RE: [asa] The empirical basis of knowledge

From: Glenn Morton <>
Date: Mon Mar 19 2007 - 07:05:54 EDT

First off, diagnoses are made through empirical diagnostic tests. So, your
example fails right off the bat. A doctor doesn't walk in with eyes and ears
shut, communing with the delphic oracle inside his head to tell you that you
have the ingrown toe nail.

Secondly, you changed what I asked. You said, 'know for ourselves'. I didn't
restrict it to that. I just said 'know', thus not understanding the
challenge, which is "name one thing which they KNOW to be true which does
not have an empirical basis."

While we can know things from empirical tests, one needs to ensure that the
proper amount of research has been done before claiming to know something.
Below, you use the phrase 'relying on'. "Relying on" is not KNOWING, it is
"believing in". Two years ago, my wife had the requisite chest x-ray for
getting a visa for living in China. It showed some bad scaring on her lungs.
They did some more tests and then they told my non-smoking wife that she had
lung cancer. I, of course, flew back from China, where I had already moved.
We spent the next month being invited to M. D. Anderson studies and doing
more medical tests. At the end of this set of tests, they had failed to
find cancer, so instead of ripping her lung out immediately, as the first
doctor said to do, they decided it must be some kind of infection. Eight
months later they found out what bug was causing it--it is incurable. So,
prior to when the doctors had done sufficient empirical diagnostic tests,
did the doctors KNOW or did they BELIEVE my wife had cancer? I contend they
believed, it and further empirical tests let them know that she didn't have

 This is illustrated by William Kingdon Cliffords example of the ship owner
illustrating insufficient investigation. Insufficient investigation is
something that Clifford argues against on ethical grounds:

"A ship-owner was about to send to sea an emigrant ship. He knew that she
was old, and not over-well built at the first; that she had seen many seas
and climes, and often had needed repairs. Doubts had been suggested to him
that possibly she was not seaworthy. These doubts preyed upon his mind, and
made him unhappy; he thought that perhaps he ought to have her thoroughly
overhauled and refitted, even though this should put him to great expense.
Before the ship sailed, however, he succeeded in overcoming these melancholy
reflections. He said to himself that she had gone safely through so many
voyages and weathered so many storms that it was idle to suppose she would
not come safely home from this trip also. He would put his trust in
Providence, which could hardly fail to protect all these unhappy families
that were leaving their fatherland to seek for better times elsewhere. He
would dismiss from his mind all ungenerous suspicions about the honesty of
builders and contractors. In such ways he acquired a sincere and comfortable
conviction that his vessel was thoroughly safe and seaworthy; he watched her
departure with a light heart, and benevolent wishes for the success of the
exiles in their strange new home that was to be; and he got his insurance
money when she went down in mid-ocean and told no tales."
"What shall we say of him? Surely this, that he was verily guilty of the
death of those men. It is admitted that he did sincerely believe in the
soundness of his ship; but the sincerity of his conviction can in no wise
help him, because he had no right to believe on such evidence as was before
him. He had acquired his belief not by honestly earning it in patient
investigation, but by stifling his doubts. And although in the end he may
have felt so sure about it that he could not think otherwise, yet inasmuch
as he had knowingly and willingly worked himself into that frame of mind, he
must be held responsible for it." William Kingdon Clifford, "The Ethics of
Belief," in Robert M. Hutchins, Mortimer J. Adler, and Clifton Fadiman eds.
Gateway to the Great Books, Vol. 10, (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica,
Inc., 1963),p. 16

They're Here: The Pathway Papers
Foundation, Fall, and Flood
Adam, Apes and Anthropology

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Jack []
> Sent: Monday, March 19, 2007 5:02 AM
> To: Glenn Morton;
> Subject: Re: [asa] The empirical basis of knowledge
> We cannot only know things that we are able to see empiric
> evidence for
> ourselves, we also know things because we are told things by reliable
> witnesses.
> If you go to the doctor, for example, you are relying on that persons
> training, education, and knowledge to give you a diagnosis and proper
> treatment. You might research what you were told, but in
> either case you
> are relying on someone else's testimony.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Glenn Morton" <>
> To: <>
> Sent: Sunday, March 18, 2007 11:26 PM
> Subject: [asa] The empirical basis of knowledge
> > George tells me that I am single minded, focussing on observable
> > verification. Others think that I am hopelessly concordistic. I
> > answer that the above charges are hopelessly
> unphilosophical. Since I
> > am leaving this list Tuesday morning (wish it were
> tomorrow), I will
> > challenge people over the next 24 hours to name one thing
> which they
> > KNOW to be true which does not have an empirical basis. Example.
> >
> > Person A loves person B. You can't see the 'love'.
> >
> > Answer, Not so, I only know it is true by seeing the things that A
> > DOES
> > for
> > B. A cooks the dinner, cleans up the dishes, and cleans
> the house for B.
> > If A said, "B, I love you" but did nothing, B would not
> feel, much less
> > know
> > of the love. It is like a person who says Go, be filled be
> warmed, but
> > does
> > not give the person food and clothing. I know of their
> care because I SEE
> > them giving food and clothing.
> >
> > So, floor is open to challenges of this kind. I claimed
> that empirical
> > data
> > is all we have upon which to know things. Now is your
> chance to disprove
> > that statement. And if you cant, then this will demonstrate
> the need for
> > Biblical empirical verification.
> >
> > glenn
> > They're Here: The Pathway Papers
> > Foundation, Fall, and Flood
> > Adam, Apes and Anthropology
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > To unsubscribe, send a message to with
> > "unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
> >

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Received on Mon Mar 19 07:06:20 2007

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