Tuesday, April 17, 2007


In the last post I suggested a verification principle. It is a component of a variety of verificationism that I would like to propose as quite sound. This old term is applied to the philosophy of the logical positivists, the early 20th Century philosophers who identified the meaning of a term with epistemic conditions under which the term is used. These philosophers were extreme empiricists, by which I mean that not only did they believe that all knowledge is based upon experience (moderate empiricism), but also that objects of which there could be no experience were not to be acknowledged to exist.

The sort of verificationism I propose leaves all of that behind. The meaning of "experiment" or "democracy" isn't a phenomenal feel or even reducible to several phenomenal feels. Even the meaning of "yellow" isn't. And if the meaning of "yellow" isn't the experience of yellow, more abstract and complex terms are also irreducible to experiential states. In addition, I don't rule out that God exists but cannot be experienced by us. In particular, I think that universals (such as "spherical" and "true" and "organic") exist, even though no one can experience them. No, the verificationism I have in mind doesn't rule any of that out.

It's just that I think that there are philosophical concepts and problems that don't mean anything and that therefore inappropriately occupy the philosophical mind. The verificationism I have in mind simply serves to make us a bit stricter about which concepts pass as meaningful. It doesn't replace conceptual incontinence with the extreme austerity of the old logical positivists.

Just consider a philosopher philosophizing about something. Suppose he proposed that something Z existed, or he asked you to suppose that there was a Z. Suppose also that you asked him what he meant by Z, and he told you but it didn't make much sense to you. You might then ask him what would count as evidence that there was such a thing as a Z. If he shrugged and admitted that he had no idea, this should tell you that he didn't have any concept of a Z.

We'll apply this verificationism soon. Also, Kekes on The Art of Life is coming soon.