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coberst

Can we be clear about our assumptions?

4 posts in this topic

Can we be clear about our assumptions?

Why is it important for us to be clear about the ideas that we assume to be true as we analyze how we think?

All reasoning must begin with some idea that is assumed to be true. These assumptions affect the rest of our thinking about the matter in question; these assumptions are what we accept as being true.

Often we make more than one assumption, in which case these two or more assumptions must be consistent with one another. I suspect most errors in thinking result from assumptions that are accepted with little or no reflection, analysis or comprehension.

Even philosophers must make assumptions.

When written history began five thousand years ago humans had already developed a great deal of knowledge. Much of that knowledge was of a very practical nature such as how to use animal skins for clothing, how to weave wool, how to hunt and fish etc. A large part of human knowledge was directed toward how to kill and torture fellow humans. I guess things never really change all that much.

In several parts of the world civilizations developed wherein people learned to create laws and to rule vast numbers of people. Some measure of peace and stability developed but there was yet no means for securing the people from their rulers. I guess things never really change all that much.

Almost everywhere priests joined rulers in attempts to control the population. Despite these continual wars both of external and internal nature the human population managed to flourish. Egypt was probably one of the first long lasting and stable civilizations to grow up along the large rivers. Egypt survived almost unchanged for three thousand years. This success is attributed to its geographical location that gave it freedom from competition and fertile lands that were constantly replenished by the river overflowing its banks and thus depositing new fertile soil for farming.

Western philosophy emerged in the sixth century BC along the Ionian coast. A small group of scientist-philosophers began writing about their attempts to develop “rational” accounts regarding human experience. These early Pre-Socratic thinkers thought that they were dealing with fundamental elements of nature.

It is natural for humans to seek knowledge. In the “Metaphysics” Aristotle wrote “All men by nature desire to know”.

The attempt to seek knowledge presupposes (assumes) that the world unfolds in a systematic pattern and that we can gain knowledge of that unfolding. Cognitive science identifies several ideas that seem to come naturally to us and labels such ideas as Folk Theories.

The Folk Theory of the Intelligibility of the World

The world makes systematic sense, and we can gain knowledge of it.

The Folk Theory of General Kinds

Every particular thing is a kind of thing.

The Folk Theory of Essences

Every entity has an “essence” or “nature,” that is, a collection of properties that makes it the kind of thing it is and that is the causal source of its natural behavior.

The consequences of the two theories of kinds and essences are:

The Foundational Assumption of Metaphysics

Kinds exist and are defined by essences.

We may not want our friends to know this fact but we are all metaphysicians. We, in fact, assume that things have a nature thereby we are led by the metaphysical impulse to seek knowledge at various levels of reality.

Cognitive science has uncovered these assumptions that they have labeled as Folk Theories. Such theories when compared to sophisticated philosophical theories are like comparing mountain music with classical music. Such commonly accepted assumptions seem to come naturally to human consciousness.

The information about Folk Theory comes from “Philosophy in the Flesh” by Lakoff and Johnson

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Excellent post, coberst, although I do have a few quibbles to submit.

First, if we define an assumption as an undemonstrated belief of which one is unaware, then one cannot examine an assumption at all. One isn't aware of it because it is "presupposed." At least, one isn't aware of his own assumptions. However, we can and do become aware of other people's assumptions. Indeed, it's much easier to detect another person's assumptions precisely because they aren't one's own.

Second, through conversation with honest people (who are perceptive enough to notice one's assumptions and bold enough to elucidate them), and perhaps through analyzing one's own statements, one can become aware of one's past assumptions, but, by that time, they've become hypothetical premises--suppositions versus presupposition--and therefore amenable to testing, demonstration, and falsification.

Third, it's not at all clear how (or why) a person's various assumptions must be logically compatible with one another. As unexamined "givens," each of them "begs its own question." But once different assumptions have been aired--as premises or suppositions--then one can subject them to logical scrutiny, of not always a logical analysis.

Finally, a "particular thing" is not "a kind." Rather, a "particular" thing belongs to a "kind." "Kind" is a class concept--with all the problems such a concept entails. (Consult B. Russell on "classes" and the pesky "category confusion" a la Plato that results in a full-blown metaphysics). Personally, I think a metaphysics is just a metaphorics taken literally--too literally, in fact.

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Can we be clear about our assumptions?

Why is it important for us to be clear about the ideas that we assume to be true as we analyze how we think?

All reasoning must begin with some idea that is assumed to be true. These assumptions affect the rest of our thinking about the matter in question; these assumptions are what we accept as being true.

Often we make more than one assumption, in which case these two or more assumptions must be consistent with one another. I suspect most errors in thinking result from assumptions that are accepted with little or no reflection, analysis or comprehension.

Even philosophers must make assumptions.

Assumptions rely on opinion and opinion is problematic seeing as most people have different opinions concerning the same thing due to different forms of thinking. Reasoning fundamentally three levels. Survival, emotional, logical. Due to how our environment is changing due to our impact on it we're relying more and more on logical reasoning however our physical evolution so far has not compensated the change in our environment the change I'm referring to at the moment is where everyone is allowed to express their opinions without fatal "retribution."

Ultimately what I'm getting to here is that the problem with assumptions is that there is far far too much opinion associated with the assumption nowadays and that the accurate opinion is lost in the confusion of trying to figure out who is right. Obviously the only accurate opinion is your own and this being the case controversy arises.

When written history began five thousand years ago humans had already developed a great deal of knowledge. Much of that knowledge was of a very practical nature such as how to use animal skins for clothing, how to weave wool, how to hunt and fish etc. A large part of human knowledge was directed toward how to kill and torture fellow humans. I guess things never really change all that much.

This is because ultimately everyone is only looking out for numero uno. Yourself/themselves. For whatever reason its not required to be logical when going about this.

In several parts of the world civilizations developed wherein people learned to create laws and to rule vast numbers of people. Some measure of peace and stability developed but there was yet no means for securing the people from their rulers. I guess things never really change all that much.

There is actually a really big change and that is that we don't rely on one opinion anymore. The extreme opinions are taken care of (this hasn't changed) but there is so much opinion nowadays that trying to get any kind of agreement between people and between people and rulers is very time consuming where as in the olden days what the ruler said went. The only reason we have a fairly peaceful society at the moment is because the number of people with opinions on how society should be ran with ideas of equality over ruled the number of people who thought differently ie dictatorships and such. The sad thing is that how can we assume that the way we're doing things now is the right way. Its just different ways of thinking however what is the correct way of thinking?

Almost everywhere priests joined rulers in attempts to control the population. Despite these continual wars both of external and internal nature the human population managed to flourish. Egypt was probably one of the first long lasting and stable civilizations to grow up along the large rivers. Egypt survived almost unchanged for three thousand years. This success is attributed to its geographical location that gave it freedom from competition and fertile lands that were constantly replenished by the river overflowing its banks and thus depositing new fertile soil for farming.

Western philosophy emerged in the sixth century BC along the Ionian coast. A small group of scientist-philosophers began writing about their attempts to develop “rational” accounts regarding human experience. These early Pre-Socratic thinkers thought that they were dealing with fundamental elements of nature.

It is natural for humans to seek knowledge. In the “Metaphysics” Aristotle wrote “All men by nature desire to know”.

The attempt to seek knowledge presupposes (assumes) that the world unfolds in a systematic pattern and that we can gain knowledge of that unfolding. Cognitive science identifies several ideas that seem to come naturally to us and labels such ideas as Folk Theories.

The Folk Theory of the Intelligibility of the World

The world makes systematic sense, and we can gain knowledge of it.

The Folk Theory of General Kinds

Every particular thing is a kind of thing.

The Folk Theory of Essences

Every entity has an “essence” or “nature,” that is, a collection of properties that makes it the kind of thing it is and that is the causal source of its natural behavior.

The consequences of the two theories of kinds and essences are:

The Foundational Assumption of Metaphysics

Kinds exist and are defined by essences.

We may not want our friends to know this fact but we are all metaphysicians. We, in fact, assume that things have a nature thereby we are led by the metaphysical impulse to seek knowledge at various levels of reality.

Cognitive science has uncovered these assumptions that they have labeled as Folk Theories. Such theories when compared to sophisticated philosophical theories are like comparing mountain music with classical music. Such commonly accepted assumptions seem to come naturally to human consciousness.

The information about Folk Theory comes from “Philosophy in the Flesh” by Lakoff and Johnson

Well said in my opinion.

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I would say that there are levels of assumptions.

Assumptions are statements that are accepted as true without proof or demonstration. They generally are unconscious and operate on our thinking “below the radar”.

On the first level is axiom or postulate, which is a proposition that cannot be proved or demonstrated and is considered to be self-evident. The “Folk Theories” that are in my OP qualify as axioms or postulates.

Much of our errors are a result of assumptions. Many, if not all, of our biases and prejudices are assumptions.

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