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 Why All Philosophical Theories Are Non-sensical, A demolition of traditional philosophy
Rosa Lichtenstein
Posted: Mar 10 2012, 07:13 PM


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Below is a completely re-written and very much shortened version of an article I posted at RevLeft a year or so ago.

When I use the word "metaphysics" I am in fact referring to traditional philosophy, as it has been practiced in the 'West' since Ancient Greek times. As far as this essay is concerned, the two terms are interchangeable.

Why All Philosophical Theories Are Non-Sensical

This is a summary of Essay Twelve Part One. It tackles issues that have sailed right over the heads of some of the greatest minds in history. I claim no particular originality for what follows (except, perhaps its highly simplified mode of presentation and its political slant); much of it has in fact been derived from Wittgenstein's work.

This is an Introductory Essay, which has been written for those who find the main Essays at my site either too long, or too difficult. It does not pretend to be comprehensive since it's a summary of the core ideas presented at my site. The vast bulk of the supporting evidence and argument found in the original Essay has been omitted. Anyone wanting more details, or who would like to examine my arguments and evidence in full, should consult the main Essay for which this is a précis.

---------------------------------

Metaphysical Theses

Here is a typical metaphysical proposition:

M1: Time is a relation between events.

Theses like M1 purport to inform us of fundamental aspects of nature, valid for all of space and time.

The seemingly profound nature of theses like M1 is linked to rather more mundane features of the language in which they are expressed: that is, the fact that the main verb is often in the indicative mood.

Now, this apparently superficial grammatical outer facade hides a deeper logical form, which is something that only becomes obvious when such sentences are examined more closely.

Expressions like this look as if they revealed profound truths about reality since they resemble empirical propositions (i.e., propositions about matters of fact). But, they turn out to be nothing at all like them.

Consider an ordinary empirical proposition:

M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

Compare that with these similar-looking indicative sentences:

M1: Time is a relation between events.

M3: To be is to be perceived.

First, in order to understand M2, it's not necessary to know whether it is true or whether it is false. I am sure all of those who have read M2 understand it even though they haven't a clue whether or not it is true.

Contrast that with the comprehension of M1 or M3. Understanding either of these goes hand-in-hand with knowing they are both true (or, alternatively, knowing they are both false, as the case may be). Their truth or their falsehood follows either (1) From the meaning the words they contain, (2) From specific definitions or (3) From a handful of supporting 'thought experiments' -- i.e., from yet more words.

To be sure, (1)-(3) might also be prefaced by some sort of 'philosophical argument' -- but these, too, are just more words; no evidence is needed. Indeed, it's not possible to devise experiments to test propositions like M1 and M3.

This now intimately links the truth-status of sentences like M1 and M3 with meaning, not experimental or factual confirmation, and hence not with a confrontation with material reality. Their truth-status is thus independent of, and anterior to the search for supporting evidence. [Well, what could you look for in nature that would confirm M1 or M3?]

In contrast, understanding M2 is independent of its confirmation and its disconfirmation. Indeed, it would be impossible to do either of these if M2 had not already been understood. Plainly, the actual truth or the actual falsehood of M2-type propositions follows from the way the world happens to be, and not solely from the meaning of certain expressions. The truth-status of M2 can't be read-off from the words it contains, unlike M1- and M3-type sentences.

Empirical propositions are typically like this; they have to be understood first before they can be confronted with the evidence that would establish their truth-status.

In contrast, metaphysical propositions carry their truth or their falsehood on their faces, as it were, and need no evidence to establish either of these. Understanding them is at one with knowing their supposed truth-status.

Second, metaphysical theses (like M1 and M3) were deliberately constructed by philosophers in order to transcend the limitations of the material world.

This approach was justified on the grounds that it allowed them to uncover the underlying "essence" of reality, thus revealing nature's "hidden secrets" (i.e., the fundamental principles by means of which the 'deity' had created the world). This idea then linked philosophical language with the invisible, underlying structure of the world; it still remains in place today, even though its theological origin has been forgotten. That's why metaphysical 'truths' are still being derived from language/thought alone, even by atheists.

Theses like these are deemed "necessarily true" (or declared "necessarily false"), and are thus held to express knowledge of fundamental aspects of reality, unlike contingent, empirical propositions whose truth can alter with the wind.

After all, Tony Blair might sell his copy of Das Kapital -- or, indeed, buy the book if he doesn't already own it. But, 'philosophical knowledge' -- 'genuine knowledge' -- can't depend on such changeable features of reality, or, so we have been led to believe.

Traditionally, this meant that empirical propositions like M2 were considered epistemologically inferior to M1- and M3-type sentences, since they were deemed incapable of revealing fundamental knowledge of the above sort.

Metaphysical propositions thus masquerade as especially profound Super-Empirical Truths, which cannot fail to be true (or cannot fail to be false, as the case may be). They achieve this by using the indicative mood --, but they then go way beyond it.

Thus, what they say does not just happen to be so, as is the case with ordinary empirical truths. What M1- and M3-type sentences say cannot possibly be otherwise. The world must conform to whatever they say, not the other way round. They thus determine the logical form of any possible world.

This also helps account for the frequent use of modal terms (such as, "must", "necessary" and "inconceivable") -- as in "I must exist if I can think" [paraphrasing Descartes], "Time must be a relation between events" [paraphrasing Kant], or "Being must be identical with and yet at the same time different from Nothing, the contradiction resolved in Becoming" [paraphrasing Hegel].

Everything in reality must be this or it must be that.

Contrast this with M2. If anyone were to question its truth, the following response: "Tony Blair must own a copy of Das Kapital" would be highly inappropriate, and misleading.

So, the world dictates to us whether what M2-type sentences say is true, or what they say is false. They do not dictate to reality what it must contain, or what it must be like.

With respect to M1- and M3-type sentences, things are the exact opposite: because their truth-values (true or false) can be determined independently, and in advance of the way the world happens to be, philosophers use them to dictate to reality what it must be like.

Such Super-Truths (or Super-Falsehoods) are derived solely from the alleged meaning of the words they contain (or from the 'concepts' they supposedly express). In that case, once they have been understood, metaphysical propositions like M1 and M3 guarantee their own truth or their own falsehood. They are true a priori.

The intimate connection such theses have with language means that questioning their veracity seems to run against the grain of our understanding, not of our experience. Indeed, they appear to be self-evident precisely because they need no evidence to confirm their truth-status; they provide their own 'justification', and testify on their own behalf. They thus appear to many to be 'self-evident'.

Unfortunately, that divorces such theses from material reality, since they are true or they are false independently of any apparent state of the world. [Which is, of course, why no experiment is conceivable by means of which they can be tested.]

The Ineluctable Slide Into Non-Sense

Third, the Super-Scientific nature of such theses means they rapidly slide into non-sense. This happens whenever their proponents undermine either the vernacular or the logical and pragmatic principles on which it is based. [How that works will be explained as this article unfolds.]

It's worth pointing out, however, that "non-sense" is not the same as "nonsense". The latter word has various meanings ranging from the patently false (e.g., "Karl Marx was a shape-shifting lizard") to plain gibberish (e.g., "783&£$750 ow2jmn 34y4&$ 6y3n3& 8FT34n").

"Non-sense", on the other hand, relates to indicative sentences that turn out to be incapable of expressing a sense no matter what we try to do with them -- that is, they are incapable of being true and they are incapable of being false. So, when such sentences are employed to state fundamental truths about reality, they seriously misfire since they can't possibly do this.

Finally, the word "sense" is being used in the following way: it expresses what we understand to be the case for the proposition in question to be true or what we understand to be the case for it to be false, even if we do not know whether it is actually true or whether it is actually false.

For example, everyone (who knows English, who knows who Tony Blair and what Das Kapital are) will understand M2 (i.e., "Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital") upon hearing or reading it. They grasp its sense --, that is, they understand what the world would have to be like for it to be true or what the world would have to be like for it to be false.

More importantly, the same situation will make M2 true if it obtains, just as it will make M2 false if it doesn't. [The significance of that comment will become clearer presently.]

These conditions are integral to our capacity to understand empirical propositions before we know whether they are true or whether they are false. Indeed, they help explain why we know what to look for (or to expect) in order to show such propositions are indeed true, or to show they are in fact false, even if we never succeed in doing either.

Fourth, intractable logical problems soon emerge (with regard to such supposedly empirical, but nonetheless metaphysical sentences) if an attempt is made to restrict or eliminate one or other of the paired semantic (i.e., true or false) possibilities associated with ordinary empirical propositions -- that is, if we try to exclude their truth or we try to exclude their falsehood.

This occurs, for example, when an apparently empirical proposition is declared to be "only true" or "only false" -- or, more pointedly, 'necessarily' the one or the other.

As we will soon see, this tactic results in the automatic loss of both semantic options, and with that goes any sense the original proposition might have had, rendering it non-sensical.

That is because an empirical proposition leaves it open as to whether it is true or whether it is false. That is why its truth-value (true/false) can't simply be read-off from its content, why evidence is required in order to determine its semantic status (true/false, once more), and why it is possible to understand it before its truth or its falsehood is known.

If that weren't so, it would be impossible to ascertain the truth-status of an empirical proposition. Plainly, it's not possible to confirm or refute a supposedly indicative sentence if no one understands what it is saying!

When this is not the case -- i.e., when either option (truth or falsehood) is closed-off, or when a proposition is said to be "necessarily true" or "necessarily false" -- evidence clearly becomes irrelevant.

If, however, a proposition is held to be a Super-truth about the world -- about its "essence", or its underlying 'rational structure' -- then it's plainly metaphysical.

[A 'Super-truth' superficially resembles an ordinary scientific truth, but it is in fact nothing like it. Super-truths transcend anything the sciences could possibly confirm or confute. M1 and M3 above are excellent examples of this. Their alleged truth depends solely on meaning, not on the way the world happens to be.]

Otherwise the actual truth or actual falsehood of such propositions would be world-sensitive, not solely meaning- or concept-dependent. And that explains why the comprehension of metaphysical propositions appears to go hand in hand with knowing their 'truth' (or knowing their 'falsehood'): their truth-status is based solely on thought, language or meaning, not on the material world.

This means that they can't be related to the material world or to anything in it, and hence they can't be used to help change it.

An empirical proposition derives its sense from the truth possibilities it appears to hold open (which options can later be decided upon one way or the other by a confrontation with the material world -- i.e., with evidence). That is why the actual truth-value of, say, M2 (and its contradictory, M4, below) does not need to be known before it is understood. But it is why evidence is relevant to establishing that truth-value.

M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

M4: Tony Blair does not own a copy of Das Kapital.

In order to comprehend M2 and M4, all that is required is some grasp of the possibility that they both hold open, which is the same in each case. M2 and M4 have the same content, and are made true or made false by the same situation obtaining, or not obtaining, respectively.

Fifth, if a proposition looks as if it were empirical -- because it uses the indicative mood -- and yet it can only be true or it can only be false then, as we will see, serious problems soon arise.

We can see why this is so if we consider the following typical metaphysical thesis and its supposed negation:

M1: Time is a relation between events.

M5: Time isn't a relation between events.

As we have seen, the alleged truth of M1 is derived from the meaning of the words it contains. But, unlike M2 and M4, the truth of M1 can't be denied by the use of, say, M5, since that would amount to a change in the meaning of the word "time".

That's because sentences like M1 define what a given philosopher means by, in this case, "time".

If time isn't a relation between events, then the word "time" plainly has a different meaning in M1 and M5. And if that is so, M1 and M5 can't represent the same state of affairs.

So, despite appearances to the contrary, M5 isn't the negation of M1!

And that's because the subject of each sentence is different.

To see this point, compare the following:

M6: George W Bush is the 43rd President of the United States.

M7: George H W Bush isn't the 43rd President of the United States.

M6 and M7 aren't the negations of one another since they relate to two different individuals, George W Bush and his father, George H W Bush. They are true or false under entirely different conditions since they do not have the same sense, the same empirical content.

The same applies to a metaphysical proposition (such as M1) and what appears to be its negation, M5.

Why is this important?

Well, if M1 is deemed "necessarily true", then we would have to declare its alleged negation (M5) "necessarily false". But, M5 isn't the negation of M1. But, in declaring M1 "necessarily true" we should have to know what was being ruled out as "necessarily false".

We saw that if we know under what conditions M2 is true, we automatically know under what conditions its negation, M4, is false. That allows us to investigate empirical propositions; their negations don't change the subject, and are made true or made false by the same state of affairs.

M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

M4: Tony Blair does not own a copy of Das Kapital.

[If there were no conditions under which M2 could be false, and thus none under which M4 could be true, we could read the truth of M2 off from what it's words say. Evidence would become irrelevant.]

But, a metaphysical proposition and its alleged negation change the subject. They don't relate to the same alleged state of affairs. In fact metaphysical propositions don't have negations!

Hence, we can't reject M1 by means of M5, since we would have no idea what we were ruling out, and thus no idea what we were ruling in. [Why that is so will be explained presently.]

Or, rather, what we think we are trying to rule out would not have in fact been ruled out, since we would thereby have simply changed the subject.

Why is this important?

It's because to declare a sentence "true" is ipso facto to declare it "not false". These two go hand in hand.

But, if we can't do that (and we plainly can't do it if we have no idea what we are ruling out -- indeed, in trying to do so with M5 we end up changing the subject of the original sentence!), we can't then say the original sentence is true. [Why that is so will now be explained.]

By declaring a sentence like M1 "necessarily true", we seem to be ruling some things in, and ruling other things out as "necessarily false" -- just as we would if we declared M2 true, we'd be automatically ruling M4 out.

And yet, in relation to M1, what we think we are ruling out is M5. But, M5 has a different content to M1, so we aren't in fact ruling M5 out! In which case, we now have no idea what we are ruling out since it's plain that M1 has no negation. And if that is so we have no idea what we are ruling in, either.

M1: Time is a relation between events.

M5: Time isn't a relation between events.

When sentences like M1 are entertained a pretence (often genuine) has to be maintained that they actually mean something, that they are capable of being understood, and thus that they are capable of being true or capable of being false. In that case, a further pretence has to be maintained that we understand what might make such propositions true, and their 'negations' false, so that those like M5 can be declared 'necessarily' false.

But, this entire exercise is an empty charade, for no content can be given to propositions like M1, or M5.

So, in order to declare M1 true, we must also declare M5 necessarily false. But to do that, the possibility of M5's truth must first be entertained (otherwise we'd not know what we were trying to rule out). And yet, no one who accepts M1 as true can do this, and that's not because it would be psychologically impossible for them to do it, it's because to do so changes the subject. So, it's not possible to specify conditions that would make M5 false without changing the subject.

That being the case, we can't declare M1 true -- and thus not false -- since we would now have no idea what would make M1 false, so we can rule it out. And if we have no idea what would make M1 false, we are certainly in no position to declare that it isn't false. [Just as if you had no idea what a Meskonator was, you'd be in no position to say that something wasn't a Meskonator. ("Meskonator" is a meaningless term, invented for this purpose.)]

Hence, if we can't say M1 is false, we can't say it is true either. Hence, we are in no position to declare M1 either true or false! Any attempt to do so must fall apart for the above reasons.

In which case, metaphysical propositions can't be true and they can't be false. They thus lack a sense, and there is nothing that can be done to rectify the situation.

Our use of language actually prevents philosophical propositions from expressing a sense, let alone being true.

They are thus, one and all, non-sensical and empty strings of words.

And that includes Dialectical Materialism.


--------------------
Hegelism is like a mental disease -- you cannot know what it is until you get it, and then you can't know because you have got it -- Max Eastman.

Enroll on the dialectics-detox programme at: anti-dialectics.co.uk/
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Rosa Lichtenstein
Posted: Apr 27 2012, 11:41 PM


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Group: Members
Posts: 95
Member No.: 55
Joined: 28-July 08



I have now posted an up-dated, corrected, and I hope clearer version of this essay here:

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/Why_all_philo...on-sensical.htm

This essay has been discussed here:

http://www.leninology.com/2012/04/material...f-ideology.html

[In the comments section -- arrange these 'oldest first', and the discussion begins slightly over half-way down the page.]

And here:

http://www.soviet-empire.com/ussr/viewtopi...p?f=107&t=52252



--------------------
Hegelism is like a mental disease -- you cannot know what it is until you get it, and then you can't know because you have got it -- Max Eastman.

Enroll on the dialectics-detox programme at: anti-dialectics.co.uk/
Top
Rosa Lichtenstein
Posted: May 14 2012, 04:29 AM


engaged


Group: Members
Posts: 95
Member No.: 55
Joined: 28-July 08



For anyone interested, I have shown here:

http://www.soviet-empire.com/ussr/viewtopi...=884541#p884541

that abstractionism (the doctrine that knowledge is built on, or requires, 'abstract general terms/concepts') makes no sense.


--------------------
Hegelism is like a mental disease -- you cannot know what it is until you get it, and then you can't know because you have got it -- Max Eastman.

Enroll on the dialectics-detox programme at: anti-dialectics.co.uk/
Top
Rosa Lichtenstein
Posted: May 18 2012, 10:53 PM


engaged


Group: Members
Posts: 95
Member No.: 55
Joined: 28-July 08



The very best book so far published on the connection between Wittgenstein and Marx is now available to download free from here:

http://wxy.seu.edu.cn/humanities/sociology...11005140415.pdf

I do not know how long this link will work (I am sure not for long) so act now!

This book is Marx and Wittgenstein edited by Gavin Kitching and Nigel Pleasants.

It has many faults, but it is still the best to date.

Pass the link on!


--------------------
Hegelism is like a mental disease -- you cannot know what it is until you get it, and then you can't know because you have got it -- Max Eastman.

Enroll on the dialectics-detox programme at: anti-dialectics.co.uk/
Top
Rosa Lichtenstein
Posted: May 22 2012, 01:49 PM


engaged


Group: Members
Posts: 95
Member No.: 55
Joined: 28-July 08



Comrades might be interested to know that I am posting Guy Robinson's essays at my site.

In my opinion, Guy is one of the few Marxist Philosophers whose work is genuinely worth reading. Indeed, I'd go much further: I cannot praise his book, Philosophy and Mystification (Fordham University Press, 2003), too highly; it seems to me that this is how Marxist Philosophy should be done.

Anyone interested can access them here:

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/other_material.htm

[It needs adding that Guy is not an anti-dialectician like me!]



--------------------
Hegelism is like a mental disease -- you cannot know what it is until you get it, and then you can't know because you have got it -- Max Eastman.

Enroll on the dialectics-detox programme at: anti-dialectics.co.uk/
Top
Rosa Lichtenstein
Posted: Jun 15 2012, 01:05 AM


engaged


Group: Members
Posts: 95
Member No.: 55
Joined: 28-July 08



Comrades might like to know that I have now published what is, I believe, the very first demolition of Michel Kosok's ridiculous paper (written back in the 1960s): 'The Formalization of Hegel's Dialectical Logic':

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2008_03.htm

Use the 'Quick Links' at the top to jump to Section Four: Kosok's Kooky 'Logic'.


--------------------
Hegelism is like a mental disease -- you cannot know what it is until you get it, and then you can't know because you have got it -- Max Eastman.

Enroll on the dialectics-detox programme at: anti-dialectics.co.uk/
Top
Rosa Lichtenstein
Posted: Nov 19 2012, 02:02 PM


engaged


Group: Members
Posts: 95
Member No.: 55
Joined: 28-July 08



Comrades might be interested to know that I have now published several more of Guy Robinson's essays:

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/other_material.htm


--------------------
Hegelism is like a mental disease -- you cannot know what it is until you get it, and then you can't know because you have got it -- Max Eastman.

Enroll on the dialectics-detox programme at: anti-dialectics.co.uk/
Top
Rosa Lichtenstein
Posted: Nov 23 2012, 02:41 PM


engaged


Group: Members
Posts: 95
Member No.: 55
Joined: 28-July 08



Comrades might like to know that I have now posted the last chapter from Guy Robinson's book -- 'Philosophy in the service of history':

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/Robinson_Essa..._Of_History.htm


--------------------
Hegelism is like a mental disease -- you cannot know what it is until you get it, and then you can't know because you have got it -- Max Eastman.

Enroll on the dialectics-detox programme at: anti-dialectics.co.uk/
Top
Rosa Lichtenstein
Posted: Jan 22 2014, 04:47 PM


engaged


Group: Members
Posts: 95
Member No.: 55
Joined: 28-July 08



Comrades might be interested in my new Essay: Dialectical Materialism Can't Explain Change:

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2007_03.htm



--------------------
Hegelism is like a mental disease -- you cannot know what it is until you get it, and then you can't know because you have got it -- Max Eastman.

Enroll on the dialectics-detox programme at: anti-dialectics.co.uk/
Top
Rosa Lichtenstein
Posted: Feb 3 2014, 10:26 PM


engaged


Group: Members
Posts: 95
Member No.: 55
Joined: 28-July 08



Is it any wonder no one posts here any more -- the mods have obviously given up!


--------------------
Hegelism is like a mental disease -- you cannot know what it is until you get it, and then you can't know because you have got it -- Max Eastman.

Enroll on the dialectics-detox programme at: anti-dialectics.co.uk/
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