Atomism: A theory of epistemological simplicity

Apologies are in order

This essay will be particularly technical, and may as such come off as quite difficult to read. I encourage whoever endeavors to read this piece to not have any form of distraction, so as to be capable of absorbing the subject matter within. Epistemology is a subject of philosophy that is dear to me and I recently devised of a theory which I do believe is new, but perhaps not unheard of in other schools of thought.

An analysis of method

Having personally read through various entries regarding epistemology on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, read Yannis Delmas-Rigoutsos’ book on Epistemology (introductory level) and considered Kantian (a priori – a posteriori) and Schopenhaueran (World and Representation) ideas of how knowledge begins to be ascertained, I have come upon an idea of my own which is more precisely a methodological approach to defining truth or facts.

Something about the JTB notion of epistemology has never rung truly inspiring for me, particularly because of the Gettier problems which required some spectacular mental gymnastics in order to imagine knowledge versus belief. I thought this distinction was incorrect and at best misleading. Belief is indeed understood by epistemology as being the steps leading to knowledge (a priori) and then knowledge can be considered after-thought or hindsight (a posteriori). Taking with me these notions, I thought perhaps we could simplify the formula, without requiring elaborate thought-experiments that lead us on questioning the whatness of the what (Heidegger’s Dasein) like in phenomenology. Rather than think in terms of thoughts and feelings, I imagined conditions that would fill in the explanatory competence of a fact.

Facts, in the analysis of atomism are not immuable and contrary to most schools of thought of epistemology, atomism seeks not to make knowledge an absolute certainty. That is, to my estimation, a mistake. Absolute certainties seem more like a form of “historical materialism” as likened to Hegel by Marx. Knowledge does not follow a constant path to a wholeness but rather sees shifts in paradigm (per Thomas Kuhn). That is why I believe atomism should be a preferred interpretative and explanatory method to devise knowledge, not only because of its modernity but because it leaves the mind open to new possibilities and revision.

The matter of contingency

In atomism, contingency is the Fact with its Conditions.

The proposition appears thus as follows: F = (C+C+C+C…) – However, the proposition may not be complete, and as such, the equation becomes: F ≈ (C+C+C+C…)

That is until the sequence can be completed or correct. If F does NOT equal C+C+C+C and precisely that sequence, then F is not F.

In simple english, if a Fact does not meet ALL of its conditions, then it lacks the contingency to make itself a fact. That is not to say that losing one condition does not also eliminate the contingency, as a condition may be central to the contingency of a Fact, yet others may not. That is why the “almost equals” sign can still signify fact, with a “but”, needing further verification. Perhaps the condition is false and needs to be removed from the sequence, not affecting the shape of the contingency? Maybe the idea of the Fact has yet to be properly materialized to the propositioner. Skepticism would demand here that we suspend belief until all the conditions have been met. The fact is neither true or false but cannot be disregarded until it has been shown to be so.

A proper image for this sequence would be as follows:

atomism*Made in LibreOffice Impress

In the image, the F is the fact and the many Cs connected to it are its conditions. The circle exists as the contingency. Symbollically, once one of the conditions ceases to exist, the contingency either fractures or remains identical. Put into simpler terms, this means that if I state something as a fact, I must have understood the conditions that exist for that to be fact.

“Gravity makes people fall when jumping off cliffs.” is a statement of fact, a truth-claim.

In order for this to be true, we must have certain conditions. Gravity makes objects fall: This is true. A human being is an object. Objects that fly into the air, while being subject to gravity, eventually fall. Cliffs are steep inclines which means that when jumping off of them, we no longer have the ground supporting our weight.

The fact has enough conditions at this point to be true. Note that we could try to argue against it, but as the fact has not established the vacuum of space as being the target of its claim, we do not need to argue against it. It is not necessary to attack the contingency of the argument as it is. Its explanatory power is sufficient. Were I to say

“Gravity ALWAYS makes people fall when jumping off cliffs.”

We could question the “ALWAYS” by saying that if I jumped off a cliff on the moon, I might be capable of escaping its gravitational pull. Putting an absolute on a fact fragilizes the contingency, as it is more likely to be questioned and thus lose some of its explanatory edge. This term will have to be retracted. Atomism thus rejects absolute statements by way of demanding the necessary conditions to be met for absolute statements to be true. It may be that an absolute statement would have enough explanatory power to keep its contingency, but it appears more likely that such a statement would be the target of additional scrutiny and justly so.

Conditions unto themselves are facts

This may complexify the theory, but as far as “facts” are concerned, the examination of a fact requires only verifying whether its conditions have been met. As we have said before, in order to make the claim “Gravity makes people fall when jumping off cliffs.”, we must expect that if one of its conditions should fail to reveal itself as equally true, we would have to consider the possibility of other conditions being false.

For example: People working in information technology are moody.

If I were to try to remain constant, I’d have to concede that this has enough explanatory power, but in this case, this would be a sophism. It would speak to a stereo-type. The conditions necessary for such a truth-claim would go as follow:

  • Jeff is an IT technician.
  • Jeff is always moody.
  • There is a stereo-type that IT technicians are always moody.
  • Stereo-types are sufficient demonstrators of truth.

Now, if we were to seriously analyze the above conditions, one should jump to our eyes as being tentative, if not altogether completely false. That is the last condition. Now, if I remove the last condition, can the statement “People working in information technology are moody.” hold water? No, it cannot. Therefore, it cannot truly be considered fact now, but merely a belief. It lacks the proper explanatory power necessary to make such a statement. If the statement was changed to:

“People working in information technology can be moody sometimes.”

This would hold sufficient explanatory power, and we could also say that the same applies to other departments in a company, but in this case, the truth-claim is irrefutable, as any counter-claim would have to say that IT workers are NEVER moody. All the conditions are met here, to make for a much more contemplative statement devoid of stereo-typing to an excess.

Conditions are thus necessary to make one understand how “true” their “facts” are. The examples presented here are rather simple, but I would invite you to try to challenge one of your beliefs in such a way. The aim of course is not to make anything the matter of certainty, but to make sure that appropriate measures have been undertaken for that certainty to be attainable. Questioning ourselves is a necessary step to reducing mistakes via atomism.

If I were to take this in a more technical sense: In the advent that a condition is false, but the rest are still fine, it would prove fruitful for me to investigate what drew this condition to appear in the first place? Conditions are facts unto themselves, and atomism permits to look at things in layers of truth. While my fact remains untouched, one of my conditions was privy to additional scrutiny, and I must revise why it was placed in the contingency in the first place.

So, why did I think stereo-types were sufficient demonstrators of truth?

  • I know some people who fit the descriptor of the stereotype.
  • Whenever I stereotype people, it is always right.
  • Stereotypes make it easy to categorize people.
  • Other people stereotype, there must be a reason for it.

Getting deeper and deeper, we may reveal something about ourselves we hadn’t expected, through atomism. If I were to be writing a work of scholarly nature, I could apply this same practice to how my arguments are built, in order to make as rigorous an argument as possible and to be the master of my own thesis and its anti-thesis.

Bring out yer facts!

Résultats de recherche d'images pour « bring out yer dead »

Facts, in atomism are thus simple explanations of reality. They speak of how we see reality but not quite necessarily of reality itself. It is necessary not to let things we take for granted direct how we choose to think on a day-to-day basis, as we as humans like to think in categorical fashion. Reality becomes much more comfortable when everything fits into a neat category, and that is how we remain sane. Yet, in order to maintain our relations with the world and its people as cordial as possible, it is necessary, always, to take a step back and consider whether we might be wrong.

That is, at least, my point of view. 😉

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