Thursday, July 07, 2005

Conversations with Angie: The meaning of proof in epistemology

In some of the emails I've skipped, we got into a discussion about what it means for something to be "proved." Since we touched on some more epistemological issues, I thought it would be interesting to post some of that conversation. I'm cutting a lot out of these emails so I can isolate the epistemological parts.

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Sam,

I have to admit that I was getting kind of frustrated as I was reading them. I feel like (and this has been my frustration w/ philosophy in the past) these things turn into an endless discussion that can neither be proved nor disproved. Even when you talked about the distinction between refutation and rebuttal, I thought that, really, all of the research, learning, and discussion in the world cannot prove anything on this subject. Christianity can neither be proved nor disproved.

Angie
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Angie,

What do you mean by "proved"? I'm not asking that to be silly either. People mean different things when they say "proved." I want to find out whether or not I agree with you, and that will depend on what you mean.

Sam
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Sam,

I'm referring to what we've discussed before - that there are very few things that we can know for a certainty. In philosophical discussions in general, I've found that people usually go back and forth and back and forth without ever reaching a point where either is convinced of anything other than whatever they started out believing. Obviously, I know that it doesn't always work that way - I suppose most philosophers' views change over time.

I guess the issue is that I am an extremely practical person. I want to see how things can be useful in a practical way, and if I can't see that straight away, I begin to get impatient. At the same time, I still have that lingering need to be convinced of the truth of something before applying it in my life. What this means, essentially, is that I spend a lot of time thinking about things and ideas (not just Christianity) and trying to decide whether they're convincing enough to put into practice. It's that thought pattern that results in always trying to find the "best" choice, the "best" path, etc. It can be exhausting, and honestly, tends to paralyze me.

Hmmm maybe I didn't really answer your question, but hopefully you get a better sense of what I mean. Let me know if you need more clarification, and I'll try.

Angie

Conversations with Angie:  More on "proof"

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