We think in better circles than you do

A plea for empiricism – TLS Highlights – Times Online

“The human race has produced only one successfully validated epistemology, characterizing all scrupulous inquiry into the real world, from quarks to poems. It is, simply, empiricism, or the submitting of propositions to the arbitration of evidence that is acknowledged to be such by all of the contending parties. Ideas that claim immunity from such review, whether because of mystical faith or privileged “clinical insight” or the say-so of eminent authorities, are not to be countenanced until they can pass the same skeptical ordeal to which all other contenders are subjected.”

Freud is skewered yet again, as he deserves to be for another century or so, but this paragraph summarizing the empiricist’s epistemology, is a logical clunker and itself a fantasy of Freudian proportions.

Did he really just say that only that which all parties agree is evidence is evidence? Do smart people really believe this stuff? This is fine as a definition of science, but as a rule for all possible knowledge it is silly and no-one in fact practices it. Every one of these hard-nosed empiricists pushes away from his computer at the end of the day and walks back into the world of his specific human relationships, where he shapes his life based on conclusions — every minute — whose accuracy he wouldn’t question if a hundred experts disagreed (“my wife is being crabby today” “I should donate to Green Peace” etc.) If these thoughts comprising his interior monologue are not “knowledge”, then what are they? And whatever he wants to call them, if he makes life-decisions using them as his primary tools, aren’t they more important than whatever he is calling “knowledge”?

And the debate over types of knowledge is all beside the point, since he may say he is just trusting his sense-perceptions. But that is the point: does he trust his sense-perceptions, or what everyone agrees is his sense-perceptions? If it is the former, does he not recognize that he is using a principle of knowledge that directly contradicts what he thinks is his theory of knowledge?

The assumption seems to be that scientific knowledge is the only kind of knowledge, which in itself assumes facts not in evidence. Everyone in the world who thinks about knowing for 5 minutes recognizes these logical circles — except the empiricists! Why is it that empiricists are so exacting over others’ systems but can’t see their own most glaring logical circles?

Why are these people so especially lacking in insight?

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