Fact vs. Hypothesis

Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 244)


We have been concerned with the traditional search for the simples of knowledge, and the requirements imposed by the rather obvious fact that all complex knowledge must be based on something simpler than itself, and if the underlying item is not simple in itself we must seek further till we come to something really simple that can stand entirely on its own feet.


Subject Matter Sophisticated Level Paradigmatic Base Sound Theory Cognitive Situation 
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  1. 1.
    Franz Brentano (1930) made a similar point regarding the problem of truth. For him the base was an evident judgement. He failed however to see that some base is needed to secure articulate intelligibility before the questions of judgement and truth can even arise, he had nonetheless gone a good step in the right direction.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Kant’s ‘object in general’? (Kant, 1929).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    R.G. Collingwood (1946) suggests that progress in philosophy consists largely in examining our presuppositions,and making more of them accessible to articulation, analysis, and understanding. But we always end resting on some entrenched presuppositions that not only have not been analyzed, but mostly have not even been articulated. The base of what is articulately optional may be pushed deeper by reflection, yet the process can not be completed. The presuppositions that Collingwood has in mind are not assumptions we make,but tacit acceptances that form the base of our very ability to even make assumptions. The picture is plausible and illuminating, but it has a limit, so we could never hope thus to ‘comprehend’ the whole of the base of our knowledge. Nor is there a clear method indicated for achieving that desirable result. It is important to note that the barrier is not as radical as the one envisaged here. We insist that both the paradigmatic ideas, and the individuation padding that we have identified taken separately are necessarily below the threshold of articulation, whatever the cognitive situation. Their positioning is situation-invariant, the Collingwood `presuppositions’ must, in the nature of things be articulable if not always articulate. The inaccessibility he identifies is situation-variable, ergo incapable of accounting for he situation itself.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Wittgenstein (1958) expresses this difficulty aphorismically in the dictum that one cannot draw the boundary entirely from within.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Kant (1929) demands that we consider from what source we propose to derive the principles we use. I take it that the thrust of this dictum is that we should view our principles against the background of the type of situation which provides the interpretation of our pure, and uncommitted determinations-in-principle. In doing this we should try to grasp the salient functional position of the basic elements under scrutiny. Again no account of the possibility and nature of the situation can be offered. In Metaphysics and Verification John Wisdom (1953) has an interesting suggestion: we experience difficulty in seeing what makes our language work, and what makes it faulty. As long as we consider the familiar, and ordinary ’idiosyncrasy platitudes’ says Wisdom, we remain blind. We need to construct interesting falsehoods for they will highlight hitherto hidden elements of the situation, and make them visible to us. In effect Wisdom proposes to use a caricature for a microscope. The method is bold, helpful, and realistic, and is mentioned here as a useful technique, but it still fails to provide the explication of, and support for a situation which alone makes the moves possible, we still assume more than we explain.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Taking this as basic Alfred Tarski (1944, 1956) attempts to limit his criterion of truth to such a parameter. But, and quite obviously, this method can give us no more than a system-related soundness of sentence, and here the term sentence is entirely apt.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Tarski however, following Legniewski, held that all accessible truth is obtainable via the use of conventions. We, it should be made clear, are not at the moment discussing any specific theory of this kind. Basic results should not be tied to the truth of more particular hypotheses. But whether at the one, or the other level the Legniewski/Tarski position appears almost certainly false. Compare here Legniewski’s pre-formalist papers (Legniewski, 1992 ).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Spinoza (1951) tried to argue just this, which is not to say that he succeeded.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Kant’s own writings are too vague on this point to permit confident interpretation — he is illustrating his conceptions rather than giving a precise account of them. Not at all surprising given the novelty of his ideas.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    The bottom line is inescapably that we can only judge the matter in the context of operational situations. Obviously so, but how does that help? Kant insisted that we should be aware “from what source we propose to derive the principles on which the proofs are to be based” Critique (A786B814), for Kant of course this must carry the transcendental deduction of the grounds of that proof. Clearly we need to establish the situation convincingly and transparently as a package deal where fit, power, and soundness combine to produce “transcendental”(?) conviction (Kant, 1929 ).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MelbourneAustralia

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