Epistemology and the separation of justification and criticism

Bartley argues that non-justificational criticism is in Popper’s logic of science, although he does not use it to seek its implication for a general theory of knowledge addressing the question of how we know. With his non-justificational critique of Hume’s problem of induction, Popper offers the novel theory of science that a scientific theory can be identified as true if and only if no empirical evidence rejects its prediction. Hence, notwithstanding the Humean justificational view of science, Popper's non-justificational solution overcomes the problem of induction in favour of a conjectural theory of science. A scientific claim is a conjecture whose objectivity depends on the absence of counterevidence. Bartley realizes that the non-justificational nature of Popper’s logic of science is manifested in conjecture and refutation: a scientific theory is criticized due to its refutation through a false prediction, not because its premises are known to be false.

Bartley (1964: 20) argues that the justificationist conception of rationalism is derived from two dogmas: “(1) The assumption that criticism is necessarily fused with justification; and (2) the assumption that the quality and degree of rationality pass through the relationship of logical deducibility from justifying premises to justified conclusions”. Motivated by the separation of justification and criticism. Bartley endeavours to expand the non-justificational logic of Popper's theory of science to his own theory of rationality. To this end. he refers to the idea of the problem-solving ability of a metaphysical theory offered by Popper for defining a standard against which such a theory can be examined.

Bartley argues, therefore, that a theory of rationality can be judged according to its ability to solve the problem of the rationalist’s identity, telling us that not only our scientific, but also our philosophical conjectures are refutable. Bartley (1984a: 127) points out:

We have at least four means of eliminating error by criticizing our conjectures and speculations. These checks are listed . . .

  • (1) The check of logic: Is the theory in question consistent?
  • (2) The check of sense observation: Is the theory empirically refutable by some sense observation? And if it is, do we know of any refutation of it?
  • (3) The check of scientific theory’: Is the theory, whether or not it is in conflict with sense observation, in conflict with any scientific hypothesis?
  • (4) The check of the problem: What problem is the theory intended to solve? Does it do so successfully?

Among these four means of error detection, the case for checking the theory against whatever problem it is intended to solve has special importance for an understanding of the separation of justification and criticism in regard to pancritical rationalism. From Bartley's perspective, a theory of rationality can be examined against the standard of whether or not it solves the problem it is intended to solve. This type of critical assessment demonstrates the reason why Bartley regards the demarcation between 'critical' beliefs and ‘non-critical’ ones as more fundamental than the demarcation between science and non-science. As Gerard Radnitzky (1982: 1061) argues: “. . . the question whether or not a position (statement, view-point, standard, etc.) can be justified is misleading. The issue is whether it can survive when exposed to systematic criticism”. By admitting this legitimate question, a theory of knowledge is to be introduced for showing how a metaphysical theory may be refuted.

Elsewhere. Bartley (1968: 41) argues that

. . . Popper has written that the problem of demarcating science from nonscience is the central problem of the theory of knowledge; and in his Conjectures and Refutations he has described the solution to the problem of demarcation as the "key to most of the fundamental problems of the philosophy of science”.

Bartley then asserts that Popper’s criterion for the demarcation between science and non-science corresponds to a problem with little relevance in comparison with the more fundamental problem of demarcating 'critical' from 'non-critical' theories. Bartley continues:

Theories, including not only the scientific ... but also philosophical theories such as theories of rationality and theories of demarcation are, in my view as in Popper's guesses, hopefully but not necessary “stations on the road to truth”.

(Ibid.: 43)

Hence, metaphysical theories can be examined through conjecture and refutation as well as scientific ones. What, however, does refutation of a philosophical conjecture mean?

While not substantially changing Popper's epistemology. Bartley expands the non-justificational concept of criticism from the theory of science to the philosophy of pancritical rationalism. Nevertheless, whereas observable empirical evidence rejects the prediction of a theory in science, the refutability of a metaphysical theory, such as the theory of rationality, is not apparent. Its failure to solve the problem it claims to solve indicates a key ambiguity in Bartley’s non-justificational epistemology: what kind of deductive inference may be used to refute a theory of rationality due to its failure to solve the problem of ‘rational belief’ if the falsity of a conclusion in metaphysics cannot be retransmitted to the premises?

From a logical perspective, the problem-solving capacity of a theory does not show how a non-empirical theory may be rejected due to its refuted conclusion. Logic only allows us to transfer either the truth of the premises to the conclusion (modus ponens) or the falsity of conclusion to at least one of the premises (modus tollens). How, then, does the problem-solving capacity of a metaphysical theory apply the formal logic for transferring the falsity of the conclusion to the set of premises when empirical refutation makes no sense? In order to know whether a theory can address the problem it intends to solve, we should first explore whether the theory in question is false or true. The failure of a theory to solve the problem in question does not explain how logical rules are used to transfer the falsity of the conclusion to the premises. Popper applied the principle of falsifiability in order to demarcate science from metaphysics. In the refutation of a metaphysical theory such as the theory of rationality, however, the standard of problem-solving ability of a theory cannot perform a logical role similar to the one played by the principle of falsification in science.

Nevertheless, Bartley expands the non-justificational logic of science to his theory of pancritical rationalism by separating justification from criticism and arguing that a claim of rationality need not be justified to be considered true. It is, however, possible to judge a theory of rationality according to its ability to solve the problem in question. It is on the basis of the non-justificational concept of criticism that Bartley uses Popper's epistemology to present pancritical rationalism and that Bartley’s theory of rationality is to be understood within the context of Popper's epistemology.

 
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