, but perhaps it would be best to start with defining your thesis. It wasn’t clear exactly what you are affirming with regard to unfalsifiable claims. Are you saying that ‘no unfalsifiable propositions are true’? Or that ‘we are never warranted in believing that unfalsifiable propositions are true’? Or that ‘all things being equal, we should prefer falsifiable claims to unfalsifiable claims’? Perhaps you could state your thesis in a single sentence.

    • Well, the issue is a good bit complex and I’ve simplified it as much as I think it can be before losing coherence and essential details. But, if I had to sum my position up in one sentence, I’d say something like:

      “Due to the nature of deductive logic, a disjunctive claim where other options are not falsified, cannot validly be used to prove one of the possibilities.”

      Of course, that doesn’t address quite a few facets of this debate, but it is a rough n’ ready gloss.

      Does that clear it up any?

      • No, I’m asking about ‘falsifiability’, not ‘falsified premises.’ Some propositions like ‘there are crackers in my pantry’ seem readily falsifiable (according to the definition you’re using); that is, they can be compared to empirical evidence and shown to be false. Other propositions like ‘there exist moral truths’ are seemingly unfalsifiable; that is, they don’t seem to make any predictions which can be compared to empirical evidence and shown to be false.

        If you’re instead making a claim about the nature of deductive logic, then wouldn’t this claim apply to _all_ propositions? For instance, since I cannot rule out the possibility that there is a hologram of a box of crackers in my pantry, I can’t prove that there are crackers in my pantry.

        • Falsifiability is the ability to have falsified premises. And it is fallacious to conclude one sufficient cause is the correct one, unless you can eliminate alternatives. You can falsify some claims purely within a deductive framework, but objective truth claims require support with objective fact at some point in the proof, or you cannot call it sound.

          And as for deductive logic, it does apply to all objective truth claims. The fallacies I discussed in this post are fallacies, regardless of what they’re being used to support. You cannot prove the truth value of a claim without a biconditional and/or a disjunction with all alternatives eliminated. You simply can’t.

          But as we’ve discussed, my system is based upon the metric of objective reality and default provisional negation. The idea that objective reality is ‘as real as it gets’ has passed its null hypothesis and carried the burden of proof – it’s a razor. We may be brains in jars. We may be living in the Matrix. We may all be sentient holographs. Who knows. But that way lies radical solipsism.

          My proposed epistemic system doesn’t make any claims towards perfect epistemic fitness, let alone an ability to ascertain the nature of deep reality. It is, however, our species’ current maximally effective system for establishing justified belief.
          I’ve grounded my epistemology in utility, objective reality, and deduction. Of course, as I wrote in the post itself, you’re free to discard utility as the metric and/or discard deductive logic as your framework.

          Although, I suspect that such a denial would be purely academic. More specifically, I suspect that the academic denial of utility will reach its limits when it comes time to diagnose a car problem… or a disease.

          • Ok, you’ve now defined ‘unfalsifiable.’ A proposition is ‘unfalsifiable’ if it has premises which cannot be shown to be false based on empirical observations.

            If that’s the case, then your original statement doesn’t say anything about ‘unfalsifiable claims’; it applies equally well to any logical argument whose premises have not been proven. Looking at the claim, “there are crackers in my pantry”, let’s ignore the holograms for a moment. Another ‘alternative possibility’ is that someone stole the crackers from my pantry just after I had observed them. Since that remains a logical possibility, I have not proved that there are crackers in my pantry, even if I just saw them there one minute ago. And we can do this for even the most mundane physical claims, positing purely natural alternative explanations -however improbable- that undermine my argument. So your original statement would lead to an inability to prove anything at all; it would not single out ‘unfalsifiable claims.’

            So let’s return to that question about ‘unfalsifiable claims’. Are you saying that ‘no unfalsifiable propositions are true’? Or that ‘we are never warranted in believing that unfalsifiable propositions are true’? Or that ‘all things being equal, we should prefer falsifiable claims to unfalsifiable claims’? What is your position with regard to ‘unfalsifiable claims’ in particular?

            • Well, no. I didn’t define falsifiability/unfalsifiability like that and I’m reasonably sure that that isn’t my direct quote, and that your paraphrase is not accurate. If I recall correctly, that was your original description of my position, which I said was “pretty much” (not completely) accurate, and that it would require an answer that was more than a soundbite. When you asked me to keep my response to a single sentence, I pointed out that “Due to the nature of deductive logic, a disjunctive claim where other options are not falsified, cannot validly be used to prove one of the possibilities.” That’s simply what’s required under deductive logic to come to a sound conclusion, rather than identify logically possible answers.

              I also very specifically and deliberately did not say that propositions are unfalsifiable if they’re unable to be empirically verified. In point of fact, I clarified that some claims can indeed be falsified within a purely deductive framework. I did, however, correctly point out that objective truth claims require objective evidence. But, yes, of course what I said applies to, and draws a distinction between both unfalsifiable and currently-unevinced claims. A proof which has falsifiable but unproven premises, is of temporarily indeterminate truth value; it might be confirmed or falsified in the future. A proof which has no falsification criteria is of permanent indeterminate truth value, and can never be confirmed or falsified.

              Now, when talking about crackers in the pantry, we can create an inductive argument for the probability of them being there. But, as I’ve said, induction is not truth preserving. It cannot, then, serve as a justification for an absolute ontological belief, but only for a probabilistic conclusion. And of course, through reliance on the null hypothesis, we can still winnow possibilities and achieve high degrees of confidence in our results without claiming that our beliefs are true and justified, merely probabilistically reliable. I also think there’s a bit of confusion over terminology. If I can construct a sound deductive proof, then I have definitely proven my claim. But, again, that is proof-within-the-framework-of-deductive-logic. As I pointed out in the OP, you are certainly free to abandon deductive logic as a framework, or objective reality as a standard, but I’m not sure where that leaves you. Someone can posit a ‘supernatural’ realm, and a ‘super-supernatural’ realm, and a ‘super-super-supernatural realm’, on to infinity. And absent falsification criteria, it’s turtles, turtles, turtles, all the way down. Absent falsification criteria, it is fallacious to conclude that one possibility within a disjunction is the correct one. That’s just how deductive logic works.

              I also strongly suspect that such academic objections immediately crumble once we leave a purely conceptual realm. If a sane person’s car breaks down, they take it to a mechanic to fix, not to a philosopher to discuss the Platonic form of ‘carness’. If a sane person’s child falls deathly ill, they’ll have their child tested and treated in order to find the actual disease.If you give a sane person three glasses filled with unknown liquids, and tell them that one is water and the other two are lethal poisons, that person will attempt to discover which is which, since his survival is linked to the objective truth values. Even those who challenge falsifiability, still look before crossing the street.

              Now, to return to your question about unfalsifiable claims, I’ll quote a bit of what I wrote in my OP: “There may exist transcendent truths, but as demonstrated in the first link in this post, they are impossible to know, provided that one accepts one basic axiom […] With cogent inductive support, we can use probabilistic reasoning to verify the strength of the premises in a proof. But since induction is not truth preserving, all premises supported by induction must be probabilistic, and are therefore precluded from being justified beliefs. When faced with disjunctions which cannot be winnowed down to actual truth […] no objective truth claim can be reasonably held.”

              So, if you’re going to use deductive reasoning as your standard, then yes, it is logically impossible to have a warranted, unfalsifiable claim. If you abandon deductive logic then you can claim warrants for, well, whatever you’d like. But if we don’t abandon deductive logic, then a disjunction without all other possibilities eliminated, cannot prove a possibility, and a conditional cannot be substituted for a biconditional. Which is to reiterate that my claims are true-within-deductive-reasoning. But as any competing system has to either abandon logic, or objective reality, I am confident that this is our species’ maximally fit epistemology.

              If you’re arguing that I’m wrong-in-terms-of-deductive-logic, then construct a sound conditional proof in which affirming the consequent validly confirms the antecedent. Or, construct a sound disjunctive proof in which you can identify the answer without eliminating the other possibilities. As these are both logically impossible, I can be confident that logic is on my side.

              In any case, it seems to be that we’re going in circles a bit. If I can help clarify any additional points I’ll be happy to, but otherwise I’ll give you the last word.

  2. “If I recall correctly, that was your original description of my position, which I said was “pretty much” (not completely) accurate, and that it would require an answer that was more than a soundbite”

    I apologize if I’m mischaracterizing your definition of ‘unfalsifiable.’ If my one-line definition was pretty much correct, then why not provide a completely accurate definition in three or four lines with the appropriate nuances? After doing so, you could then provide some thesis statement about whether and how our warrant to believe falsifiable claims differs from unfalsifiable claims.

    • No worries. To be fair, I think I did provide an accurate definition, with nuance, via my original post. But when you asked me to choose a one-line statement that most accurately summed up my position, the one that I wrote was: “Due to the nature of deductive logic, a disjunctive claim where other options are not falsified, cannot validly be used to prove one of the possibilities.” It doesn’t touch on empiricism, merely the necessity and nature of falsifiability within deductive logic. In a conditional, falsifiability is being able to prove ¬ Q. Absent that, the claim is unfalsifiable. In a disjunction, falsifiability is being able to exclude all other possibilities. And of course, as I pointed out, there are premises which can be falsified through purely deductive processes. In the post itself, I did elaborate on how objective evidence is required for objective truth claims, but that’s a subset of deductive claims. In a nutshell: evidence about objective reality is required in order to make any truth claims about objective reality.
      Falsifiability, then, is simply the requirement that disjunctive premises have alternatives winnowed, that conditionals can be refuted by ¬ Q, and that only a biconditional can evince a necessary truth.

      I’m not sure as to how I could expand on that. It’s just how deductive reasoning works. I couldn’t change my stance on the nature of falsifiability in a deductive context, any more than I could claim that pawns can move an unlimited number of diagonal spaces on a chess board. It may not be ultimately, absolutely ontologically true, but it’s the way that the language-game of deductive logic works. And as for why unfalsifiable claims cannot possibly have a warrant for justified belief, it just goes back to the structure of deductive logic, and the fallacies I identified in the OP. Lone conditionals with affirmed consequents cannot prove their antecedents, and lone disjunctions without negations cannot prove any premises within the set of possibilities. It’s just how soundness works in a deductive proof, and if you want to contend that an answer is correct within deductive reasoning, you must show that it is sound. Of course you’re free to choose whatever you want as a warrant, but if you use deductive reasoning, you must cleave to falsifiability. And you’re free to choose whatever you want as your metric, but if you choose objective reality and utility, then you must cleave to empiricism. You can discard deductive logic as a framework and/or objective reality as a metric. But, as I said, I’m not sure what that would leave as the foundation for an epistemology. I’m afraid that at this point we seem to be talking past each other. I’ve elaborated on the nature of deductive logic as well as the formal logical fallacies inherent in claiming that a conclusion is justified in the absence of deductive falsification/bicionditionality. Short of abandoning deductive logic, I’m not sure how you could make your case.

      Perhaps, to clarify, could you please identify how you would go about proving soundness for a conditional, or proving that one possibility is the correct answer in a disjunction without any other possibilities being eliminated? That should help me understand where you’re coming from.

  3. ” It doesn’t touch on empiricism, merely the necessity and nature of falsifiability within deductive logic. In a conditional, falsifiability is being able to prove ¬ Q. Absent that, the claim is unfalsifiable. In a disjunction, falsifiability is being able to exclude all other possibilities. ”

    Ok, so let’s use your definition and look at the claim that “there are crackers in my pantry.” My claim is that, according to your definitions, this proposition is unfalsifiable because -no matter what evidence you provide- I can give you a number of highly improbable but logically possible alternatives to explain your evidence which you cannot exclude by proving them to be false. So could you explain how the claim ‘there are crackers in my pantry’ is falsifiable?

    • But that is falsifiable. For P -> Q, Let P = there are crackers in the pantry. Let Q = objective measurements of the crackers can be taken and repeated by disinterested observers.

      ¬ Q
      ∴ ¬ P

      • No, there are several other possibilities. For example, it is logically possible that the disinterested observers are lying to you about the measurements for some reason unrelated to their motivations as observers. It is logically possible that they mistakenly misread their measurements devices. It is logically possible that the measurement devices failed repeatedly. Your claim was that if we’re interested in a deductive proof rather than an inductive claim, then we have to be able to eliminate all these other possibilities. And if we cannot eliminate all these other possibilities (and any others we might construct) then the proposition ‘there are crackers in the pantry’ is not falsifiable. Can you explain how you would eliminate all these other possibilities, not probabilistically, but with certainty?

  4. I think that there may be a misunderstanding here.
    A disjunctive premise cannot prove that one of its claims is true unless the others are falsifiable. That is, its truth value will necessarily remain indeterminate unless and until we can falsify all other options. A lone conditional premise cannot ever prove that the antecedent is true, but it can prove that the antecedent is not true, by falsifying the consequent. That is, Q can never prove P, but the negation of Q proves the negation of P.
    I’ll also reiterate that logical possibilities are not necessarily ontological possibilities. While the logical possibilities may include a tiger running into your house and eating your crackers, the ontological possibilities may actually be limited to “they’re in the pantry, or they’re out on the kitchen table.”

    More to the point, adding unfalsifiable possibilities to a proof makes any conclusion invalid, by definition. That’s the whole point. You can’t merely throw anything you want into a proof and then declare that the whole thing is useless, unless your goal is specifically to break the proof and make it invalid. The fact, though, that adding in such unfalsifiable claims completely breaks a proof’s ability to identify truth should be a very good indicia as to the advisability of doing so.

    All you’ve really done with the cracker example is to establish a more rigorous definition of Q. (e.g. “measurements taken by disinterested observers who have brain scans taken to indicate honesty and whose work is checked over by robots…”). It doesn’t make it unfalsifiable.
    But, of course, at a certain point this just degenerates into radical solipsism. We could keep going and going until we reach the brain-in-a-jar portion of the debate, but that doesn’t seem terribly fruitful.

    In any case, deductive reasoning is truth preserving and will allow you to properly analyze a proposition, but it is best understood as “If these things are true, then…”

    As I argued in the OP: “With cogent inductive support, we can use probabilistic reasoning to verify the strength of the premises in a proof. But since induction is not truth preserving, all premises supported by induction must be probabilistic, and are therefore precluded from being justified beliefs.” That is, we cannot take an inductive premise and state “this is definitely true”. But we can use a deductive proof predicated upon inductive premises to state “if these premises are true, then this is what will happen.” That is, the premises themselves can not constitute justified belief, but the conclusion of a deductive proof predicated on those, can be a justified belief as to what predictions a claim makes, and what would prove that that claim is wrong. That, in turn, can help us raise or lower our confidence interval for the claim under investigation.

    Ah well. I’m pretty much tapped out and my time is just about spent. Please feel free to have the last word.

  5. Ok, I think I still have two major questions:
    1. What does it mean for a claim to be ‘unfalsifiable’?
    2. What stance should we take towards ‘unfalsifiable’ claims? Are they all false? Should we never believe them?

    I don’t think we’ve discussed question 2 at all. Regarding question 1, I’m still unsure of your position. My original summary of your position, which you said was ‘pretty much’ accurate, was that a falsifiable claim was ‘one which yields predictions which can then be compared to empirical evidence and shown to be false.’ But you went on to insist that any claim made as the conclusion of a deductive logical argument must necessarily ‘exclude all possible alternatives’ and not merely by using inductive or probabilistic reasoning , but with certainty.

    The problem here, as I see it, is that you’ve set the bar way too high. Under this definition, there is almost _no_ claim that can be falsified. That’s why I have asked you about the statement ‘there are crackers in my pantry.’ If you really hold yourself to the standard that a claim is only ‘falsifiable’ if you can -with certainty- exclude all alternatives, then I can’t see how almost any claim can be considered ‘falsifiable.’ Certainly not the mundane claims we make on a daily basis.

    So I would continue to ask the question: “Is the statement ‘there are crackers in my pantry’ falsifiable? If so, how do you propose to exclude with certainty all alternatives which explain the evidence you present to falsify this claim? And if you cannot -with certainty- exclude all alternative possibilities, then how can you claim that this statement is falsifiable?”

    Obviously, there are other questions I have regarding your statements in this post. For example, you seem to repeatedly dismiss objections to your epistemology with statements like “We don’t need to countenance objection X because that would lead to solipcism [the belief that only our own mind exists].’ But that’s not a good response. Imagine if I said “We don’t need to countenance objection X because that would lead to atheism’! Obviously, that would be a bad argument. We can’t dismiss objections to our epistemology merely because we the implications are unappealing. Consequently, I think all of my original questions are still quite pertinent. For example, you need to be able to show that statements like “we can have no real knowledge of deep reality” or “There are no transcendent truths” or “metaphysics is all a language game” do not fail the very same razor you propose to eliminate belief in statements like “God exists” or “there are no moral truths.” If your razor or your epistemology is consistent, you need to apply it to both sets of claims.

    • 1. An unfalsifiable claim is one that cannot be shown, via deductive logic, to be false. Falsification requires negation of the consequent, ¬ Q. A premise that has no consequent is simply P. On its own, it is a mere given. Further, a disjunctive proof requires that options only be added if they have cogent inductive support. Disjunctive proofs are not a license to insert whatever terms you’d like. Again, this is falsifiability within the context of inductive and deductive logic. Including something as a premise requires it to either be logically necessary or cogently supported. Those premises themselves are inductive, and are precluded from being justified absolute beliefs and must, instead, be in degrees of probabilistic confidence. My definition does not yield a situation in which “there is almost _no_ claim that can be falsified”. It requires that consequents be cogently supported.

      2. Well, I wrote in the OP that “Absent the ability to verify its truth value, a proof can only have indeterminate soundness.” As for the stance someone should take towards claims that haven’t carried their burden of proof, default provisional negation and reliance on the null hypothesis. Earlier I wrote
      ” A ∨ B ∨ C ∨ D
      ∴C
      In a nutshell, it is invalid to conclude C unless one can also prove ¬ A, ¬ B, and ¬ D.
      We can construct cogent inductive proofs to argue for C, but inductive proofs are not, and can not be, truth preserving. ”
      and
      “With cogent inductive support, we can use probabilistic reasoning to verify the strength of the premises in a proof. But since induction is not truth preserving, all premises supported by induction must be probabilistic, and are therefore precluded from being justified beliefs.”

      Your cracker example misses the mark and conflates provability and falsifiability; proving something true requires that you falsify all other alternatives, but falsifying something requires that you can show ¬ Q. Again, you’re free to make Q as elaborate as possible, but as long as Q exists, P is falsifiable. As for adding premises and disjunctions, premises can only be added if they have either cogent support or logical necessity. Someone can’t simply toss absurd possibilities into a proof and then declare that deductive logic doesn’t work. Deductive language logic is a language-game that is truth preserving, but if you plug in nonsense, you break the language the same way that speaking gibberish in English would. This does not mean that all claims are unfalsifiable.

      Solipsism: the epistemic system I’m championing is one grounded in objective reality via utility. As such, solipsism is necessarily outside of its scope – I haven’t committed the fallacy of Argument From Consequences, since solipsism necessarily precludes belief in objective reality. Of course, if you wanted to advocate for an epistemic system whose metric was faith in a deity or deities instead of objective reality and utility, then you certainly could. That’s been my point all along. People are free to accept whatever standards they want. I’m just advising folks to choose objective reality and utility.

      Quotes:
      “we can have no real knowledge of deep reality” : I demonstrated that in a sound deductive proof linked at the beginning of this OP. You are free to refuse to accept its axiom, but finding cogent support for an alternative would be… difficult.

      “There are no transcendent truths”: I’m reasonably certain that I never said that. In any case, what I said in the OP was: there may exist transcendent truths, but as demonstrated in the first link in this post, they are impossible to know, provided that one accepts one basic axiom. Rather than a metaphysical statement, this is a simple deductive statement which must be taken as true, if one accepts that everything we know about the universe is not wrong. If everything we know isn’t wrong, then there is a limited processing capacity in the human nervous system, and hard limitations inherent in physics and biology, that prevent perfect knowledge. All the facts we have, from Uncertainty to the inability to perceive anything that hasn’t had its light reach us, prevent perfect knowledge. With cogent inductive support, we can use probabilistic reasoning to verify the strength of the premises in a proof. But since induction is not truth preserving, all premises supported by induction must be probabilistic, and are therefore precluded from being justified beliefs.

      “metaphysics is all a language game” : I think that what I said was that logic is a language game. I’ll prove a link below for elaboration.


      “moral truths.”
      : Well, first, the claim that there are moral truths bears the burden of proof, and hasn’t carried it. Second, depending on what someone means by moral truths, it’s fairly easy to falsify their consequent, provided that they don’t adopt a definition under which any organism that isn’t omnicidal, is proof of moral truth. If, however, they posit no actual consequents, their claim is unfalsifiable and therefore equivalent to any and all other unfalsifiable claims. One might as well say “there are giant purple flying baboons in the universe next door, and depending on which baboon gets assigned to you, you’ll have a different view of morality.” Default provisional negation stands.

      For some elaboration, here’s a piece I wrote on epistemology: and one I wrote on linguistics and reality.

      However, I really do need to bow out now; I don’t and won’t have proper time to devote to this for the foreseeable future. You can have the last word, but I probably won’t have time to answer any followup questions. In any case, merry Christmas and a happy new year for you and yours.

  6. Hi Daniel,
    I’m sorry for keeping this dialogue going, but I’m really trying to understand your position. Let’s start with this claim:

    “An unfalsifiable claim is one that cannot be shown, via deductive logic, to be false.”

    But this would render almost every ‘falsifiable’! For example, let’s consider the claim that ‘a supernatural God exists.’ According to your definition, this claim is falsifiable, because we can construct the deductive argument:
    P1 If a supernatural God exists, then it is true that something exists outside of Nature (P→Q)
    P2 It is not true that something exists outside of Nature (¬Q)
    C3 Therefore, a supernatural God does not exist (∴¬P)
    So the claim that ‘a supernatural God exists’ is indeed falsifiable, according to your criterion. We can easily construct similar logical arguments purporting to show the falsity of other claims like ‘moral truths exist’ or ‘we can know deep reality’ or ‘consciousness is distinct from the brain.’ So, if your definition is correct, then _all_ of these claims are indeed falsifiable. Would you agree?

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