[lit-ideas] Re: Berkeleyiana

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 24 Sep 2015 19:05:23 +0000 (UTC)

Right. I think we might have discussed this with McEvoy. As I recall, one 
of McEvoy's favourite phrases was, "as far as I know". As Grice would say,
"As  far as I know, not far I fear". As I recall, McEvoy was referring to the
colloquial use of the phrase, "as far as I know" to prove that Popper is
right  (as per "Objective Knowledge") that you can KNOW false things.>
I wouldn't say it was one of my favourite phrases, but the more important
points are:
1) This usage does not "prove" Popper is right (that you can KNOW false things)
anymore than the use of "know" as in JTB _proves_ that we can only KNOW true

(Still less does usage _prove_ we are JUSTIFIED: even if we assume we are when
we use the JTB meaning of "knowledge", that assumption is not proof.)
It follows that I haven't, afaik, ever used 'afaik' to prove that Popper is

2)  As to whether we conceive of "knowledge" in JTB terms or in terms of all
knowledge being "conjectural", the important epistemic arguments go well beyond
appeals to usage (thankfully).
3) What the expression 'afaik' does show is that there is a usage of "know"
within ordinary language that chimes with a view of "knowledge" as conjectural
rather than as JTB.

Such expressions surely bear consideration and must be taken to counterbalance
the over-egged examples of JTB theory - for example, that we do not say "I know
x and x is false" - since 'afaik' is an expression where we claim knowledge
that x without excluding the possibility of x being false.
4) Afaik Popper did not make use of expression 'afaik' to defend his idea of
"objective knowledge" as having a basis within ordinary usage; but Popper did
point out that we do, in ordinary usage, use the term "knowledge" in a way that
chimes with the view that knowledge is conjectural and objective and not a
species of JTB (e.g. "scientific knowledge").
5) I think Popper perhaps concedes more than is necessary in terms of the
meaning of "know" and "knowledge" in ordinary usage - i.e. concedes too much to
the JTB view of their meaning being often their ordinary meaning. I am
sceptical as to whether the sense of our ordinary usage always involves or
entails a commitment to a particular epistemic view of knowledge (as, say,
either conjectural or as JTB) rather than this sense being imposed by those
with a commitment to their particular epistemic view. As with children, we
often use the terms "know" and "knowledge" without clearly knowing what
epistemologically is involved by this use - afaik.


On Thursday, 24 September 2015, 17:29, "dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx"
<dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

In a message dated 9/24/2015 10:22:29 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
_lawrencehelm@roadrunner.com_ (mailto:lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx)  refers  to
Geary's "seeming Berkeleyism" ... and that "having read Berkeley in the past 
rejected him [I] don't like the association." ...  "My association with 
Berkeley is even less than that."

Well, for the record I see that the OTHER (so far) quote of the 'esse est 
percipi' in the Stanford Encyclopedia is in Bell's entry:

Bell, John L., "Continuity and Infinitesimals", The Stanford Encyclopedia 
of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =

and it may be worth quoting it:

Bell is concerned about ONE item, but oddly, Grice compares 'stars' with 
the 'infinity', when he writes, "As far as I know, there are infinite stars"
(He  is considering this a rather 'otiose' thing to say, in WoW -- because
Grice  feels there is a clash betweeen the use of 'know' and the concept of
'infinity':  as an intuitionist, you cannot KNOW anything about 'infinity'.

Bell writes:

"The philosopher George Berkeley (1685–1753), noted both for his subjective
idealist doctrine of esse est percipi and his denial of general ideas, was
a  persistent critic of the presuppositions underlying the mathematical
practice of  his day (see Jesseph [1993])."

"His most celebrated broadsides were directed at the calculus, but in fact 
his conflict with the mathematicians went deeper."

"For Berkeley's denial of the existence of abstract ideas of any kind  went
in direct opposition with the abstractionist account of mathematical 
concepts held by the majority of mathematicians and philosophers of the  day."

"The central tenet of this doctrine, which goes back to Aristotle, is that 
the mind creates mathematical concepts by abstraction, that is, by the
mental  suppression of extraneous features of perceived objects so as to focus
on  properties singled out for attention."

"Berkeley rejected this,"

-- as he rejected many other things. It wouldn't be unfair to call him  the
greatest rejectionist of all time.

Bell goes on:

"asserting that mathematics as a science is ultimately  concerned with
objects of sense, its admitted generality stemming from the  capacity of
percepts to serve as signs for all percepts of a similar form. At  first
poured scorn on those who adhere to the concept of infinitesimal. 
maintaining that the use of infinitesimals in deriving mathematical results is 
illusory, and is in fact eliminable. But later he came to adopt a more tolerant 

attitude towards infinitesimals, regarding them as useful fictions in
somewhat  the same way as did Leibniz. In The Analyst of 1734 Berkeley launched
most  sustained and sophisticated critique of infinitesimals and the whole
metaphysics  of the calculus. Addressed To an Infidel Mathematician [25],
the tract was  written with the avowed purpose of defending theology against
the scepticism  shared by many of the mathematicians and scientists of the
day. Berkeley's  defense of religion amounts to the claim that the reasoning
of mathematicians in  respect of the calculus is no less flawed than that of
theologians in respect of  the mysteries of the divine. Berkeley's arguments
are directed chiefly against  the Newtonian fluxional calculus. Typical of
his objections is that in  attempting to avoid infinitesimals by the
employment of such devices as  evanescent quantities and prime and ultimate
Newton has in fact violated  the law of noncontradiction by first subjecting
a quantity to an increment and  then setting the increment to 0, that is,
denying that an increment had ever  been present. As for fluxions and
evanescent increments themselves, Berkeley has  this to say.

It is a good thing Bell quotes direct from Berkeley whose prose is so 

Berkeley writes:

"[As for fluxions and evanescent increments themselves], And what are these
fluxions? The velocities of evanescent increments? And what are these same
evanescent increments? They are neither finite quantities nor quantities 
infinitely small, nor yet nothing. May we not call them the ghosts of
departed  quantities?"

Poetic, almost.

Bell concludes the segment on Berkeley:

"Nor did the Leibnizian method of differentials escape Berkeley's 

Ah, well, as long as they did not escape Leibniz's own strictures!


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