Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Principles of Evidence

[Author’s note: this is the fifth in a series on the process of reason and rational thought],.

First a summary of what we have established up to this point.

The First Principles are the axioms upon which reason and rational thought are based; these are known to be true by inspections and cannot be proven either true or false using materialist techniques (empiricism).

Reason requires intellectual integrity and rigor. Objectivity must be maintained and agendas shed.

Reason abdicates rationalization which reifies a conclusion and creates support for it. Reason insists on a conclusion drawn from sufficient and necessary premises to cause that conclusion, regardless of the emotional desirability of the conclusion.

Reason is enabled as a human capability by innate faculties of apprehension, discrimination and judgment, which taken together we might (and will for our purposes) call “discernment”.

Now we need to consider what we might allow to be “valid” evidence in support of premises for a conclusion, and what we might consider to be “non-valid” evidence.

What Is Evidence?
Humans have long employed theories of evidence. These have been fundamental to both philosophy and to legal systems. I have pointed out elsewhere that all it takes to be a philosopher is to deny all previous philosophies and then whip up one of your own. So there is little agreement philosophically on any issue, down to the denial of our very existence. But legally there is a better basis.

Legally speaking,

“There are four traditional types of evidence: real, demonstrative, documentary, and testimonial.”

1. Real evidence is material in nature; empirical.

2. Demonstrative evidence illustrates the testimony of a witness:

Typical examples of demonstrative evidence are maps, diagrams of the scene of an occurrence, animations, and the like. Because its purpose is to illustrate testimony, demonstrative evidence is authenticated by the witness whose testimony is being illustrated. (ibid)

3. Documentary evidence is real evidence in the form of say, a contract, and is verified by a witness or a chain of possession up to a witness.

4. Testimonial evidence is direct witness statement. Testimonial evidence is the most basic form of evidence and the only kind that does not usually require another form of evidence as a prerequisite for its admissibility(ibid)

A witness is said to be competent if:

“In general, a witness is competent if he meets four requirements:

1. He must, with understanding, take the oath or a substitute. Evid. Code §§ 710, 701; Fed. Rules Evid. 603.

2. He must have personal knowledge about the subject of his testimony. In other words, the witness must have perceived something with his senses that is relevant to the case. Evid. Code § 702; Fed. Rules Evid. 602.

3. He must remember what he perceived.

4. He must be able to communicate what he perceived. Evid. Code § 701(a)(1).

Why is this important to the concept of Reason? As we will see, evidence is not as easily pinned down as one might think.

Material and Empirical Evidence
The legal designations of real, demonstrative, and documentary are all forms of physical evidence. For our purposes here, these three will be lumped together under “material and empirical” evidence. Forensic evidence combines instances of material evidence with testimony. So we can reduce the categories from the four legal categories to two: (a) material and empirical evidence; and (b) testimony.

We have previously established that empiricism itself is based on the axioms of the First Principles. For example, empiricism depends upon cause and effect to be valid; that it be valid for all times and places in the universe; that existence and fact not ever be partial. These are the principles that cannot be reduced or tested, yet are known to be valid; they are axiomatic to reason, empiricism, and logic.

So empirical evidence, while demonstrated physically and repeatably, relies on non-provable “truths”, in Locke’s words: “intuited”, as implicit axioms.

The very definition of empiricism insists that the material cause of the material effect be repeatable. But no effect can be verified by experiments repeated everywhere and at all times; so it must be assumed to probably be valid (if it is not falsified at some point). So empirical evidence is probabilistic in nature. It is never certain beyond any possible refutation.

And empiricist David Hume observed that the constant conjunction between a certain cause and a certain effect in no way guarantees a future such conjunction. This is a verification of sorts of the probabilistic nature of empirical findings. However, Hume agreed that cause and effect, while not certain in his mind, is a “useful construct”. In fact, despite Hume’s concerns, it remains a First Principle because no falsification of it is possible; the failure of a particular proposed “constant conjunction” would merely mean that it does not represent a law of nature, not that the principle of cause and effect has failed.

Non-material and Non-Empirical Evidence
If the First Principles are believed to be valid - and they must be if empiricism is to be considered valid - then valid truths can be known outside the realm of materialism and empiricism. This is a radical thought to Philosophical Materialists and Logical Positivists who reject any thought of any possible existence beyond the physical material world. For them, reality stops at the end of the physical. Metaphysical reality is rejected.

But this rejection of the obvious leads directly to the logical downfall of such ideologies.

First, the rejection of the validity of the First Principles leads straight and immediately to anti-rationalism, as Friedrich Nietzsche proved. This removal of the basis for rational thought collapses logic into a subjective gumbo of personal opinions based on no absolute foundation whatsoever. Without logic based on the First Principles, contradiction, paradox and non-binary logic become acceptable modes of thought.

Second, the concept of a “philosophy” is itself non-material, having no length, width, breadth or mass. So a non-material philosophy that requires that only material entities exist, self-refutes and dies a death of non-coherence and paradox. The idea that science, a material pursuit, produces axiomatic truth is false.

Witness Testimony
Now where does witness testimony fall into the realm of rational evidence? Just as is indicated in the legal evidence shown above, credible witnesses can be thought to produce credible testimonial evidence. But what makes up the spectrum of credibility?

Again the integrity of the witness and the coherence of the testimony are the metrics by which such credibility might be judged. But while the coherence of the testimony can be judged using rational, absolute standards, what standards are available for determining the integrity of the witness? Beyond the legal requirements stated above for witness credibility there are other tests for filtering out non-credible testimony:

Negative attributes:
1. Personal irrationality or insanity.
2. Personal agenda to be served.
3. Denial of absolutes.
4. Rationalization instead of Rational thought process.
5. Denialism and fallacious premise usage; acceptance of non-coherent and/or paradoxical premises.
6. Persistent combativeness instead of striving for a common goal of truth.

Positive attributes:
1. Witness values virtues of integrity, rigor and truth.
2. Testimony is internally coherent.
3. Testimony is externally coherent with the basic First Principles.
4. No disjunction between testimony and sensate or physical evidence.
5. Falsifiable, but not falsified.
6. Multiple witnesses are in substantial agreement on the fundamentals.

Some agendas would have all witnesses in a certain category denied, merely on the basis of rejecting the category. This is non-rational. Everyone is obliged at some point to accept witness testimony: on the news; on scientific breakthroughs; on family occurrences; on historical accounts; in a distributed workplace. All these and many others require a deference to the presumed and probable validity of witness testimony.

Testimony may be rejected on the basis of lack of integrity of the witness; lack of coherence of the testimony; falsification through contrary physical evidence or contrary witness testimony; agenda driven testimony.

But when should evidence be rejected due only to the incredulity of the observer? How should probabilities of the validity of the testimony be weighted? Is it rational or “reasonable” to reject testimony to a truth that is metaphysical (such as the First Principles)?

Observers can be agenda-driven also, and can reject on the basis of presuppositions and prejudice rather than on the rational attributes of coherence, integrity etc. This is probably the most error prone portion of the evidentiary process. Yet it can be overcome by applying the same rigor and integrity that is required of the witness.

But objectivity can only happen if the observer is open to the rigorous pursuit of truth, whatever that truth is, outside the influence of prejudice, presuppositions and agendas.

Notes of interest:
As seen below, all evidence is probabilistic, except axiomatic evidence. In other words, only the metaphysical First Principles are certain, and known to be true. Also there are untruths that are used in agenda-driven thought that are false axioms. Some of these are shown below also.

Evidence characteristics:
1. Empirical evidence: probabilistic / physical
2. Testimonial evidence: probabilistic / physical or metaphysical
3. Axiomatic evidence: tautological (certain) / metaphysical

False axioms (agenda-based or false philosophy-based ):
1. Science can reveal all truth.
2. Reality is totally physical.
3. There is no first cause.
4. Science entertains no beliefs or belief system.
5. Certain scientific “theories” are settled and may not be questioned.
6. The human mind is deterministic.
7. Nothing is absolute [including this “axiom”].
8. Absence of evidence is evidence of absence.

An example of an agenda-driven thought process:

“Rudyard Kipling asked how the leopard got its spots, the rhino its wrinkled skin. He called his answers "just-so stories." When evolutionists try to explain form and behavior, they also tell just-so stories—and the agent is natural selection. Virtuosity in invention replaces testability as the criterion for acceptance.”
Stephen Jay Gould (1980)

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