Here is my rejected, somewhat amended, reply sent to
Newsday's Letters Editor Aug. 6, 1994).
Good teaching should, among other things, especially motivate students to learn how to use the tools and rules of clear, critical, and analytical thinking, how to ask penetrating questions, how to recognize nonsense language--particularly statements that are true BY DEFINITION or incapable of being verified--and when to demand verification of claims.
The term "meaningful knowledge" is redundant since a claim to knowledge that is not meaningful is not knowledge.
I heartily agree that "A world of the merely material is a world bereft of ethical value."
But, let us not forget, also, aesthetic, social, religious (as opposed to theistic), educational, cultural (Need I go on?) values.
We have no reason to believe that moral and ethical values existed at the time of the Big Bang any more than did a concept of gods, nor on earth, for that matter, until man appeared on the scene.
If one thinks that moral behavior is founded on absolute principles, he's naively or righteously living in a fantasy world of claimed theistic commandments.
The source of moral behavior is human not superhuman, therefore, absolute moral principles of morality do not exist.
First, "moral" behavior evolved, then, came "abstraction" of moral "principles."
We have every reason to assume that such values began to emerge as man evolved into a reasoning species which became aware of its needs and wants.
As the species continued to develop, its members discovered the need for cooperation.
Out of that cooperation, it was apparent that progress progressed more rapidly with amicable relationships giving rise to a concept of rights when conflict arose in personal wants, in turn giving rise to principles of behavior and then to laws.
But, what has all that to do with the verification of claims to determine their EPISTEMIC value as opposed to non-epistemic value?
It should not be difficult to understand that when a theistic claim such as, "There is a God," cannot be verified or falsified, that any talk about the existence of such a god, or any unverifiable claim, is sheer epistemic nonsense and that no amount of blind faith (acceptance in the total absence of evidence) can conceivably have any epistemic value.
Both of my critics used the very principle, verification, they so adamantly decried, in their ill-advised rush to verify the validity of their misplaced criticisms: "Positivism fails its own test since it is predicated on an act of faith that cannot be empirically (my emphasis) validated."
Acts of faith, particularly blind faith, can be verified to be blind faith when it can be shown that NO evidence for a claim, pro or con, is possible.
It is positivism that cannot be verified.
"Verification" must NEVER be equated with "Positivism."
And "empirical verification" should never be equated with "verification."
Nor should "reject" be equated with "rejecting a claim AS KNOWLEDGE."
Moreover, nowhere in the NEWSDAY article does the term 'empirical' appear either as a synonym for or as a necessary quality of "verification."
There are different kinds and degrees of verification.
Resorting to such straw man arguments have no legitimacy in issues of these kinds.
The scientific method should not be belittled by implying that its strength lies primarily in empiricism.
The scientific method involves art, math, theory, constructs, predictability, observation, faith (i.e., TRUST and CONFIDENCE in evidence) to mention only a few.
Apparently my two critics are unaware of the three uses of the term 'faith': 1) blind: absolute absence of evidence, 2) in spite of evidence, and 3) trust and confidence based on evidence.
We must never confuse blind faith, unwarranted belief, meaning, perception, conception, intuition, unwarranted claims, and language with knowledge.
If we do, then Jews are not human, blacks are subhuman, elephants grow on trees, and the gods of man's diverse religions are in their heavens dispensing goodies and committing the atrocities of Rwanda, terrorism, Nazism, the wars of man, the fires and mud slides of California and Nicaragua, and the inundating floods of the Mississippi.
Analytic philosophers recognize, or at least should, that the strength of the principle of verification lies not in whether it can be absolutely verified but, whether it can continue to be, in a self-corrective scientific fashion, applied as a tool in the pursuit of finding evidence for individual claims in the same way that mathematics, which does not in fact describe reality, is used as an excellent tool in dealing with the presumed material world.
It is this methodology, which is mandatory for a pursuit of truth and knowledge, that has brought respectability to philosophy so long bereft of rigor and self-discipline in the use of language.