Patrick Suppes


The slow but steady accretion of the case for an empirical view of all human phenomena calls for a revision of much thinking in philosophy that still retains unfortunate remnants needing the kind of critique that Kant gave earlier, but now applied to a wider circle of philosophical ideas. The purpose of this lecture is not to make a systematic analysis of principles of a completely general kind, but rather to give four extended examples of problems that have often been thought of in philosophy or in mathematics as not being really empirical in nature. They will be presented as naturally empirical from a psychological and a neural standpoint. The first example tries to bring out the empirical character of the ordinary use of the concept of truth, and the psychological methods by which the truth of ordinary empirical statements is assessed. The second example deals with beliefs, especially that of Bayesian priors. I find unsatisfactory the thinness of the psychological foundations that are provided, for example by the forefathers of the modern Bayesian viewpoint, Frank Ramsey, Bruno de Finetti, and Jimmy Savage. The third example deals with problems of rational choice and rational thinking in general. The deeper psychological account of how choices are actually made is a matter of extended psychological development of concepts not usually brought to bear on the theory of rational choice. Finally, in the fourth example, I set forth a psychological thesis about an important aspect of modern mathematics that is troublesome for many people. The purpose of this example is to stress the psychological nature of verifying—mind you, not discovering, but verifying—the correctness of informal mathematical proofs, which still dominates the practice of mathematicians. The topic of neural phenomena, in particular neural computations, comes last, and I will say no more at this point.


20th century philosophy; philosophy; philosophy of mind; Wittgenstein Ludwig; Bayesianism; computer science; philosophy of mind; proof; psychology; rationality; truth

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