I am back from my vacation in Liberty City 🙂
Seriously though, gta 4 is a lot of fun and very addictive!
I have recently been very interested in showing that rationalism is hopeless. To be open, I confess that I used to be a rationalist when I was younger. When I first started studying philosophy I was very influenced by Descartes and found his talk of clear and distinct ideas and ‘the light of nature’ very compelling. There is no suprise here, as rationalism has been the dominant view in the Western tradition since its inception. But, as rationalists like Bonjour admit, rationalism has suffered several notorious and embarrassing setbacks. Perhaps the first of which goes back to Gallileo showing empirically that Aristotle’s physics was wrong in assuming that heaverier bodies fall faster than lighter bodies. More dramtically, perhaps, is the discovery of non-Euclidean geometry which showed that various of the fundamental postulates of geometry were not necessary (like the parralel postulate). We should perhaps add to this the discovery of Russell’s paradox and the various self-referential semantic/syntactic problems (i.e. Godel, the liar, etc) which have led to the development of alternative logics.
What this shows is that intellectual seemings are fallible. It cannot therefore be argued that something seeming to need no empirical support and seeming to be justified purely by reason is enough to establish that the fact in question is really justified independently of experience or not. So, take 1+1=2. It certainly seems that this is true, in fact it is hard for me to imagine how it could be otherwise. There is a strong subjective sense of certainty that I experience when I think about it. All of this is no doubt true. But we have as of yet no reason to think that it is REALLY necessary, or that its justification is independant of experience. This is because we can not tell a priori whether the intelectual seeming is indeed correct. This shows that rationalism is in serious trouble. There is no other reason to take rationalism seriously other than the strong pull these rational insights have on us.
One might want to reply by saying that is overly skeptical. We shouldn’t abandon a priori knowledge just because we have mistakenly identified somethings as necessary which weren’t. So too, the objector goes on, just because we hallucinate doesn’t mean that we don’t normally see objects. Fair enough. But then what we need is an actual account to back this up. What is the difference between the cases? We can give that in the empirical case. We can describe ways in which we could find out whether the person was hallucinating or not based on our ability to monitor the brain of the animal in question and our visual impressions of the experimental set up. We can give a sketch, if not every detail, of a story which desribes how the brain interacts with the enviornment it finds itself in and generates representations of that environment. But can you do the same for rationalism? To date no one has. What is an eternal, necessary, non-physical/non-natural object like a number or modus ponens really like? How do we interact with it? No one knows. How could they?
Now this would be a pressing concern if it were impossible for us to fully understand the world we live in except for the truth of rationalism. But this certainly isn’t the case. We have good candidates for materialistic accounts of every disputed area. For instance, in the area I know most about, we have the mind-brain identity theory and the higher-order theory of consciousness. I do not mean to say that we know that they are true, but only that they are viable candidates. For all we know right know they could be true. They have not been absolutely refuted by any a priori arguments, nor have they shown themselves to be inconsistent with the findings of science, quite the converse actually. As for math and logic we have either constructivism or Mill’s view that they are empirical generalizations (I interpret this to mean that they are an attempt to model the way that the physical world works and to grow into Quine’s indispensibility argument that the justification for mathematic is empirical), or a more modern version of deflationism or fictionalism about this stuff. The same is true for ethics.
Again, none of these has been demonstrated to be correct. The point, rather, is that we should prefer natuaristic/materialistic accounts ove their non-natural/non-physical competitors. They automatically become more plausible because of their reliance on the more plausible empiricist/scientific account of knowing.