Empiricism Mute on Non-empirical Questions
QUESTION ELEVEN: Quoting me ‘Myself, I would not be interested in such a study [of the statistical relation between success in nations and their loyalty to standards of civility] because I believe that the deduction can be made from moral first principles that insults against the poor and weak are both craven and evil.’
I think so too, personally, but how do you convince people who don’t agree except by citing data? For example, I could tell my Bulgarian students that they shouldn’t make jokes about Gypsies and Black people because it’s evil. I don’t because I want to keep my job, but also because the response would be “no, it isn’t evil.” How can I bring them about to my way of thinking except with evidence?
The question is incomprehensible to me. There is only one person I ever met who even alleged that he was persuaded by empirical evidence of non-empirical conclusions, and when I asked him for an example, he lied rather than admit he had no examples. This is not a case where there is something which is possible but happens not to exist in our world, such as talking trees. This is a case where the thing is impossible.
Here is my proof.
- Do you agree that the that international scientific community has reduced all empirical entities to certain basic constants, namely mass, length, duration, temperature, current, candlepower, moles of substance, such that any empirical subject (such as the acceleration due to gravity of a cannonball or color defined as light-frequency) can be expressed in terms of these measurable quantities or some calculated derivation of these quantities? (I do note that for subatomic particles, some additional fundamentals are needed, but these are also quantities, and not qualities, and therefore do not effect the argument.)
- A quality is a judgment concerning an imponderable entity, such as true or untrue, valid or invalid, comely or ugly. A quantity is a multitude of magnitudes, or in other words, a quantity can be measured against a standard or counted with numbers or both. Do you agree that no quality can be reduced to quantity by any means whatsoever?For example, do you agree that counting the number of vowels used to express a given sentence written in ink in Esperanto will not necessarily tell you whether the sentence is true or false, fairminded or slanderous, self-evident or self-contradictory, lovely poetry or ungainly prose? That also measuring with utmost care the jots over the small I’s and small J’s even to the extend of counting every ink molecule will not give you sufficient information to make these judgment?
- If all empirical statements can be reduced to measured fundamental quantities, and no statements about imponderables such as good and bad, valid and invalid, fair or foul can be reduced to measurable fundamental qualities, then they have no overlap whatsoever in topic or probative value, Ergo no imponderable can be proved or disproved by purely empirical statement, no matter how numerous or complex.
To head off an obvious objection, the quantities facts about the molecules and atoms in a man’s brain have some sort of unknown relation to his ability to make qualitative judgments. Drunkenness or drugs or a blow to the head can, for example, impede the operations of memory and judgment and other cognitive powers, or drive him mad, or kill a man altogether. There is, however, not a single iota of evidence showing a relation between the imponderable cognitive content and any quantitative facts about brain molecules. You can blind a man by pouring a chemical in his eye, but you cannot make him partial to brunettes if he is partial to blondes by pouring a chemical in his eye, because his taste in the hair color of woman is not dependent upon eye chemistry. Likewise for the brain and the ideals perceived and thoughts entertained by the brain.
I have had many a weary discussion with a certain enthusiast on this topic, but he was unwilling, or perhaps unable, to grasp the basic difference between an organ like the brain, which is material, and thoughts and abstractions grasped or perceived via the mind, which are immaterial. It was like talking to a voodoo witchdoctor, who cannot tell the difference between a man and a doll representing him.
So this topic is a bit of a sore spot for me. If you plan to make the argument that non-empirical qualities can be reduced to empirical quantities because the human brain somehow is both empirical and non-empirical, both A and non-A, and this is thanks to sparkly rainbow hyperspatial unicorn fairy magic lodged in the brain, then excuse me from further discussion.
You can tell your Bulgarian students that it is wrong to mock and dishonor another for the same reason, whatever it is, that they do not wish to be mocked and dishonored. You persuade them by making reference to a moral category which of necessity must exist in their thinking. Even if they are unaware of it at first, a few simple questions will draw their attention to the fact that their objections to injustices done to them are not simply matters of physical pain or fear of physical pain, nor simply matters of trespass on property rights.
They know what a wrong is when it is done to them, but if their consciences are incorrectly formed, they might not be able to put into words why it is wrong, but they will know.