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Lycan's Refutation of Verificationism

In Chapter 8 of Lycan he covers verificationism as a theory of
meaning. His third objection attempts to, it seems, discredit verificationism
not because it is wrong or logically unsound, but instead because it seems to be
too strong or overreaching in its endeavors as a theory of meaning.
Verificationism states that sentence's meaning is its verification condition.
This verification condition is a set of experiences, and these verifying
experiences are described in an 'observation language'. If the meaning of
observation is loosened to include 'directly observable characteristics',
verificationism collapses the meaning of sentences into the observational
evidence that is possible for those sentences completely. Lycan claims that
accepting this idea leads to a 'grotesque' instrumentalism of scientific
objects. Talk about indirectly observable phenomena like electrons or other
galaxies become abbreviated talk of complex sets of data modeling these things.
The verification condition for an electron, as it so tiny, is something
macroscopic in nature, like meter readings or vapor trails in cloud chambers.
Lycan's contention is that we seem to be talking about electrons, not merely
abbreviating our collected data on it. Likewise, philosophy of mind simply leads
to behaviorism as a theory - the mind, as an unobservable kind of phenomenon, is
instead abbreviated by our measurements of brain activity or their observable
behaviors.  Lycan thus concludes that our theory of meaning should not strive to
eliminate such major fields or collapse them so simply in one fell swoop.
Metaphysics should not be demolished so swiftly by something that seems to be an
evolved trait in humans. 

Lycan claims that this kind of extreme [1] reductionism is too
grotesque of a consequence to accepting verificationism, and it also seems - at
least, I infer from his feelings on the matter - that verificationism is simply
too strong of a theory of meaning if these are the consequences which we are
left with if it is the case that verificationism is true. He doesn't argue that
it is false directly, at least not in how the theory is structured, merely that
the logical conclusions we arrive at by following our theory does more work than
we should allow a theory of meaning to do.

I disagree with Lycan's assertion that this reductionism is grotesque.
Indeed, he points out that positivists, the main supporters of verificationism,
found this 'instrumentalism' importantly true. Indeed, I would argue that is
incredibly true that we cannot talk directly about the unobservable phenomena in
our universe with language. It seems that with things such as electrons we can
only capture what we know precisely about it with what we have determined
empirically or through our scientific observations. Prior to things like the
double slit experiment, for example, it wasn't known that electrons acted as
both particles and waves. In this way, I would claim that this feature of the
electron was not properly captured or conveyed in the language we used to
discuss them. It wasn't until this feature was established that we knew this of
electrons to say about them. Verificationism, thus, can't claim that things we
don't know about objects to be false, and so it's more about our knowledge of
things as it stands than what is true or false of these objects; it has the
ability to change as we learn more of things, and so it leaves open the
possibility that we could, in fact, determine things about the mind or further
metaphysical claims. 

Standard Form - Reconstruction

P1: Verificationism states that the meaning of a sentence is based on its
verification condition. 

P2: A verification condition is a set of experiences. 

P3: These experiences are based on observations of objects and, more loosely,
directly observable characteristics of objects. 

P4: These observations are reduced to subjective experience, and this loose
understanding leads to a revisionist view of many fields - science, philosophy
of mind, metaphysics, etc. 

P5: A theory of meaning should not settle all of our major theories all in one

C: Verificationism is too strong a theory of meaning. 

Standard Form - Comment

P1: Things not directly observable are discovered and learned about through
empirical tests. 

P2: We therefore only verify their existence after observing them. 

P3: We only know as much about them as we have observed. 

P4: The nature of the object is only established in what we have determined of

P5: We can only speak about what we know of them. 

P6: The thing that we have observed that is dubbed an 'electron' is collectively
referred to by what it is we know is true of it. 

P7: This instrumentalism captures entirely the things we know of objects and is
how we are able to speak of them. 

P8: It doesn't claim that things are false that we don't know of objects. 

C: The verificationism theory of meaning does not eliminate topics, then, but
merely refuses to allow us to speak about them until the requisite experiences
are had. 


[1] Lycan doesn't claim verificationism to be reductionist outright, but it
seems like it isn't something he would shy away from.


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