The Nature of Knowledge

Dr. Binswanger's View of Logic

[NOTE: There are two chapters dealing with logic, "Logic and Reason," and this chapter. Since logic proceeds entirely by means of propositions the two chapters on propositions, "Propositions," and "Dr. Binswanger's View of Propositions," somewhat overlap and are closely related conceptually to those on logic. It is suggested the four chapters be read as close together as possible.]

I begin my comments on Dr. Binswanger's views of logic with this quote:

"Proof is a process of inference—deductive or inductive inference." [Page 22]

[NOTE: In logic, an inference is a conclusion that is true, determined by a correct process of reason from true premises, facts, or evidence. The colloquial use of inference meaning a hint or suggestion is not indicated here.]

There is no such thing as "inductive inference," and the purpose of logical inference is not "proof" but knowledge. The purpose of "proof" is to verify what is hypothesized is true. [See the section, "Observation, Hypothesis, and Falsifiability," in the, "Cause, Induction, and Mathematics," chapter.]

[NOTE: I've already addressed, "induction," in the chapter, "Cause, Induction, and Mathematics." Evolutionists, like Dr. Binswanger, desperately want to "prove" induction is a valid means of inference, because there is no deductive means of verifying the evolutionary hypothesis.]

Page 192 "The Three Laws of Logic"

Dr. Binswanger declares the three laws to be:

  1. The Law of Identity: To be is to have a specific identity. (A is A)
  2. The Law of Non-Contradiction: To have a given identity is to have no other (A isn't non-A)
  3. The Law of excluded Middle: Not to have a given identity is to have some other identity (What isn't A is non-A)
There is nothing wrong with Dr. Binswanger's formulation of these, "laws," but I think they are incomplete. I have addressed these "laws" directly in the chapter, "Logic and Reason."

Ayn Rand and Dr. Binswanger both fail to understand that to say A is A is fine, but it never addresses the obvious question it raises, "What is A?" The answer to that question is the foundation of ontology, and the key to epistemology. [Please see the chapter, "Ontology."]

"Logic and the Identity of Consciousness" [Page 195]

Dr. Binswanger's premise here is that the principles of logic must include, or recognize the nature of human consciousness to be correct. It is true human consciousness is a fact of reality that makes the human mind and the faculties of choice, reason, and intellect possible, without which there would be no logic, but consciousness does not determine what correct logic is. That would make logic subjective in nature, a kind of idealism. It is neither the limits of consciousness, "only a few distinguishable units can be held in on frame of awareness," or the fact of consciousness, "perception is the base of all conceptual cognition," that determine what correct reason is. The emphasis of this section is actually a bit of a mystery. [See the chapter, "Logic and Reason," for what actually determines correct reason.]

"Knowledge is based on data given in perception." [Page 197]

I am not sure what Dr. Binswanger means by "data" here. I think he only means knowledge begins with our identification of that of which we are directly conscious.

Whatever he actually means, (he does not say) the Objectivist view leaves out of all discussions of perception the entire world of interoception, that is, our perception of internal states and feelings. For a child, especially, and for all human beings, the perception of our physiological states and processes from indigestion, to balance, to physical desires, and all emotions are among the most important of perceptual consciousness, especially as they bear on how and what a child learns.

Dr. Binswanger does make the very important observation that knowledge has to be built "up" in a series of steps, because more advanced levels of knowledge can only be understood and learned in terms of previous knowledge. It is the neglect of this very basic principle that makes almost all so-called educational systems fail, and why so much in philosophy fails as well.

Dr. Binswanger addresses this concept more fully in the chapters, "Context," "Hierarchy," and, "The Spiral Process of Knowledge." He concludes there that all knowledge is hierarchical. While much knowledge is hierarchical, hierarchy is not the only structure of knowledge and all knowledge does not have to be learned in some hierarchical order. [See the section, "Note on Hierarchy and Learning," below.] Dr. Binswanger fails to observe that a child's early learning takes place at a furious rate, learning both concepts and ideas (propositional thoughts), not in, "great chunks," but in an ever accelerating stream of new ideas that is too fast for observation. That is the reason that children are constantly surprising adults with the things they say, always raising the question, "how does she know that; when did she learn it?"

"Now we are prepared to revisit the issue of fallibility. When a child forms his first concepts, the ones for perceived objects, though some mental effort of directed attention is required, the process is infallible; there is, for instance, no such thing as getting the concept "table" wrong." [Page 197]

This is totally wrong. I do not know if it is because Binswanger has no children, or just because he cannot think things through very well, but he actually uses examples of children differentiating tables from other objects and then finding a common measurable attribute among tables to form the concept "table." Remember that a concept is formed by the joining of a word to a definition, but even if the definition is implicit in a child's observation, where does the child get the word to join with that definition? Certainly r. Binswanger does not mean the child invents it. Binswanger's description of how children learn concepts is both impossible and naive.

Almost all of a child's earliest concepts are learned from adults. The child's earliest concepts of such things as a table come from hearing an adult use the word table when referring to the table, or even intentionally taught by an adult what a table is (as they do their nose, and ears, and mouth, and chin, and eyes, etc.). They could learn the concept table, if they had never seen another object of furniture, so long as they knew the word they heard and learned to say means the object that is, "the table."

Both Rand and Binswanger (and anyone else who blindly follows Rand, e.g. David Harriman, etc.) make the huge mistake of explaining how a child forms concepts which no child in the history of the world has ever formed. Children do not form concepts, they learn them from adults primarily, then from other children and teachers, then from reading, etc. It is very rare today for anyone to form their own concepts. [Except for concepts related to the fields of science, technology, the arts, human inventions, and taxonomy, almost everything else is already identified and learning means learning concepts and propositions already discovered and recorded. (I do not include all the pseudo-concepts spewing out of academia.)

The real problem with attempting to explain what concepts are by explaining how they are formed is similar to the problem of explaining what the world is in terms of cosmology, or what organisms or human beings are in terms of evolution. How something came to be does not explain what it is, and it is what concepts are, what the existents of reality are, what organisms are, what animals are, what human beings are that is what needs to be known, if any understanding of reality is to be possible, even historical aspects like cosmology and evolution.

[Some things, especially man-made things are best explained by how they are made. Food and some mechanical things are examples.]

"...there are two overarching facts about the nature of knowledge that we must adhere to: Knowledge is contextual and hierarchical." [Page 197]

Thus Binswanger introduces the next two sections. Before getting to them I want to make this note. I know Binswanger will not make this observation, but it needs to be made. Binswanger will not make the observation because Objectivism has no genuine ontology.

Both of these concepts, hierarchy and context, originate in the nature of existence itself. From the third corollary of the axiom of identity we know that everything that exists must have some relationship to everything else that exists. The relationship that any existent has to all of existence is its metaphysical context. This idea of a metaphysical context is basic to both the nature of perception and the true nature of cause.

Since human knowledge is about that which really exists, as it really exists, and existence itself is both contextual and hierarchical, human knowledge must also be contextual and hierarchical. Binswanger only deals with the context and hierarchy of knowledge, but the concepts are much more fundamental.

"Metaphysically, reality is an interconnected whole; not only are no contradictions in reality but also each existent is part of the same, causally interconnected universe." [Page 198]

He repeats here the absurdity that there are no contradictions in reality. Well, there are no agreements in reality either. Contradiction and agreement only pertain to propositions. Reality is just what it is.

This "reality is an interconnected whole" is true, but for Objectivists this is just an assumption. It would ultimately be self-contradictory to deny this assertion, but there is a reason why the assertion is true, and that reason requires an ontology to explain it. That is exactly what Objectivism does not have. It is the third corollary of the axiom of identity that is the reason reality is an interconnected whole. [See the chapter, "Ontology."]

"On the perceptual level, integration occurs automatically: one's brain automatically combines sensory inputs to present one with an integrated, global field of awareness embracing all sense modalities." [Page 198]

Here's magic again:

I have no idea why he calls the field of awareness, "global," (and what is wrong with the more classical, "field of consciousness," meaning everything one is simultaneously conscious of, i.e., perceives) or what he means by, "sense modalities," unless it is an attempt to evade the question of percepts (like color, sound, pressure, taste, etc.) or what he thinks the neurological sensory system contributes to consciousness.

The worst thing in this paragraph is the oft-repeated assertion that there is some kind of "automatic" mechanism or process performed by the brain that results in consciousness (in other places, he says consciousness of entities). Whenever one invokes some unidentified process or mechanism, especially one performed by the brain, it must immediately be asked, how one knows there is such a process or mechanism, and how one has any assurance that any such unidentified process produces a reliable consciousness of reality. How does such a process work? How does that magic process know which sensory inputs to organize with which sensory inputs to produce percepts of entities? Such a system would have to recognize entities from "sensory inputs" before the actual perception of such entities occurred, since it is the mechanism that makes them occur. It is impossible. [See the, "Perception," chapter.]

Now some dangerous ground:

"The network of knowledge has its base in a literal, physical network: the neural network of the nervous system. We must distinguish process and product in this regard. The process of grasping a fact is a mental activity; the storage of that grasp is accomplished physically, by some alteration of the neural network." [Page 199]

What Binswanger is apparently describing is how memory works, or at least part of how it works, the tiny bit that can be observed in the behavior of the brain. [If he is referring to anything other than memory, he doesn't say.] All that can be stored in memory, because it is a physiological phenomenon, are what one has been conscious of, and all that one can be directly conscious of is the physical, and one is conscious of the physical by means of the attributes (qualities) of the physical which are available to perception.

Binswanger's illustration is revealing. What he means exactly by, "grasping a fact" is not clear, but he calls it a mental activity, so I presume he means a conscious experience, but what kind is not clear. Normally, the metaphorical word grasp means, "understand," or even, "understand clearly and profoundly," but apparently Binswanger is using it to mean anything from just noticing to truly understanding some relationship, as he writes:

"When one brings together two or more items in one frame of awareness and grasps how they relate—such as that they are similar in a certain way or that one causes the other—that grasp, if intense enough, gets "saved to disk"—i.e., is encoded physically by a specific type of change in the brain. The stored and recallable grasp of a factual relationship is the stored knowledge, the knowledge qua permanent product."

What exactly, "when one brings together two or more items in one frame of awareness," means is anyone's guess. Does it mean to see them, imagine them, think them, or what? And what does "grasp how they relate," mean if such grasping has intensity. How is just a relationship, since that is what is grasped, "stored to disk?" Does what is stored to disk include the two or more items, or just the relationship?

If, "two or more items in one frame of awareness," means, "perceived at the same time," neither similarity or cause could be saved (or remembered) from that alone. Existents can certainly be similar and perceived at the same time, but perception itself does not identify any such similarity. The identification of similarity between things perceived is done epistemologically, not perceptually. To identify that two things are similar is only possible by means of a proposition. Once a similarity has been identified, we might say, oh yes, I can see those are similar, but we don't "just see" they are similar, we "just see" two similar things, and identify what we are seeing as similar mentally (intellectually, that is epistemologically).

"Since every fact bears some relationship to every other fact, however remote, one must work to integrate one's knowledge into a non-contradictory whole." [Pages 200-201]

Why integrate. This is the magic word of Objectivism. Everything is, "integration," as though whatever that means (no Objectivist ever actually defines it) it is the ultimate explanation of everything. Here's a principle, anything that is thought to explain everything, explains nothing.

If knowledge is "integrated" into some kind of "whole" it would be knowledge of nothing. One might think of one's knowledge as the sum of all one knows, but the knowledge itself consists of an indefinite number of distinct propositions. One does not want all of one's knowledge to be integrated into a single "whole" because it would mean the end of all the separate propositions that constitute that knowledge. There is nothing wrong with thinking of knowledge as a huge library that one can access any part of at will, but that metaphor only works so long as all the books in that library remain individual things. The "integrated into a whole" implies some kind of merging of all the elements of knowledge (the individual books in the library) into some kind of mystic whole (as though all the books melted down into a puddle that contained all the knowledge in all the books into some monolithic whole). [The Objectivist view of perception as being perception of entities as integrated wholes is the same kind of mistake.]

No integration is needed. It is only necessary that no contradiction ever be allowed in one's thoughts or beliefs (ideas one believes are true). It is not necessary to scan all of one's knowledge to ensure there are no contradictions, it is only necessary to never allow a contradiction between any of one's thoughts or beliefs, and whenever one is discovered to then find what wrong idea (proposition) is the source of that contradiction.


Dr. Binswanger discusses hierarchy on page 205. His emphasis is on the hierarchy of learning.

In learning mathematics, one must learn how to count before learning how to add and subtract. One must learn how to add and subtract before learning how to multiply and divide, and one must learn division before learning about fractions, and one must learn about fractions before learning about decimals. All of the previous must be learned before learning about powers and roots, and all of that forms the foundation for learning the basics of algebra. Then one is ready to learn about geometry, and after learning geometry, one is ready to learn trigonometry, and analytic geometry, both of which, together with advanced algebra are necessary for learning the Calculus.

This is not particularly important philosophically, because, as a principle, it does not much affect knowledge itself. This is more an issue of education and learning than philosophy.

"The hierarchical order may be A-G-C, but relating C back to A will nonetheless add to one's understanding of A. Here, I distinguish "understanding" from "grasp." The hierarchical order states the order in which items must be grasped. That means to grasp C, one must have already grasped B, which in turn required a prior grasp of A. But once a fact has been grasped, one's understanding of it can grow in all directions, expanding with each integration one makes to other items of knowledge, ever to the hierarchically later knowledge that it grounds." [Page 208]

Within the scope of one's knowledge one ought to be able to understand the relationship between the things one knows. One of those relationships will be hierarchical, in the sense, that earlier (more basic) knowledge is a prerequisite for learning later (more advanced) knowledge. But this is not always true.

Certainly organic chemistry and cell biology are fundamental to understanding human physiology, but that did not prevent real advances in medical knowledge before those fields were understood. Millions of people use computers today. They know how to use them and often a great deal about their parts and how to connect them together in networks, but have no idea what a logic gate, ALU, or shift register are, or what machine language is, what boolean algebra is or what the differences between binary, octal, and hexadecimal are, which are all fundamental principles necessary to the creation and function of computers and computer software.

Most of the computer languages I've ever learned I've learned piecemeal, often learning enough of some basic functions and how they work to begin writing programs, and learning the fine points of syntax (mostly from necessity because what I wrote wouldn't work). That will not work with a subject like mathematics, at least until one gets to the higher levels. It works fine with languages, which one can begin to use long before the fundamentals are fully understood.

The reason many things can be learned higgily-piggily is because there are no logical dependencies between parts of those particular bodies of knowledge. When such logical dependencies exist, it is impossible to learn those things which logically depend on other aspects of the knowledge without first learning those aspects the other parts depend on.

"A definition serves the function of isolating a concept's units, thus providing the concept with a specific identity." [Page 214]

Since concepts are the mental means of identifying existents, the only identity a concept has is, "the identifier of X," where X is the existent or class of existents the concept identifies and whatever word is the perceivable symbol for that concept. Dr. Binswanger perhaps means a specific "meaning" rather than identity. If that is what he means he should have said a concept's identity is a particular word with a particular definition. But he seems to mean something else, something to do with the function of the definition, which is to indicate what the referents of a concepts are, in which case it is a mistake.

The Rules of Proper Definition

On page Page 214 Dr. Binswanger discusses his "Rules of Proper Definition."

Rules of definition are a bit insidious. Whatever gets the job done is a good definition. So long as what a concept identifies is unambiguously clear, it is a good definition. Some principles of how things are best identified, and how ambiguity can be avoided are good, but they aren't rules. Rules are insidious because they suggest if one knows the rules, and follows them, they can never fail.

Binswanger's rules of definition are:

1. The definition must consist of a genus and differentia.
2. The definition must specify a group of referents in reality.
3. The definition must have the same scope as the concept that it defines.
4. The definition must state the fundamental distinguishing characteristics.
5. The definition must be a single, economical sentence.

There is only one class of existents that can be defined by the first rule—human beings. Human beings are the only known existents with a single differentia—the human mind.

Rule two lets out all fictional existents, like C.S. Lewis' Dufflepuds and Marshwiggles. [Although I've known some real-life people I strongly suspected were Marshwggles.]

I cannot imagine how rule three could be broken. It is the concept's definition that sets the scope of the concept. Perhaps he means the definitional scope must correctly identify all the existents and only the existents that are the same kind of existents.

Rule four is correct with the caveat, "within the scope of ones knowledge."

Rule 5 is wishful thinking. The principle is that a definition should be as concise as possible. If it takes six sentences, then it does.

If these "rules" were stated as general principles that ought to be followed as closely as possible, they could be useful for both identifying good and bad definitions, and, where necessary, of forming sound definitions.

But Rules? Really? Do we really need philosophers dictating rules?

The rest of Binswanger's discussion of definitions is useful for those unfamiliar with Rand's own discussion of these things.

"Every word, except proper names, denotes a concept." [Page 215]

Not quite. He's forgotten interjections, and some other rhetorical devices which are not concepts.

For Objectivists, including Dr. Binswanger, only universals are concepts. The are no particular concepts in Objectivist epistemology. Any word used to identify a single existent is regarded as a, "proper name," but not a concept.

This raises a huge question about the Objectivist view of concept formation.

"Concept-Formation. Similarity is the relationship between two or more existents which possess the same characteristic(s), but in different measure or degree. The process of concept-formation consists of mentally isolating two or more existents by means of their distinguishing characteristic, and retaining this characteristic while omitting their particular measurements—on the principle that these measurements must exist in some quantity, but may exist in any quantity. A concept is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s),with their particular measurements omitted." [Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, "Summary," page 83.]

Our direct perceptual consciousness can only be aware of whatever is immediately before us to be perceived. We can only be conscious of what is not directly before us by means of concepts. It is concepts that make it possible for us to hold in consciousness what we saw yesterday or weeks before. How then does one, "mentally isolate two or more existents by means of their distinguishing characteristic," if they are not directly perceived simultaneously, or have not yet been identified by means of concepts. How can one be conscious of anything for which they do not yet have a concept. How does one remain conscious of what is not presently available to be seen or heard or perceived in any other way? How does one compare the characteristics of things if they cannot see them, or recall them by means of concepts?

If we could only form concepts of categories or classes, i.e. universals, there would be no way to form any concepts except those rare concepts that could be formed on immediate consciousness of more than one existent of the same kind at the same time.

I have no idea why Objectivists dislike the idea of having concepts of individual existents. It is a mystery. A concept only identifies existents, either singly (particular concepts) or as categories or classes of existents (universals). If we can never have concepts of individual existents, it is mystery how we can have concepts of whole classes or categories of individual existents we could never identify.

According to Objectivism there are no such concepts as ENIAC, history, existence, reality, moon, sun, epistemology, geography or any individual galaxy, star, planet, or satellite. In Objectivism, sun, moon, Mars, earth, chemistry, equator, and Antarctica are not concepts.

"Because a deduction represents the application of general knowledge that one already possesses, the conclusion was(sic) implicitly contained beforehand in the generalization used. But the deduction is hardly in vain: The purpose of the deduction is to make the implicit connection explicit—i.e., to bring it into conscious awareness. Deduction draws to mind the implications of what one knows. Deduction makes the implicit explicit." [Page 255]

After a chain of reasoning has led to the discovery of a new idea or concept, it might be shown that the discovery is implied by whatever previous knowledge is used to make that discovery. Implied knowledge is not knowledge. The only sense in which knowledge is implied (without actually being knowledge) is in the sense that reality is what it is, and one's knowledge of reality implies everything else that can be known about reality. In that sense, all scientific knowledge is implied in our perception of the physical existence. Every discovery in the field of mathematics was implied in all of mathematics preceding the discovery. The Calculus is implied in algebra, trigonometry, and analytic geometry, but it was not known until Newton and Leibniz performed the heroic logical deductions necessary to discover it.

The danger of statements like Binswanger's is that it suggests knowledge resulting from the use of a syllogism is already there, and nothing new has really become known. It smacks of that fallacy that attempts to discredit propositions as tautological.

"The other type of inference is induction: the process of generalizing from particulars (or from the less general). Where deduction applies the more general to the less general, induction moves from the less general to the more general."

"Without induction, there would be no general premise for a deduction to apply. Deduction presupposes induction." [Page 255]

There is no such thing as induction. The source of general premises is not induction, it is concept formation and propositions formed with those concepts. The methods of concept formation are "observation" and "identification." [See the section, "Identification, Not Generalization," in the, "Cause, Induction, and Math," chapter.]

"To make a valid inductive generalization, one must know the operative causality (either perceive it directly or reach it conceptually). To generalize from 'This particular S is P' to 'All S is P,' one must know that this S is P because it is S, not because of some other fact about it. One needs to know that to be S is to be P." [Page 258]

But if one knows that to be S is to be P, it means that P must be the definition (or part of the definition) of what S is, and any non-P would simply not be an S. This is not inductive generalization, it is identification and definition, perfectly legitimate deductive processes.

[NOTE: I have fully addressed the fallacy of induction in the chapter, "Cause, Induction, and Mathematics," especially in the section, "Identification, Not Generalization."]

Logic Is Deductive, Not Inductive

I think Peikoff, Harriman, Binswanger and others who seem to have some compulsion to prove induction are afraid that deductive logic is always wider to narrower. But logic is only a principle of reason, not of knowledge itself. Our knowledge is formed by means of concepts which are identifications of existents. It's true there can be no contradictions in those identifications, but they may be as wide and as inclusive as one likes, as long as they are correct. There is no inductive logic, but there is conceptualization which is the only means we have of forming generalized (universal) concepts. The true relationship between the general and the specific is the formation of general concepts from observation; deduction forms specifics from propositions formed with those concepts. Conceptualization is a logical deductive process.

No concept is broader or more inclusive than the concept of existence, for example. Reality, which is equally inclusive, but more definitive, also includes everything that exists, with the insistence that its nature be specified. Every identification of real existents enriches one's understanding of the nature of reality and real existence, which are all related by the concepts of ontology. There is no problem of reason being limited by deductive logic being always wider to narrower, (which in fact is not always the case, see, "Reason and Logic,") since the widest of all possible premises is existence itself, which is all there is. There is nothing to reason about beyond reality. [The true nature of logic and what is mistakenly called "induction" are delineated in the chapter, "Logic and Reason."]

"Some ideas can be validated by direct perception, but other ideas require a multi-step process of validation: proof." [Page 261]

The purpose of proof is to ensure one's own beliefs and thinking are correct, and that what one supposes is knowledge is truly knowledge, that is, the truth, and not just credulity or superstition. Binswanger begins with a wrong view of proof.

What Is The Point?

Dr. Binswanger makes some statements that are true enough, but seems to intend something other than the obvious meaning of the statements. "Consciousness is an awareness of differences and similarities." [Page 265]

In the sense that existence is all the existents there are, and every existent must be different from every other existent and have some relationship to every other existent, that consciousness is awareness of difference and similarity is obvious. It is not, however, "awareness of differences and similarities," that is consciousness. Consciousness is the direct perception of the qualities of existents available to consciousness, and it is perceiving those perceivable qualities that is perceiving the entities they are the qualities of. It is also those qualities that make the entities similar and different. [See the chapter, "Perception."]

Here again is the meaningless statement Dr. Binswanger frequently repeats:

"Contradictions do not exist in reality." [Page 265]

We presume he means "metaphysical existence" by reality here. There are plenty of contradictions in reality since reality includes what human beings actually say, think, and do.

If it's metaphysical existence, then it is also true, "agreements do not exist in reality," either. Existence is just what it is. Contradiction and agreement are concepts about the relationships between ideas and have no meaning outside the context of human consciousness. They have no meaning in the context of metaphysical existence. Entities neither agree with or contradict each other, they simply are.

Perhaps Dr. Binswanger means there are no contradictions in a correct understanding of the nature of reality. That's true.

Certainty and Knowledge

"'Certainty' and 'knowledge' are closely related but distinguishable concepts. Knowledge is primarily differentiated from ignorance; certainty is primarily differentiated from states that are less than certain: the possible and the likely. 'Certainty' refers to the cognitive status of an idea, which means it is a purely epistemological concept; 'knowledge,' in contrast, has both a metaphysical and an epistemological component. To know something, it must be a fact, and one must have a mental grasp of that fact. 'Fact' is a purely metaphysical term: facts are facts whether or not anyone knows them or has any evidence of their existence." [Pages 271-272]

A fact is anything that really is: an entity, an event, an attribute, an idea, a phenomenon of consciousness (feeling, desire, or any other percept), or relationship. All real material phenomena are facts and metaphysical, but all real epistemological phenomena are not metaphysical, but psychological. "Facts are facts whether or not anyone knows them or has any evidence of their existence," is certainly true. No one has evidence of anyone else's psychological states (except for their testimony) but they are facts, nevertheless: they are what they are.

Since knowledge means knowledge of facts, what exactly does "certainty" pertain to. Knowledge is either knowledge or it is not. What is the psychological phenomenon that has degrees of certainty. A hypothesis might have a degree of certainty, or a conjecture might, or a suggestion might, but there are no degrees of certainty to knowledge. Any supposed "knowledge" that is not certain is not knowledge, but a supposition, an informed guess, or suspicion.

I think Binswanger might be alluding to the idea that one knows when they know something, that when an individual knows something they are certain of it. What must be avoided here is any suggestion that certainly can apply to contingent cases where every possible contingency is not knowable. I may know the car has been completely checked before the trip, and that everything is known to be in the best possible condition, but from that I cannot know it is impossible for me to have a flat tire during the trip.

[NOTE: He does not make it explicit, but if he can put over the idea that anything other than certainty can be called knowledge, he is in a better position to put over the idea of inductively derived, "knowledge." There is nothing wrong with hypothesizing, conjecture, or informed guessing, but they are not knowledge; they are all the so-called inductive method can produce.]

Certainty is possible about an infinite number of things, especially those that have been proved. Some such things are that heavier-than-air-flight is possible, that radio communication is possible, that jet engines are possible, that a rocket to the moon is possible, that anesthesia (painless surgery) is possible, that geo-stationary satellites are possible. I pick these because they are all things that in the past have been denied as being possible or provable, by scientists, academics, and philosophers. There is no more certain proof than the actual fact of what was thought unprovable.

[NOTE: What is known is known. There are no "degrees" of knowledge. There are suspicions, possibilities, probabilities, hypotheses, and guesses, both good and bad, but knowledge is absolute. If one is not certain of what they think they know, they do not know it, period.]

[NOTE: One source of the idea of, "degrees of certainty," is from the idea of the statistical. What is only statistical is not knowledge but possibility. No knowledge can be established statistically that is not one hundred percent. Science can only be established by certainty, not statistics, not hypothesis, not consensus, and not one's best possible guesses.]

[NOTE: Dr. Binswanger's willingness to accept the less-than-certain as knowledge, since knowledge is only knowledge if it is true, is a violation of the principle of the excluded middle. Please see the section, "Knowledge and Truth," in the "Logic and Reason," chapter.]

"The Law of Rationality vs. The Arbitrary"

[NOTE: Over the next four pages Dr. Binswanger argues that in "merely entertaining the arbitrary, one has suspended logic." His point is that the arbitrary is without evidence, and therefore no thinking can be based on it. Then suddenly, on page 282, he says the arbitrary is just ducky so long such ideas are not held to be true.]

"In reaching conclusions, consider all the evidence and only the evidence.

"Because evidence is the only means of gaining inferential knowledge, the rational mind accepts all that which the evidence shows, only that which the evidence shows, and only to the extent that it shows it. Only evidence—not someone's assertion, not feelings, not authority, not faith—can provide the basis for proceeding cognitively." [Page 278]

I have no quibble with that statement, but what is evidence? I'm not sure Binswanger actually says what evidence is, which would have gone a long way toward making this clearer. Because:

—everything is evidence of something

—how does one decide which evidence is pertinent to the case?

—how does one know when they have all the evidence or enough evidence?

[NOTE: Most of what is written in this chapter "Proof and Certainty" pertains more to reason, that is, correct thinking, than the nature of knowledge itself. Thinking is a fundamental to learning and gaining knowledge, and even concept formation, but it is not part of what knowledge actually is, though it is certainly an aspect of epistemology.]

"Let me make up a scenario in which there is zero evidence in support of an idea. Suppose the idea pops into your mind that you will inherit a fortune from some distant relative whom you have never heard about. I assume that the idea has no evidence to support it. That means it has no cognitive content. The notion does not fall on the evidentiary continuum. It is neither possible, nor likely, nor certain. It has no cognitive status. If such an idea is nonetheless asserted as being(sic) cognitive, it has an anti-cognitive status: arbitrary." [Page 278-279]

The first two meanings of arbitrary in most dictionaries are:
1. Determined by chance, whim, or impulse, not by necessity, reason, or principle.
2. Based on or subject to individual judgment or preference.

I point these definitions out because there is an aspect of epistemology that is arbitrary. The system of symbols used in any language, as well as the symbols used in mathematics and symbolic logic are arbitrary in the sense that they are not discovered, not based on necessity or principle, but someone's invention.

As long as I'm commenting on this paragraph I'll point out that people do not have ideas "pop" into their heads. As wild and meaningless as an idea might be, they do not happen spontaneously. There is a, "reason," for every thought anyone ever has, because thinking, like all other human behavior, is volitional; that is, it must be chosen or it does not happen.

Binswanger's whole point has been to demonstrate that just because one hypothesizes something that is not a metaphysical impossibility (there could be some relative I've never heard of who dies and leaves me millions) without any evidence whatsoever that it is so, it is not grounds for any level of likelihood (from completely unlikely to absolutely certain), which he calls the "evidentiary continuum."

Except for the teachings of college professors, those engaged in college dorm-room debates, and the extremely superstitious, this kind of reasoning mistake is unusual.

As for entertaining such ideas, there is nothing wrong with them at all. Much original thinking requires just such ideas to be formed—they are formed as hypotheses and conjectures or even as illustrations for one's own thinking, or in the case of Dr. Binswanger, as an illustration of what he calls a concept without cognitive content.

But such concepts are not without cognitive content. To form the example Binswanger uses one would have to know what a relative is, what an inheritance is, and what a fortune is, for example. Such hypothetical ideas are formed by a process called synthesis. They are usually formed conditionally with words like, "suppose ...," or, "what if ...," or "is it possible that ...," etc.

All creative thinking consists of such ideas. A book of fiction consists of almost nothing else. Every invention was first in someone's mind as a concept with, "no cognitive content," as Binswanger puts it, because before it has been invented, what the idea is about does not exist. There can be no "evidence" for what does not yet exist.

"The term 'arbitrary' does not refer merely to a state of ignorance but to ignorance taken as an epistemological license, as if the ability to imagine something made it cognitive." [Page 279] [See how this principle applies to evolution in the sections, "The Questionable Nature of Evolution," and, "Natural Selection," in the "Evolution," chapter.]

To use ignorance or the arbitrary alone as the basis for accepting something as true is always wrong, but the arbitrary itself is not the fault, but how it is used.

If all one ever knows or allows to be considered is what one already knows from evidence or from learning, there will never be another original thought or idea. "Epistemological license," is exactly what creative thinking is, it is the freedom to imagine anything, to suggest anything, to question anything to begin the process of discovering if the imagined, suggested, questioned thing is possible or impossible. How could anyone ever think of anything no one else has ever thought of if what has already been learned is all that is allowed. All thinking about the future is along the lines of, "if I do this what will happen? Could I do such'n'such? Would that work? etc." Thinking about the future is always empty of cognitive content because no one knows the future. No one can have evidence or knowledge of what is not yet.

"In merely entertaining the arbitrary, one has suspended logic, since logic deals with evidence." [Since when. I thought logic dealt with concepts. It would really help if he defined exactly what he means by "evidence."] Accordingly, logic cannot be used to guide what one does with the arbitrary. The anti-logical premise that admitted the baseless idea into consideration prevents one from knowing what to do with it, how to integrate it, and what it means or implies." [Page 280]

Dr. Binswanger says that the arbitrary needs to be rejected, but unless one identifies an idea as arbitrary, how does one reject it. Doesn't one have to use logic to understand an idea is arbitrary? As we shall see, Dr. Binswanger admits there are good uses for the so-called arbitrary, and those uses do require reason.

I think what Dr. Binswanger is trying to say is that synthetic ideas or the products of imagination must never be accepted as facts of either metaphysical or epistemological reality. It does not mean they definitely are no such facts, only that they cannot be known to be or to even possibly be.

Sometimes they are accepted as facts, or possible facts, and that is an epistemological mistake. In most cases, synthetic ideas and products of the imagination are recognized for what they are, and as such they actually are epistemological facts. So long as such ideas are held hypothetically, as ideas to be considered and accepted or rejected, as leads to new thinking or new ideas, they are perfectly legitimate and some of the most powerful of human thoughts.

So after all this, he agrees:

Page 282 "Again one needs imagination in regard to planning, self-motivation, literature, amusement, and other purposes; but in these cases one is not holding the imagined content is true."

He forgot invention, hypothesis, and all creative art.

Binswanger does this a lot in this book. He makes statements in nearly absolute terms, which as they stand are nonsense, then goes on with his argument in this vain for three or four pages, then suddenly, and out of the blue, changes the entire picture, as he does here. Now one has to go back and read the whole section within the context of this "new insight." Perhaps he is really a mystery writer. He certainly provides a lot of unexpected surprises.

"The Burden of Proof Principle." [Pages 286 through page 292]

Dr. Binswanger asserts there is no epistemologically legitimate reason for holding any idea as true without evidence. That is true, but he again fails to explicitly state what constitutes evidence. It is maddening. The best I can do is supply my own view of what evidence is. Whether Dr. Binswanger would agree or not, I do not know. I hope he would.

What Is Evidence

The two fundamental facts of reality are existence and our consciousness of existence. All we know or can know is derived from these two facts. All we can know is whatever we are directly conscious of and the fact that we are conscious, and all our knowledge is about the nature of that which we perceive directly, which is physical existence, and the fact we are conscious of it as living, conscious, rational beings. The basis of our knowledge is whatever facts perception presents to consciousness and the fact we perceive them, we can identify them, and we choose our actions in relationship to them. Those are the facts of reality that constitute evidence at the most fundamental level. All other evidence is derived from these two fundamental facts of reality, and nothing else, not belief, not feelings, not wishes, not hopes, and no authority are evidence of anything (except themselves).