This was a tough post to write. I had to dedicate yesterday to prepping for my Theology on Tap lecture on epistemology, which led me pull old books off the shelves and review my underlinings (or pull old books into my Kindle and look at highlightings) on topics ranging from David Hume and Karl Popper to the Scientific Revolution and gender theory. It wasn't a bad way to spend an otherwise miserable Sunday, but such studies tend to zap my interest in anything else.
One conclusion I resurrected during my preparation. David Hume demolished the antecedents. Consider knowledge as an accumulation from 1 to 10, one thing building upon another, each number representing a different conclusion that will lead to another conclusion (Conclusion 4 leads to Conclusion 5, Conclusion 5 to 6, and so on). The first stages of knowledge are the low numbers; the later stages of knowledge are the high numbers. David Hume destroyed any chance of going earlier than, say, Conclusion 3. "[N]o satisfactory answer had been found to Hume's argument that reasoning from the particular to the general, or in any other way from past to future experience, cannot be justified by any means that do not beg the question." A.J. Ayer, Philosophy in the Twentieth Century (1984), p. 133. The problem is, Hume pointed out, any faith in a law or cause is just that: faith. Your "law" is simply a belief that things
will behave like they behaved in the past, but it's not logical: it's psychological, you telling yourself it'll be that way. "Cause" itself is just a word that can't be picked up and analyzed. Your belief in such things is fine, but don't pretend it's any different than, say, belief in the Bible. Popper set out to answer Hume's "problem of induction," but he didn't. The philosophical problems presented by Hume are with us to this day.
My wanderings yesterday pushed me back into Nassim Taleb's Antifragility, with brief glances through his collection of aphorisms and The Black Swan. There's a lot of good stuff in those books. I'll have to start running passages from them more often.
"[Y]ou never have a generalized restaurant crisis–unlike, say, the banking business. Why? Because it is composed of a lot of independent and competing small units that do not individually threaten the system and make it jump from one state to another." Nassim Taleb