Sic et Non on empirical evidence

A: What if we took the “no evidence” claim to mean that he doesn’t arise from some empirical method?

B: Okay.

A: So the complaint is that we only have logical concepts without empirical tethers. Metaphysics or Natural Theology become, at best, a collection of possibilities lacking any criteria to decide among them. Before our Positive, Empirical methods all we could have was unresolved controversies.

B: That’s the charge. I don’t see the response to the challenge “So where is the test for that?”

A: There is the response that metaphysics is a pre-Empiricism or pre-Positive knowledge, i.e. it’s an attempt to give a structure of any possible empirical world whereas empiricism is an attempt to deal with the facts of the world.

B: There’s some truth to that, I suppose, but we’d need to say a good deal more.

A: Why so?

B: Because myth, personality, political and social realities, etc. are all pre-empirical too. All of them structure, filter, value, and play a part in what will appear as a fact. Metaphysics is one of many many pre-sciences.

A: Right. But it is rational pre-science.

B: Ah, and what is the content of this magical adjective? Does it mean “truth preserving” or “Ordered to finding truth”? Then how is it set apart from myth and personality?

A: You’re being obscurantist. Rational means discursive, argumentative, self-reflective.

B: This is fine. But it isn’t just pre- empirical, it also is affected and shaped by the empirical. Parmenides is a clear “Metaphysical” thinker on your account, but Einstein’s block universe gives his account a new urgency. The difference between nature and art is a clear pre-empirical division, but it’s been significantly modified by our ability to make new materials.

A: So Metaphysics and the empirical are in dialogue?

B: Not exactly. I think the empirical mediates a pre-scientific and post-scientific set of judgments. St. Thomas gives a peculiar but perfect account of metaphysics as “what is proper to intellect” where he understands intellect as what discerns unity among a multitude. This unity is at once a principle of discourse and a judgment about what it all means.

A: So one and the same metaphysics both grounds the empirical and is a reflection on it.

B: I’d prefer to say that the rational or positive sciences mediate a single science of metaphysics, from intellect through the rational to intellect again.

A: Ugh. You’re arguing that all reasoning is circular!

B: As opposed to what? Starting arbitrarily and going infinitely, i.e., to nowhere?  The development of science doesn’t just justify or critique its principles, it also inevitably gives rise to the question of what this all means, and our answer to that question in turn becomes a principle of what can be an acceptable empirical fact.

A: We’ve lost sight of the original question.

B: The complaint that “there is no test for that” needs mean nothing more than what we are looking for is not proper to the part of our understanding that mediates understanding.

A: Which would count as an objection to any Naturalism that objects to a claim because it was non-empirical.

B: Yes. Such an objection would confuse a mediated knowledge with the whole of it. The empirical is not an infinite line of all that can be known but a part of a circle that proceeds from understanding, outside of itself into empirical development, and then outside of the empirical again back to understanding.




  1. semioticanimal said,

    December 9, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    This circle reminds me a great deal of Pierce’s (and John Deely’s) discussion of the semiotic spiral of abduction/deduction/retroduction.

    • December 9, 2015 at 1:30 pm

      I needed to include some idea of the circle being structured by an attempt to reduce complexity or compress information or take things back to principles. The circle metaphor needs supplementation too. One really transcends the empirical when judging it and in this sense there is a break in continuity that is not suggested by the circle. In one sense the Empirical goes on forever, in another we are constantly breaking with it to both form a final judgment about it and to confirm or perhaps even establish the principle in light of which the fact can arise.

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