Robin Augustine - Uppsala University, Sweden

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HSAIR - Master Theses and Doctoral Dissertations | …

In the history of the debate over positivism, the most radicalcharge was that positivism is self-refuting. The empiricistcriterion of meaning itself does not seem to be a statement thatexpresses the formal relation of ideas, nor does it appear to beempirically verifiable. How might one empirically verify theprinciple? At best, the principle of verification seems to be arecommendation as to how to describe those statements that positivistsare prepared to accept as meaningful. But then, how might adispute about which other statements are meaningful be settled in anon-arbitrary fashion? To religious believers for whom talk of“Brahman” and “God” is at the center stage ofmeaningful discourse, the use of the principle of empiricalverification will seem arbitrary and question-begging. If thepositivist principle is tightened up too far, it seems to threatenvarious propositions that at least appear to be highly respectable,such as scientific claims about physical processes and events that arenot publicly observable. For example, what are we to think ofstates of the universe prior to all observation of physical strata ofthe cosmos that cannot be observed directly or indirectly but onlyinferred as part of an overriding scientific theory? Or whatabout the mental states of other persons, which may ordinarily bereliably judged, but which, some argue, are under-determined byexternal, public observation? A person's subjectivestates—how one feels—can be profoundly elusive to externalobservers and even to the person him or herself. Can youempirically observe another person's sense of happiness?Arguably, the conscious, subjective states of persons resist airtightverification and the evidence of such states does not meetpositivist's standards (van Cleve 1999, Taliaferro 1994).Also worrisome was the wholesale rejection by positivists of ethics asa cognitive, normative practice. The dismissal of ethics asnon-cognitive had some embarrassing ad hominum force againstan empiricist like Ayer, who regarded ethical claims as lacking anytruth value and yet at the same time he construed empirical knowledgein terms of having the right to certain beliefs. Can anethics of belief be preserved if one dispenses with the normativity ofethics?

Master Theses and Doctoral Dissertations

This Wittgensteinian challenge, then, appears to place in check muchof the way philosophers in the west have approached religion. When,for example, Descartes, Locke, Leibniz, Berkeley, and Hume argued forand against the justification of belief in God, metaphysics was at theforefront. They were interested in the best possible arguments for andagainst God's existence. The same preoccupation with the truthor falsehood of religious belief is also central to ancient andmedieval philosophical reflection about the Divine. When Aristotle andThomas Aquinas articulated arguments for God's existence theywere engaged in full-fledged metaphysics.

In some introductory philosophy textbooks and anthologies, thearguments for God's existence are presented as ostensible proofswhich are then shown to be fallible. For example, an argument from theapparent order and purposive nature of the cosmos will be criticizedon the grounds that, at best, the argument would establish there is apurposive, designing intelligence at work in the cosmos. This fallsfar short of establishing that there is a God who is omnipotent,omniscient, benevolent, and so on. But two comments need to be made:First, that “meager” conclusion alone would be enough todisturb a scientific naturalist who wishes to rule out all suchtranscendent intelligence. Second, few philosophers today advance asingle argument as a proof. Customarily, a design argument might beadvanced alongside an argument from religious experience, and theother arguments to be considered below. True to Hempel's advice(cited earlier) about comprehensive inquiry, it is increasingly commonto see philosophies—scientific naturalism ortheism—advanced with cumulative arguments, a whole range ofconsiderations, and not with a supposed knock-down, single proof.