When Dr Samuel Johnson had finished his great lexicography, the first real English dictionary, he was visited by various delegations of people to congratulate him including a delegation of London’s respectable womanhood who came to his parlour in Fleet Street and said ‘Doctor, we congratulate you on your decision to exclude all indecent words from your dictionary.’ Whereupon he said ‘Ladies, I congratulate you on your persistence in looking them up.’
Hitchens’ razor is an epistemological rule of thumb which asserts that any person who makes a claim about ‘the way the world is’ takes on the burden of proof for proving it is so.
The razor is usually formulated as follows:
What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.
It is a translation of the Latin proverb Quod gratis asseritur, gratis negatur (What is freely asserted is freely deserted). Near the end of the 20th century, the razor was revived and popularised by the British-Amercian journalist and author Christopher Hitchens, hence its modern name.
‘[…] when atomic theory was first proposed, it sounded pretty crazy. And yes, we call it ‘Atomic Theory’, using the scientific definition of theory, which is “a well-tested set of ideas that explains many disparate observations”, not the colloquial definition of theory, which is “a guess.” But luckily there’s no-one running around any more saying “atoms are just a theory.”
But it wasn’t that long ago that people were running around saying that. You want to know who settled it for good? Einstein! Atoms had been postulated for a long time by the 20th century, but it wasn’t until Einstein mathematically proved the existence of atoms and molecules in 1905 that the matter was truly settled. And you thought Einstein was all about relativity and E=mc2, he also proved atoms exist! Continue reading
Briefly put, positivism is the philosophical doctrine which states that the only authentic knowledge is scientific knowledge, and that such knowledge can only come from positive affirmation of theories through strict scientific method, refusing every form of metaphysics. There are five main principles behind positivism:
- The logic of inquiry is the same across all sciences (both social and natural).
- The goal of inquiry is to explain and predict, and thereby to discover necessary and sufficient conditions for any phenomenon.
- Research should be empirically observable with human senses, and should use inductive logic to develop statements that can be tested.
- Science is not the same as common sense, and researchers must be careful not to let common sense bias their research.
- Science should be judged by logic, and should be as value-free as possible. The ultimate goal of science is to produce knowledge, regardless of politics, morals, values, et cetera.
“But what use is the unicorn to you if your intellect doesn’t believe in it?” – Umberto Eco
“Odd that we live in a world where even objective truths count as controversial subjects.”
– Neil deGrasse Tyson
“True science teaches, above all, to doubt and to be ignorant.”
– Miguel de Unamuno
2 I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?
See other: Often Ignored Bible Verses
In order for institutions based on Lyotardian grand narratives to flourish, such as totalitarian regimes and organised religions, a certain amount of unquestioned belief is needed. Consider the following excerpts out of the preface to Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book, published in China as the Red Treasure Book in 1964:
‘Study the writings of chairman Mao, obey the words of chairman Mao and act according to the words of chairman Mao.’
– Lin Biao, Vice Chairman of the Communist Party of China 1958-1971 and Marshal of the People’s Republic of China (p. 5)
‘Over the past few years, the ‘Thinking of Mao Zedong’ has been dressed in the aura of the one and only universal truth. More so than the explicitly confessed Marxist-Leninism are the sayings and writings of Mao Zedong that are revered and studied, and are used by everyone from the professor to the melon salesman, and the marine engineer to the table tennis champion to achieve greater accomplishments.’
– Cornelis Schepel, Institute of Sinology, Leiden (p. 7)
 These citations were not featured in the original Chinese publication of Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book, but have been translated to English from a Dutch translation of Zedong’s most famous work, first published as Het Rode Boekje in 1967 by A.W. Bruna & Zonen and reprinted in 2005 by Forum.