Bad Ideas, Boyd Stace-Walters, Epistemology, Philosophy, Science, Scientific Method(s)

Help! I am Being Assailed by a Bizarre and Shocking Notion!

(About a 4 minute read) 

It is a truth nearly universally recognized that few things can shock the worldly epistemologist. Even those folks who insist the Red Herring is not a proper fallacy of logic must fail to scandalize the man or woman who has seen it all.

Seen the careless confusion of analytic and synthetic propositions. Seen operational definitions rise and fall in faddish favor.  Seen whole and entire epistemologies come and go.

No, the most experienced epistemologists are very much like old sailors who have been to nearly every major port: Not many sights are left to shock either one of those “old salts”.

Yet, I have just come from absolutely the most horrifying kerfuffle you could possibly imagine!

Brace yourself, for I mean to speak frankly and tell all!

Someone at this very moment is — despite my impassioned protests — is asserting that “objectivity is the core of the empirical sciences”!

And they are saying it on the internet — on the internet, where impressionable children might see it and thus have warped their tender, young epistemologies!

Please allow me to quote the criminal: “The basis for science is objectivity, yet the foundational premise for science is based on an assumption (existence of objects).”

If you are like me, you must now — despite your worldliness — feel significantly more shocked than if someone were to suggest to you that you might someday wake up with a hang-over in a South China Sea whorehouse to find yourself in bed with a grinning orangutang — and not a truth-table in sight to cling to!


I humbly apologize if the sheer emotional violence of my response to that person has caused you to reach for the smelling salts.  I realize I am a man of passions. Strong passions.  Heart-thundering passions! And that sometimes my passions might be a tad overwhelming, especially when an epistemology is involved.  But please bear with me while I say this: It is a myth — it is only a myth — that in order to do science I must believe in an objective reality.  I am, of course, permitted to believe in an objective reality.  But my belief in an objective reality is not necessary because I can do science even if I do not believe in an objective reality.

I myself favor throwing the concept of objectivity out the door.  We don’t need it.  It is unnecessary baggage, and it reeks of the Middle Ages.  Moreover, the concept of objectivity is quite easily and very soundly replaced by the concept of intersubjective verifiability.

All of us intersubjectively verify things — even if we do not call it “intersubjective verification”.  Someone tells us something is true and we say, “Show me!”  In a nutshell, that’s the principle behind intersubjective verification.

Suppose I say to you, “It is snowing outside.”  You look out the window, see snow, and say, “So it is!”  You have just intersubjectively verified my statement, “It is snowing outside.”

Again, you say to me, “If you run an electric spark through a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen, the mixture will explode, after which, you will be left with some water.”  I don’t believe you.  So I experiment by running an electric spark through a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen.  The mixture explodes, after which I notice some water.  I have just intersubjectively verified your claim.

Imagine thousands of people do the same experiment and almost all of them get significantly the same results.  Would we not have considerable evidence — a weight of evidence — that we can rely on a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen to produce water when a spark is passed through it?  I think so.  But have we in any way demonstrated there necessarily is some objective world out there — a world separate from our awareness — in which hydrogen and oxygen are real things that produce real water when a real spark is passed through them?

Strictly speaking, we have not.

Yet — and this has a certain beauty to it — we don’t need to.  We do not need to figure out with absolute certainty what the ultimate nature of reality is before we can arrive at reliable facts through processes of intersubjective verification. For example, we can discover that a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen reliably produces water when a spark is passed through it without ever needing to speculate about such a distasteful and wretched subject as  metaphysics.

In short,  the sciences do not crucially rest upon the metaphysical notion that objects really exist.  Rather, the foundation of the sciences can much better be thought of as the principle of intersubjective verifiability.

So take that, Mr. Internet-Child-Corrupting-“The-Basis-For-Science-Is-Objectivity”-Poo-Poo-Head-Man!

Once again, I must apologize to you, my dear readers, on the chance that my strong, vigorous language has forced you to reach for the smelling salts.

7 thoughts on “Help! I am Being Assailed by a Bizarre and Shocking Notion!”

  1. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I had to Google the word “epistemologist.” I’m glad I did… I thought it meant someone who performs episiotomies. Close??? I definitely learned a new word, so this day wasn’t wasted! 🙂

  2. Do you not think we are going into quantum physics here? The observer influences the observed. While not being a very deep thinker like yourself, I find that I am attracted to this field of study.

      1. I don’t think anyone does! But it is a fascinating subject. I’m rather literal-minded so wrapping my head around it is almost an exercise in philosophy. I do think if we ever figure it out, we will break nearly all of the scientific rules we trust in now. Space and time will no longer be limits.

      2. Wow! That would be so exciting! I love discovery! I’m kind of a junkie for it. If only I could live in whatever age that figures out quantum mechanics!

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