Popular Ideas of Epistemology and Metaphysics

July 14, 2007 at 3:38 pm 2 comments

My understanding of the difference between epistemology and metaphysics is best summed up like this: epistemology is the human study of truth, while metaphysics is the human study of what exists. In reading Heidegger’s Intro. to Metaphysics, a new understanding of these terms came to me. This happened early on; somewhere along the Nietzsche reference between 3 and 4.

 It seems to me that (at least in the stereotypical sense) a computer scientist would have little use for metaphysics but a keen interest in epistemology. This is because they aren’t interested in “semantics” or “philosophical mumbo-jumbo” but in how things really are. The “really” is what strikes most people as important; you can talk in logical circles all you want, but a glass of water is still nothing more or less than a glass of water. What’s interesting is that this interest in how things “really are” seems to run contrary to my original idea that computer scientists are more interested in epistemology than metaphysics. It seems to run contrary to my definitions of the terms.

A computer scientist (at least as it applies to their work) seeks an epistemic understanding of artificial situations. In those situations, there really is a definitive way the world works; in their creation, artificial situations have a set of known parameters created for them. Science looks for these same parameters in the real world, but it is impossible to know for sure that there is a set of rules which the universe follows, or whether the rules we have are correct. This is what engenders metaphysical indifference in the sciences: nobody wants to consider the possibility that their phenomena really doesn’t have a way for it to be explained. Indeed, I really don’t see a way for science to work efficiently if the idea was considered more often.

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Entry filed under: Epistemology, Heidegger, Metaphysics.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. katrooland  |  August 29, 2007 at 12:16 am

    What is truth? I think scientists are as systematic as they are about proving their theories, so they can find out what really exists and what does not. This is where epistemology and metaphysics will merge. Truth is what exists. I know, I know…Define existence. Do you? In your next posting?

    Reply
  • 2. donescience  |  August 29, 2007 at 2:14 pm

    The systematic approach taken by scientists in their investigation of phenomena does seem like it would add epistemic value to that investigation, but it’s hard to say exactly why this is so. In addition to Hume’s original difficulty with causality (which was a criticism of deductive reasoning), there are problems with inductive reasoning (as outlined by Nelson Goodman, among others). It seems like a scientifically rigorous program of investigation should get closer to what “really exists”, and I would say that it does if only by the sheer quantity of detail that such rigor hopefully creates. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know if at any point one has nailed the “essence” of the phenomena one is investigating.

    Which brings me to my later point of whether that should be what philosophy is after, at all.

    Reply

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Everything on this blog should be taken as a draft, the spilling over of mental activity flung far and wide. The author is a graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, MA who enjoys many things but devotes most of this space to matters academic.
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