Argument From The Superiority Of Knowable Claims

Posted in Epistemology, Logic, Syllogisms on  | 1 minute | 18 Comments →

P1  In matters of logic and empiricism, knowable claims are veridically superior to unknowable claims;

P2  The claim that consciousness continues at some point after physical death is knowable;

P3  The claim that consciousness ceases upon death is unknowable;

C    The claim that consciousness continues at some point after physical death is veridically superior to the claim that consciousness ceases upon death.


18 comments

  1. D

     says...

    I disagree, but for a subtle and complicated reason. Your form is valid, in other words; I’m just not convinced that your premises are all true, so I don’t think the argument is sound as a whole.
    Leaving C as an open question for now, I’m confused as to what definition of “knowable claim” you use in P1, and how you can distinguish whether a claim is knowable or not. In other words, how do you know that the knowable claims are in fact knowable claims, and how knowable are they?
    Actually… that’s the whole thing. If you can give me a reasonable definition of “knowable claim” such that P2 and P3 make sense (and I’ll be happy to explain why I don’t think they do, it’s just a long story), then I’ll grant that the whole thing follows from P1.
    Full Disclosure: I actually start the matter of consciousness after death from a different place. I ask, “Does consciousness persist after the death of a physical brain,” and pretty much work with testable claims from there, because I’m not interested in proving things beyond all possible doubt; I’m merely interested in knowing what would convince me (which I determine with introspection), and then asking honest questions of the world via tests. So what you’ve got up in the OP looks like it could be Hella better, I just need some convincing to believe that it in fact is.

  2. cl

     says...

    ..I’m confused as to what definition of “knowable claim” you use in P1, and how you can distinguish whether a claim is knowable or not.

    That which can be verified by experience is knowable; that which cannot be verified by experience is not. We can make inferences about that which cannot be verified by direct experience – for example the claim that life exists in some other corner of the universe, or that George Washington was the first president of the United States – but that’s it.
    Does this mean we can’t “know” the planets revolve around the sun? In a sense, yes; sans direct experience, the best we can do is make inferences, and demonstrate their relative degree of probable soundness.

  3. Dominic Saltarelli

     says...

    Not often do I literally laugh out loud at a logical argument, but this one is a doozy… Actually took me a minute to come to the realization that you were actually being serious.
    Knowable claims are certainly preferable when available, but logic and empiricism require a basis, they’re processes, not distinct, self-existent things.
    Two questions. You don’t have to answer them outright, since the answers are readily obvious. More to make my point than anything, really.
    1) What is the observable basis for claiming that consciousness ceases at death?
    2) What is the observable basis for claiming that consciousness continues after death?
    Similarly, is the claim that “one day, I’ll be able to shoot lightnin’ bolts from me arse!” veridically superior to the claim that, oh, I dunno, Farrah Fawcett’s favorite color was green?

  4. cl

     says...

    Not often do I literally laugh out loud at a logical argument, but this one is a doozy… Actually took me a minute to come to the realization that you were actually being serious.

    Hey thanks. Yet you agree with the opening premise?

    Two questions. You don’t have to answer them outright, since the answers are readily obvious. More to make my point than anything, really.

    Make your point, when you’re all done laughing that is; I’m obviously in need of enlightenment here.

  5. You’ve laid this argument out here before and it is such a perfectly cogent, airtight argument that I can’t believe all I have to say about it is “So what?”
    Does the argument itself actually tip the scales one way or the other on the question of consciousness continuing after death besides the rather mundane sentiment that “Well, I’ll never know if I was wrong?”
    How about this?
    P1 In matters of logic and empiricism, knowable claims are veridically superior to unknowable claims;
    P2 The claim that consciousness continues at some point after physical death is unknowable in this life;
    P3 The claim that consciousness ceases upon death is unknowable;
    C While we are in this life, the claim that consciousness continues at some point after physical death is veridically equal to the claim that consciousness ceases upon death.
    Okay, so I had more to say that “So what?”

  6. cl

     says...

    Lifeguard,

    Does the argument itself actually tip the scales one way or the other on the question of consciousness continuing after death besides the rather mundane sentiment that “Well, I’ll never know if I was wrong?”

    No, but don’t you think it reveals inconsistency among those who believe consciousness ceases upon death while simultaneously arguing for the veridic superiority of knowable claims? On one hand, such people sing the praises of knowable claims, and rightly so; on the other hand, the ultimate end of the worldview most rationalists espouse is itself unknowable. If anyone can show me how such IS NOT a glaring contradiction, I’m game.

    Okay, so I had more to say that “So what?”

    Yeah you did; you responded with an equally cogent argument from the other direction, and I haven’t the slightest clue how to respond (at least not right now). Now are you beginning to see why I hold the position that arguments and appeals to evidence are ultimately worthless, and why theism and atheism are both logically untenable? At some point it seems we hit an epistemological curtain either way, no?
    That’s what I was getting at last time we butted heads at SI’s.
    Dominic,
    Just to eliminate any possibility of misunderstanding, although I was a bit irritated when I replied to you, I really don’t see the point you’re trying to make, and I’d rather not assume. On one hand you’re telling me my argument sucks so bad you laughed; on the other hand your echoing its opening premise. I really do need some enlightenment here.

  7. Dominic Saltarelli

     says...

    I’m not saying it sucked, just that it is so absorbed, in itself, I suppose, that one can’t help but laugh.
    I just found P1 to be more than a little absurd. Knowable claims are more truthful than unknowable? Are you serious? The thing that separates knowable from unknowable are our own physical limitations. Last time I checked, our physical limitations had no impact on whether claims were true or not.
    P1 is basically the conclusion of people who try to argue that our perception of the universe is the very thing that makes the universe real. Hence, the laughter on my part.
    The basis of the questions I asked above were used to highlight the fact that “knowability” has no bearing on the likelyhood of a claim actually being true.
    The basis for claiming that consciousness ends at death is based upon all manner of observations we make regarding consciousness, things like needing a brain, having a consciousness develop along with one’s body, the fact that brain activity precedes conscious thought, or even simply when someone dies, they are very clearly not around anymore, etc… All manner of observations that lead to the conclusion that when you die, that’s it, lights out.
    The basis for claiming that consciousness continues after death is… what, again? Ghost stories? A cognitive block due to not being able to image not existing? Wishful thinking?
    Here’s another example.
    A knowable claim:

    “I can reach up and pluck the moon from the sky.”

    An unknowable claim:

    “John Lennon had a shoe fetish.”

    According to your logic, me altering the dimensions of the universe and grasping the moon in my hand is “veridically superior” to the possibility that John Lennon had a thing for red pumps.
    What else can I do but laugh?

  8. cl

     says...

    Dominic,

    I just found P1 to be more than a little absurd. Knowable claims are more truthful than unknowable?

    Ah-ha: maybe we’re talking past each other. By “veridically superior,” I mean “more conducive to the discovery of truth,” not “intrinsically truthful.”

    The basis of the questions I asked above were used to highlight the fact that “knowability” has no bearing on the likelyhood of a claim actually being true.

    Did you assume I opine otherwise? I don’t, nor does the original syllogism permit that conclusion. All I’m saying here is that unknowable claims are useless to the discovery of truth. That consciousness ceases upon death is an unknowable claim, hence useless to the discovery of truth.

    According to your logic, me altering the dimensions of the universe and grasping the moon in my hand is “veridically superior” to the possibility that John Lennon had a thing for red pumps.

    Correct, in the sense that if it were in fact possible, your moon-claim could (in theory) be directly experienced. That makes it more conducive to the pursuit of truth than something we can never know, which by definition remains forever open to speculation – like the claim that that John Lennon had a thing for red pumps – or the claim that consciousness ceases upon death. We can never know that consciousness ceases upon death, but we can and will know if it doesn’t.
    I acknowledge your talk about “basis.” Stick around; I’ve got some interesting posts lined up for the next few weeks. I see that you use the all-exclusive qualifier “all” twice in your paragraph on basis for the belief consciousness ceases upon death, when what you really mean is, “All observations that you’re aware of.” Further, the fact that someone is no longer here is just that – a fact that someone is no longer here – it says nothing about whether they might be somewhere else in some other state. Right?

  9. Dominic Saltarelli

     says...

    I know you dislike all. We all have our pet peeves…
    Now that we’ve cleared up the “veridically superior” part, I see no problem with the statements. It’s just not an argument, though. I’ve joined Lifeguard in saying, “So what?”
    If someone asked me to investigate whether there was life after death, then naturally the manner in which I would go about making said investigation would be to look for evidence for it rather than assume the opposite and try to prove a negative. Who wouldn’t? If you asked me to investigate whether a spouse was being unfaithful, I’m not going to actively look for evidence that they’re *not* cheating.
    The very reason why myself and so many others have drawn the conclusion that there is no life after death is precisely because we’ve followed through with the veridically superior claim that consciousness endures after death and found nothing to support it.
    And yes, the first line was a joke.

  10. Zeta

     says...

    Let’s up the stakes a bit, with P2 and P3 switched, shall we?
    P1 In matters of logic and empiricism, knowable claims are veridically superior to unknowable claims;
    P2 The claim that shooting myself in the head will induce the eternal cessation of my consciousness is unknowable;
    P3 The claim that shooting myself in the head will not induce the eternal cessation of my consciousness is knowable;
    C The claim that shooting myself in the head will induce the eternal cessation of my consciousness is veridically inferior to the claim that my consciousness will remain.
    Addendum: P2 in the original argument is only true if there is “life after death,” so to speak. If there is no life after death, then there’s no way you can “know” there is. Ergo, your conclusion that the afterlife claim is veridically superior only holds if there actually is an afterlife.

  11. cl, alas, I don’t think much of this argument.
    Your premises include two variables: C (continued consciousness) and
    K (can C be determined empirically).
    The truth table is:
    # C K
    1 T T
    2 T F
    3 F T
    4 F F
    P2 then is P2=(C ∧ K)
    P3 then is P3=(¬C ∧ ¬K)
    But P2 contradicts P3, since P2 asserts K, and P3 asserts ¬K, and
    since P2 asserts C, and P3 asserts ¬C.
    Arguing from contradictory premises is invalid.
    Even were your premises consistent, still you’d be offering
    argumentum ad consequentiam (the consequence being your own conclusion C.

  12. Zeta

     says...

    @John: P3 is not the same as ¬C ∧ ¬K. The only way for you to “know” (in the direct-experience sense that cl is talking about) that consciousness ceases forever is for it to be true. And if it’s true, then by definition you can’t be consciously aware of your eternal nonexistence. This is why P3 is categorically true, no matter what C and K are.
    Second, the only way for this syllogism to be an argumentum ad consequentiam is if cl lead us from “veridically superior” to “imperative” or something similar. But cl never gave any sort of statement relating “veridically superior” to “should be believed.” My guess is, if he wanted to do that, he’d attempt to justify firsthand. Cl’s style seems to be to offer any interesting snippets he wishes to share, even if they aren’t a full-on apologetic but just a stepping stone he may later come back to or develop on next.

  13. D

     says...

    Hi, cl! I hit you back here on our ongoing discussion, and
    I thought of the following on the way home (sorry if it sounds snarky, but I was surly from getting a flat and being snubbed by the bus):
    P1 In matters of logic and empiricism, knowable claims are veridically superior to unknowable claims;
    P2 The claim that unicorns exist is knowable;
    P3 The claim that unicorns do not exist is unknowable;
    C The claim that unicorns exist is veridically superior to the claim that unicorns do not exist.
    I think I’ve got an identically-formed argument, and I’m honestly curious: do you think unicorns are just as likely to exist as consciousness is to persist after death? (And you might – I certainly can’t write off unicorns just because I haven’t met them on Earth… yet… I was just curious as to what other things your arguments might apply to.)

  14. Dominic Saltarelli

     says...

    @ D
    He defined “veridically superior” above in response to my post. He said:

    Ah-ha: maybe we’re talking past each other. By “veridically superior,” I mean “more conducive to the discovery of truth,” not “intrinsically truthful.”

    Basically, the argument isn’t what you think it is.

  15. D

     says...

    Yep, caught that just this morning after catching up on others’ comments. But, seeing how it works now, I’m actually convinced that unicorns are veridically superior, as their potential existence give us a clear starting point whereas “there are no unicorns” does not.
    But now that breaks down what I had thought was the point of the argument, which is to show that it is reasonable to believe in consciousness after death. I would now agree only so far as that “the possibility that consciousness could persist after death gives us a starting point,” with no idea so far (from the argument, anyway) of where to go from there. Thanks for clarifying, though!

  16. cl

     says...

    John Morales,
    I’m still deciding what – if anything – I want to add to Zeta’s response to yours. Stay tuned.
    Dominic,

    It’s just not an argument, though. I’ve joined Lifeguard in saying, “So what?”

    Well, it’s an argument by definition, even a cogent one, but it just doesn’t flick the switch and I don’t expect it to, to be honest.

    If someone asked me to investigate whether there was life after death, then naturally the manner in which I would go about making said investigation would be to look for evidence for it rather than assume the opposite and try to prove a negative.

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at there. The intent of this post wasn’t in any way related to evidence or evidentiary superiority, but to establish that life after death is a veridically superior claim than “lights out.” That’s it.
    Zeta,
    In general, I agree that P2 is only knowable if continuation is correct, but I don’t think this affects the veridic superiority of the claim:

    Ergo, your conclusion that the afterlife claim is veridically superior only holds if there actually is an afterlife.

    I thought that at first too, but I now say that continuation would be veridically superior even if cessation were correct, in the sense that continuation still produces testable hypotheses scientists could employ – whether it’s correct or not. OTOH, one can’t test for cessation, which makes it the veridically inferior claim even if it is correct.

    cl never gave any sort of statement relating “veridically superior” to “should be believed.” My guess is, if he wanted to do that, he’d attempt to justify firsthand.

    Correct, and this is why I objected to conflation of veridic superiority with reasonableness. The former is an objectively identifiable quality, quantifiable by the number of testable hypotheses that can be generated. The latter remains a subjective proclamation contingent on pre-existing definitions and biases. Also – as a general strategy of debating these types of things, I’m going to attempt to justify firsthand, as well. Like you said, some of these are just little tiny pebbles meant to build a bridge to something else.

    [cl]’s style seems to be to offer any interesting snippets he wishes to share, even if they aren’t a full-on apologetic but just a stepping stone he may later come back to or develop on next.

    Exactly. That’s exactly the intent behind these little syllogisms, which I just started toying around with.
    D,

    But now that breaks down what I had thought was the point of the argument, which is to show that it is reasonable to believe in consciousness after death.

    Establishing reasonableness wasn’t the syllogism’s intent, but along those lines, if X defines veridically superior claims as more reasonable than veridically inferior claims, because Y (where Y = X’s justification), then in that sense, an individual who agreed with X’s justification would be justified in concluding consciousness after death was the more reasonable choice. This doesn’t actually establish continuation as the more reasonable choice, but justifies the person who argues such on behalf of their agreement with the justification. All I’m saying is that reasonableness is essentially an assertion that anyone can challenge. Veridic superiority, not so.
    This also presumes veridic superiority is the only criteria we’re evaluating the competing ideas on, when in reality, there are hundreds if not thousands of overlapping criteria that influence a person’s opinion of whether continuation or cessation is “more reasonable.” Hence, the inherently subjective nature of reasonableness.

  17. Dominic Saltarelli

     says...

    Well, in making the ‘argument’, as you call it, I was under the impression that someone, somewhere, disagreed with you, to warrant the post.
    Here’s a similar ‘argument’. I call it the argument for the wetness of water.
    P1 Objects are considered wet when doused in a fluid.
    P2 Water is a defined as a fluid.
    C Water is wet.
    Now that you’ve cleared up what you intended to convey with “veridically superior”, now we’re all wondering what the point of the post was, honestly…

  18. D

     says...

    cl, thanks for clarifying your meaning! I agree that reasonableness is subjective, and is not the same as veridical superiority. However, I do not agree that veridical superiority in any way correlates with likelihood to be true. Consider the following two propositions:
    1. There is a completely undetectable gremlin chomping away at my left nipple at this very moment – I just can’t detect him at all.
    2. There is a nearly undetectable gremlin chowing down on my right nipple at this very moment – I just need to look through a night vision scope with a picture of Cthulhu on it, or I won’t see it.
    3. As in 2 (above), but the gremlin is there if and only if I already believe that it is there and refuse to look – but if I were tricked into looking without wanting to, then I could see it if I believed it was there.
    Proposition 2 is veridically superior to 1 & 3 on this analysis; but I believe that all three claims are equivalently ridiculous and unlikely to be true. Propositions 2 and 3 are testable, though, in ways that 1 is not. But 3 gives some interesting behavioral prescriptions, especially if I want to see the gremlin (how can I get someone else to trick me into doing something I want to do in the first place?). I guess I don’t see what veridical superiority has to do with anything? Or maybe my imagination is simply failing to come up with a possible Y?

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