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Old 30th April 2013, 10:47 AM   #1
Dog Breakfast
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The Münchhausen Trilemma

The Münchhausen Trilemma in knowledge theory claims that when faced with a proof, there are only three ways to react to it:

1. Axiomatically: that the proof requires no justification, or is its own justification.

2. Regressively: that the proof requires a further proof, which itself requires a proof, forever.

3. Circularly: that the proof is proved by a further proof, and that proof is proved by the first proof.

This is an amateurish description of the trilemma, and I encourage you all to visit the humble wikipedia article on it.

Considering the fact that basically all three options more or less suck, I was wondering what you think is the best choice, or if it a false trilemma after all.
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Old 30th April 2013, 10:55 AM   #2
marplots
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I didn't read the article, but some other ways come to mind:

1) Use a combination of techniques so that, for example, you use reduction until you hit something axiomatic.
2) Use a combination until you reach something you already accept as provisionally true.
3) Play with the proof until you either run out of energy/emotion; decide it amounts to "meh" or something else catches your attention.
4) Play the game the other way round so that you are asking, "If this is so (taken as already proven) what are the consequences," and then seeing if you like the result or if it collides with something you already suppose is so.

An example of the latter would be accepting the 911 conspiracy is true until you realize it requires believing in the bad behavior of hundreds (thousands) of people you think ought to be more properly thought of as heroic, then deciding, even without identifying a specific, that the underlying conspiracy must be false.
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Old 30th April 2013, 11:17 AM   #3
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O.o if we apply the trilemma on itself then /spacetimefracture
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Old 30th April 2013, 12:50 PM   #4
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Marplots, I like your ideas, but I think the first is the strongest. At the end of the day I do feel there are certain things that can't not be true, the law of identity for example. If someone asks for a proof of the law of identity it feels like they've simply taken an unnecessary step. The biggest weakness with the axiomatic approach is what people will decide is axiomatic. The criteria isn't very stable when you consider all 7+ billion people all thinking different things can't by their own virtue be questioned. I don't know.

Originally Posted by Lowpro View Post
O.o if we apply the trilemma on itself then /spacetimefracture
Now you've done it! Something just detonated.
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Old 30th April 2013, 01:01 PM   #5
marplots
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There's an escape clause on the "everyone is unique" deal. As a materialist, I think the variation can't be infinite or even overwhelmingly vast, simply because we are biologically similar. Add to that similar input and I'd be surprised if there wasn't a great deal that was shared across humanity.

Finally, we are able to communicate with one another, so that your wacky ideas can become my wacky ideas too -- that gives us a mechanism to change toward some norm. Even if "exact" is too much to ask, "very similar" seems quite doable.

Applying this to the original trilemma gives us a statement like this in response to the question, "How can you know that's true?": "I am unable to believe it is false." Meaning, I am a kind of biological entity which can't do other than what I've done anymore than my biology lets me fly about. This base foundation is true because I am unable to make it false, constitutionally unable.

To make it crude, I cannot make sweet into sour, nor check the truth of my experience against anything other than the flesh which makes the experience possible. Destroy my ability to be this way and you've destroyed me. To ask me what I know to be true is deeply connected with what makes me capable of answering the question in the first place.

Last edited by marplots; 30th April 2013 at 01:09 PM.
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Old 30th April 2013, 01:09 PM   #6
mijopaalmc
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Originally Posted by Lowpro View Post
O.o if we apply the trilemma on itself then /spacetimefracture
I'm not sure that the truth of the trilemma is meant to "prove" the ultimate unfoundedness of logic. Rather, it seem that the trilemma is meant as a way of classifying approaches to metaphilosophy.
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Old 30th April 2013, 01:37 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by marplots View Post
I didn't read the article, but some other ways come to mind:

1) Use a combination of techniques so that, for example, you use reduction until you hit something axiomatic.
That's really just [R2, R2, R2 ... R1]. Far from being "some other ways", it's really just a textbook example of the first two ways as they are commonly practiced.

Last edited by theprestige; 30th April 2013 at 01:38 PM.
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Old 30th April 2013, 01:38 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by mijopaalmc View Post
I'm not sure that the truth of the trilemma is meant to "prove" the ultimate unfoundedness of logic. Rather, it seem that the trilemma is meant as a way of classifying approaches to metaphilosophy.
Well the Trilemma asserts itself as a tautology. If you try to apply itself TO itself then it'd become a paradox.

Same way that the saying "Nothing is true"; it contradicts itself.
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Old 30th April 2013, 06:14 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
That's really just [R2, R2, R2 ... R1]. Far from being "some other ways", it's really just a textbook example of the first two ways as they are commonly practiced.
Ultimately it is the axiomatic horn, which if you ask me is the strongest, though its weakness is in the implicit allowance for the go-nowhere rebuttal "it just is."

The regressive horn isn't all bad either, but the problem is that at some point you'll just have to act falsely as though some proof that does require justification is an axiom.

Of course the circular horn is the worst, because circular reasoning is always inferior to non-circular reasoning, which is due to the fact that the circular horn of the Münchhausen Trilemma is the weakest of the three.
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Old 30th April 2013, 06:32 PM   #10
marplots
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There's a kind of reductionism that isn't linear which disperses into a fog, giving a rather exotic type of proof. You may start off with A and split that into B, C, and D, but then those also need to be reduced - and so on.

But it's even worse. The things you need in your new reduction soup have to be ranked, since some of them conflict. And then others may double back until you have a tangled mess.

The "proof" then lies in saying something like: "If the original thing were false, we've have hit a dead end by now. For that reason, because it seems so deeply connected with the rest of the Universe, we'll just say it's proved."

I think I shall call this, "proof by way of being too complex to grasp well enough to disprove."
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