The Basics of a Theory of Knowledge

Kant V. Hume - Hume's Fork

A Basic Theory of Human Knowledge:

A Theory of Human Knowledge and Understanding; A System of Concepts, Logic, Reasoning, Relations, and Categorization

We present a basic theory of human knowledge to help illustrate some essentials of “what we can know” and “how we can know it.”

An Introduction to Ontology and Epistemology

The study of what we can know is called “epistemology,” it is a branch of philosophy that deals with logic, reason, truths, argumentscategorization, and such. The whole ends of epistemology is to better understand what we can know using logic and reason.

To understand what we can know, we have to also consider the nature of being (and non-being and change) and the corresponding basic categories of being and their relations. The study of being is called “ontology.”

In other words, to have a theory of knowledge we have to trace reality, to our conception of reality, to our mental processing of reality and ideas, to the language we use to communicate and work with propositions, to the rule-sets we use to categorize and work with all of this. Thus, to practice epistemology we have to practice ontology.

In sum, epistemology and ontology are branches of philosophy which focus on “what we can know,” “how we can know it,” and “how we can categorize that knowledge.”

Thus, this page presents “a basic theory of epistemology (and to some extent ontology) that focuses on the logical categorization of concepts related to reality, human experience/understanding/knowledge, and their relations.”

A Summary of a Theory of Human Knowledge and Understanding

Although there are some clear fundamentals, there is no one way to start talking about human knowledge.

Given that I’ll simply list out some important concepts in roughly a chronological order to start. In terms of getting from point A to point B in the “what we can know” conversation, we want to consider:

  • The concept of abstractions, contradictions, and dualities (from the 1 comes the 2, comes the range of middles between; from the thesis the antithesis, from those the synthesis).
  • The concept of being, non-being, and change (to categorize what we can know, we must understand what is possible). Any epistemological system of logic must begin with an ontological system of categorization. To determine what we can know via human experience, we must consider reality in its totality first.
  • What exactly human knowledge, understanding, and experience are, and how this leads to concepts/terms… and how reality, conception, thought, language, and communication relate when talking about ontological and epistemological truth.
  • The foundation of logic and reason (terms/concepts, logic/judgements, and reason/inferences), and the related physical neurological systems of sensory (observation), short term (storage of a few things and “working with them”), and long term memory (storage of all things, the connections between them, and working with them).
  • The fundamental dualities of empiricism (what we can sense) and rationalism (what we think), the related material (physical objects) and the formal (the non-physical), the related concepts of certainty and probability and objectivity and subjectivity (and the related flavors of probability), and the fundamental four categories or classes of physical (being), mental (thinking), ethical (action), and moral (feeling) that arise from this. I.e. to consider some categorical classes which properties, concepts, judgements, and arguments fall into.
  • The different types of reasoning that can be used to work with reason and logic (inductive, deductive, and abductive and other complex types)…. and how different types of sensory experiences and rational ideas form the basis of properties, concepts, judgements, and arguments and how we can determine truth-values and probabilities based on this (by understanding the categorical properties of these things when working with them in propositions).
  • The relations of terms and the anatomy of an argument (how terms like subject terms and predicates relate in propositions, and how propositions become premisses and conclusions).
  • Classifications for types of concepts, judgements, and inferences and their relations.
  • The argument forms like the syllogism, and some related aspects of thought like analysis (where we break a complex thing into parts) and synthesis (where we consider how parts connect as systems and how systems and parts relate).
  • The nature of the types of truth and purveyors of information.
  • And the models and theories we can create knowing all of this.
  • And more.

The problem is therefore less about what to talk about and more about a logical order to place these interlaced and often equally important bits of information into.

With all that said, it makes sense to start back at the beginning and focus on the question “what is Human Knowledge,” and then to let things unfold from there as we reintroduce the basics we just noted above and categorize things along the way.

An Introduction to the Cannons of Epistemology and Ontology: The theory below (which is still in the works) is my own synthesis of past theories from philosophers like Hegel, Mill, Kant, Hume, Locke, Aristotle etc. You should not use this as a cheat sheet for a test, as part of the theory is unique (it is a synthesis of many theories, not an attempt to recant Kant purely).[1][2][3]

Reading: To supplement this see the works on logic, knowledge, understanding, and categories of all the aforementioned philosophers or crack open a 101 book on logic and reason. For Hume’s argument, see: Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume and his Enquiry Concerning Morals. For a summary of Kant (who offers a rebuttal of sorts of Hume) see Understanding Kant for the super simple version, or for a full version see Kant’s theory of knowledge by Prichard, H. A. (Harold Arthur), or, if you are up for the challenge, see Kant’s own Critique of Pure Reason, and his Fundamental Principles [AKA Groundwork] of the Metaphysic of Morals (those are the two main works on which this theory is based, consider reading the first part of each). For Hegel and Locke, see their works on logic. For Mill, see his work on Comte and his System of Logic. This all relates back to conditional reasoning forms like Syllogisms and the concept of categorization by the Greeks, and generally to most epistemological theories of the great thinkers; So see also Aristotle’s Categories for some roots and see categories from the Stanford Encyclopedia. TIP: Also check out Deductive Logic by St. George William Joseph Stock, which I cite liberally on this page (it was laid out in a really… logical and simple way, plus it is free to read online).

Reality, Process, Product, and Language

If one wants to categorize everything (in an effort to figure out “what we can know” and “how we can know it”), they need to define what “everything” means. So let’s do that.

  1. The first level is reality: that is what is independent of human experience. This is the ontological study of reality.
  2. The next level is dependent on the human experience: 2.1 That is our ability to sense reality as it is (process), 2.2, our thoughts/conceptions about that (product), and 2.3 the language we use to discuss the product and process (language). This is essentially the epistemological study of terms and concepts as it relates to reality (where each term, real or imagined, is a set of properties, real or imagined). This category bridges the gap between what-is independent of our experience and all that the human mind can know theoretically.
  3. The next level is a study of the truth of the language as it pertains to the product, process, and reality: This is where epistemology and logic and reason come in (they, combined with ontology, study our first two points). This is essentially the epistemological study of logic and reason as it relates to all the aforementioned. This level contains human knowledge.

A given system may address parts of all three levels, or one level specifically, it depends on the purpose of the system. Our system will aim to categorize all these systems under one system. As, to understand human knowledge, we must account for the other systems.

NOTE: One could argue a base level of reality includes all that is, isn’t, and could be. It is all actual and potential. Only what is, is…. however, the absence of something and the potential of something are valid parts of reality on a very fundamental level.

What is Human Knowledge, Understanding, and Experience?

With the above said:

  • Human knowledge is all that can be known (in any respect), either from direct human experience or from rationalization. Having knowledge.
  • Human understanding is what can be understood (in any respect) by rationalizing based on what is known (the comparison, contrasting, and analyzing of things and ideas). Detecting Patterns.
  • Likewise, human experience is everything we can experience directly with the senses or via rationalization and imagination. Perception.

For our theory, we will consider all “human knowledge, understanding, and experience” (everything below) as “human knowledge” (i.e. what we can know or understand, in any way, with any degree of certainty).

Simply put, from conceptualization, to rationalization, to imagination, to observation, anything we can process or store in our grey matter, for our purposes, it is human knowledge.

With that said, reality is not our perception of reality, reality is a larger system that includes our perception of it. Thus, we need to dip a toe into ontology to provide a basis for our epistemological theory of knowledge.

TIP: To consider all human knowledge we have to consider reality -> our perception of it -> how we understand it -> how we convey ideas to others and act. So a concept is a perception and rationalization of reality, then when we form that concept into a sentence that sentence and all its formal and informal meaning becomes human knowledge. If the subject of all this is “a rock,” we might use the words “concept” and “rock” to describe the reality of the rock, our perception of the rock, our rationalized ideas about the rock, or we might use “rock” in a sentence. This makes categorizing complex, but… but better to account for it as we move toward dealing with the truth behind propositions than ignoring it and being confusing.

An Introduction to Ontology Abstraction and Contradiction (the Nature of Reality)

Fundamentally there are three things to consider in the universe, they can be denoted in Plato’s terms as: 1. non-being, 2. being, and 3. the difference or change between non-being and being.

Here we aren’t trying to see this from a human perspective, we are just trying to denote the system of reality that humans are a part of.

Assuming this is true in general for reality, then this is true for all levels (as above so below as they say), including the one at the center of our conversation: mind/body duality. Thus, be we discussing the nature of reality or the subject term of a proposition, we are essentially always either discussing being (the material), non-being (the formal), or the in-between.

  1. Material reality/knowledge, which concerns some physical object (i.e. that which we can confirm directly via the senses or measurement; even if only theoretically), or
  2. Formal reality/knowledge, which is that which is not physical object (that which has no properties). In human experience it is that which pays no attention to differences between objects, and is concerned only with logic and reason (i.e. that which we can’t confirm directly with the senses or measurement; like an idea).
  3. The in-between, which concerns any mix of the above (anything from human action or entropy, which is change, to a physics equation or the concept of spacetime, which is rational knowledge that speaks to the real; this category includes both imagined ideas not grounded in reality and ideas grounding in reality about things like relations and non-being, time and space being examples… since this category is complex, we will subdivide below, but for now, it can be seen as the inevitable space between being and non-being in a world that isn’t static).

Simply, the nature of reality is that we are either talking about a thing (and its changes), a lack of a thing, an idea (related to things or not), or a mix (a concept which has both physical and metaphysical properties) when we talk about anything possible in the universe including that possible to the human experience or related to it.


  • Primary Category of reality: being-nonbeing-change.
  • Primary Category distinction: 1. Non-Being, 2. Change, 3. Being

Thus, all our categories moving forward will relate to this fundamental category of ontology (this being one way to express a fundamental category; there is no one agreed on way, that caveat generally applies to the entire page).

By starting with the simplest classes of thing, we can then consider the endless complexity that arises (as it relates to ontology and epistemology and even more complex systems)…. and indeed, this is where Aristotle was going with his Categories, what mathematics shows us with fractals, and what physics shows us with quanta.

With that noted, to avoid getting overwhelmed with complexity, we can/should/will categorize the basics of human knowledge as they relate to this basic category of reality beyond human experience.

Moving on, let’s consider the basics of how we move from reality to our simple conceptualizations of it to complex thoughts.

TIP: There may be things in reality that we can’t or haven’t experienced or understood. These things are “reality,” but aren’t “human knowledge.” We can’t categorize or consider something no one has ever thought of. This means the study of being has some limitations that the study of “what we do know” does not. Thus, the main focus below will be a system based on what we do know and can potentially know; not a system based on a perfect system of reality as it is beyond our perception of it.

An Introduction to Conception (The Human Experience and its Relation to Reality)

To know something we must first conceptualize it, to conceptualize something we must be able to observe or imagine it. To observe or imagine something is to denote a set of properties (real or imagined).

The second we start observing reality we introduce rationalization, intuition, and conceptualization… and thus human knowledge contains that which is only loosely real (like imagined ideas).

With that in mind, we can call the simplest bits of information we can know (empirically or rationally) “properties” or “attributes” (like the physical property “green” or “big” or the metaphysical properties “happy” or “just”).

Then we can call any collection of properties a “concept” (which we can, and often do, call “a term”).

So what is a concept? It is simply a collection of attributes/properties.

What is a property? Physically it is quanta arranged in relation to each other, rationally it is the impression of a sensation or an idea (arising from physical stimulus of any sort or the imagination).

How can we know concepts and therefore terms? There are two generally ways (although both are informed by our external and internal senses):

  1. Intuition describes anything that can be understood immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning (whether it arises internally, like an emotion, or externally, like a rock).
  2. Conceptualization describes anything that requires some degree of rationalization (like a happy rock).

With that in mind, all concepts/terms can be placed in categories based on its properties, for cases where a term is part rational and part empirical, like a happy rock, we can place it in a mixed category (more on that below).

All terms can also be compared together, when we compare terms it is called “logic and reason.”

TIP: The theory that says everything is simply its properties is Hume’s “bundle theory.” This theory paired with our theory answers many of the arguments people have against bundle theory… but like any other concept on this page, it is theory and there is room for debate.

TIP: Humans can’t have new ideas without input. Speaking loosely, we can say “there are no new ideas” just copies, transformations, and combinations based on what we perceive from others, the world around us, or from our own transformations, combinations, and relations of ideas. We can imagine a happy rock, but we can’t imagine something completely beyond any experience, we rely on sensory input and analogy to reason. Anything we can imagine or sense, property, concept/term, judgements, complex idea, all of this is human knowledge. In this sense it is all rooted in reality (even pure imagination).

NOTE: When writing a logical sentence (a proposition) we can denote properties and concepts, saying “the cat is black” for example. However, if we want to know about more complex things we have compare concepts. Saying “the cat is an animal” is true, but it is tautological. Animal is a property of a cat. Since all concepts have properties, and since many concepts share properties, we can categorize concepts and properties based on their commonalities. The simplest category, the ontological one above, is “being,” “non-being,” or change. The cat is a substantive property (it is a thing that naturally has properties), “black” is not, it is a property.

TIP: In common language we can call much of what has been noted so far “concepts,” that is a problem of the english language, not the theory (this is why philosophers tend to coin new… terms). In logic and reason many oddities of language exist, don’t let it throw you off course.

An Introduction to Logic and Reason (Dealing With Reality as Concepts)

We can categorize all of human knowledge (specifically the processes and products of thought) into three categories, denoted as terms/concepts, logic and reason, where:

There are three processes of thought (what is happening when we think):

  1. Conception (any rationalized or observed/perceived conception of a thing)
  2. Judgement
  3. Inference

Corresponding to these three processes there are three products of thought (once we have thought we get):

  1. The Concept (any concept related to any of the categories).
  2. The Judgement.
  3. The Inference.

When the three products of thought are expressed in language (when we express our thoughts, they are):

  1. The Term (the actual words we use to describe things).
  2. The Proposition.
  3. The Inference.

Then this relates to the idea that:

  1. The concept is the result of comparing attributes (or properties; like greenness, roundness, etc; an object/concept/thing is essentially just a collection of properties).
  2. The judgement is the result of comparing concepts.
  3. The inference is the result of comparing judgements.

And likewise (to phrase the same thing in different words):

  1. The term is the result of comparing attributes.
  2. The proposition is the result of comparing terms.
  3. The inference is the result of comparing propositions.

In other words, there are three categories of logic which can generally be expressed as:

  1. Conception (the process form) -> Concept (the product form) -> Term (language form). This category can be expressed as Terms / Concepts. Terms or concepts are symbols that represent simple impressions or complex rationalizations that exist as subjects and predicates when used in statements. Ex. Socrates, men, or mortality.
  2. Judgement (the process form) -> Judgement (the product form) -> Proposition (language form). This category is Logic / Propositions. Logical judgements or propositions are statements about things and ideas that compare terms to seek understanding. Ex. Socrates (subject) is a man (predicate), and all men (subject) are mortal (predicate).
  3. Inference (the process form)  -> Inference (the product form) -> Inference (the language form). This category is Reason / Conclusions / Inferences. Reasoned inferences are the determinations made from the pairing of many judgements and terms, and once a good theory is hashed out, it can be given a name (a symbol; a term). Ex. since Socrates is a man (judgement #1) and since all men are mortal (judgement #2), therefore Socrates is mortal (inference). Ex. 2. And now we can call this inference “Plato’s Syllogism,” now when we say “Plato’s syllogism” we know we are talking about this whole series of logic. This can be called “giving names to things.”

From here we can go in a number of directions, discussing every aspect of logic and reason, classifying things, and noting how the certainty of our inferences will depend on what type of information we are dealing with.

Then, eventually, the exercise of doing this will result will be an ability to tell truth, half-truths, opinions, theories, and other types of knowledge from each other… and will thus answer the questions, “what can we know and how can we know it?”

With that said, there are some other fundamentals we need to cover first. Namely, we need to think about what classes of concepts, statements, and inferences there are. This will give us a more complete foundation to move forward with.

TIP: Below we will cover “the categories” these are categories in which we can place all properties, concepts, judgements, and terms to get a sense of what ontological and epistemological properties they will have. Generally as humans we can’t fully trust our senses or our rationalism, thus there is a inductive nature to everything we know. Still, by following an ordered system of logic we can find very useful knowledge about things and determine truths to a high degree of certainty.

TIP: What we are dealing with here is generally analogous to the formal system of mathematics, where a small series of symbols can produce the whole of mathematics. There is really nothing more than a two-way split of empirical and rational and then the concept of pairing concepts and making judgements and drawing inferences and then coining new terms. Thus, human knowledge as a system is comparable to any simple system that gets complex quickly, such as the physical system of quantum physics, where there are only a few core properties, like a negative and positive charge, mass and energy, cause and effect, and where from the relations of these things the universe from that arises.

NOTE: If we say “happy rock” the subject “rock” informs us that the proposition is about a rock… and therefore we are either speaking in metaphor or being absurd or discussing imagination. If I say “the seat of the water is hard,” it is a hint i’m making a categorical mistake (that i’m trying to relate categories that don’t relate), or it is a hint that I’m using metaphor or being absurd or talking about fantasy. Context is very important when discussing logic… but when discussing human knowledge, we have to come to terms that we can know an absurd concept like “happy rock” in all its meanings and forms. Language is a formal (and informal) symbolic system, so when we speak in the language form (and stop denoting reality and logical systems) the subject of human knowledge gets very tricky to deal with in formal terms.

The Fundamental Dichotomy of Human Knowledge

The next step in our basic theory of human knowledge will be to discuss basic classes which we can categorize all properties, concepts, statements, and inferences under.

To do this we will consider the fundamental duality of “mind and body,” or rather of “rational and physical.” That is, what we can know through rationalization and what we can know through direct experience and observation!

All concepts (and therefore all logical statements and inferences) will at their core deal with either the rational, physical, or a mix.

Thus, while we can add infinite complexity, we will always simply be dealing with the core processes/products of thought and our “two pronged” class of rational and physical (and the mixes that arise from these fundamentals).

Likewise, we will always be able to relate all this back to the idea of abstraction, contradiction, and duality.

These aspects are the core of our physical experience as humans, and that is therefore they are necessarily the core of logic, reason, and epistemology. It isn’t any more complex than that at the core, however, from this simple rule-set, endless complexity arises (especially in terms of relations).

TIP: Here we are working with fundamental classes or categories. Like with logic and reason, a full discussion of “the categories” is going to go far beyond a few fundamental classes. The goal here is to start simple.

The Rational and Physical: Our Two Fundamental Classes

In general, although there is perhaps other ways to phrase this and other models to build, the following propositions are true:

  1. As we said above, human knowledge is everything that can be known for sure or understood or experienced to any degree (even if only theoretically).
  2. There are two ways to know things, via experience and/or thought.
  3. All knowledge that we can know directly via our senses is empirical, and all knowledge that we have to imagine is rational.
  4. When we know something about what we experience directly, we can call the truths that arise “facts based on experience,” when we know something based on thought, we can call what arises “facts based on ideas.” In science, we want to verify based on experiment to ground theories in “facts based on experience,” but that doesn’t mean that Pure Reason (pure ideas) isn’t useful (more on that below).

The following statements are also true and help add nuance to the above statements:

  1. All knowledge either originates from outside of us (ex. a rock, or even the words and actions of a stage play), or from within us (ex. an idea, our will, or a sense of Duty, our own feelings and thoughts, even those feelings and thoughts that are reactions to the words and actions of other people).
  2. All knowledge that originates within us either requires rationalization (like reflecting on the concept of duty) or doesn’t (like the reflex of pain). This experiences that come from within us leaves an impression, which we can know.
  3. All knowledge is either based on tangible and material things we can sense directly (ex. a rock or an action), or is based on something intangible and formal (AKA “pure“) that we can’t sense directly (ex. a thought, an imagined idea or moral, or the will to act).

Putting all the above together, we can say,

“All knowledge is therefore either knowable empirically via the senses (ex. seeing a dog, watching someone act out of emotion or Duty, or smelling a warm pie), “pure” formal knowledge that requires rationalization (ex. the concept of spacetime, ideas for dog training, mathematics, a moral theory, or theory of how to bake the perfect pie), or a mix (ex. the idea of a dog existing in spacetime, the applied science of baking, following a set of laws, a physic equation used to build a bridge, or practicing the moral code of a theological text).”

In other words,

  • Of the empirical there are two kinds, those that exist in the physical world as things (a person, a rock), or those that exist as willful actions (such as the purposeful actions of humans).
  • Of the formal there are two kinds, those that consider the natural world as it is (ex. empirical observations and pure cold logic and reasoning), and those that consider the world as it ought to be or those which consider that which we can’t know with certainty (ex. the correctness of actions and everything from feelings to the idea of a Deity).

Thus we can say, there is both formal and material knowledge that applies to the world outside of us, and both formal and material knowledge that applies to the world inside of us.

From those truisms we can, for the whole of our theory, say there are thus two main categories:

  1. The category of things that generally contains the empirical (what we sense) / material (physical objects). This category includes that which we confirm with our senses, especially our five external senses and our measurement tools (that which we can confirm via testing or direct experience with certainty).
  2. The category of ideas that generally contains the rational (what we must conceptualize) / formal (that which are not physical objects). This is the category of things which requires some degree of human intellect to process and deals with some degree of free-will, conceptualization, and imagination (that which exists purely or partially as thought, including aspects of feelings and pure philosophy, and is therefore that which we can’t directly sense).

Nearly everything below will arise from the idea of human knowledge/experience/understanding being split into a “two pronged fork” that considers the “physical” (material) and “logical” (formal) separately.

We will return to that concept in a moment, but first let’s talk about one more concept, that of logic and reason.

TIP: The basic concept here is things we rationalize have degrees of probability, and things we observe have degrees of likelihood. This will relate to the two basic forms of reason, induction (which deals with probabilities) and deduction (which deals with certainty). This fundamental duality shows up time and time again, because it is a duality at the core of the human experience. Each category has a different “flavor of probability.” Why? Because all matter is built from quanta, and quanta has a probabilistic nature (I assume). The why is metaphysics, the reality of the flavors of probability is empirically and logically evident.

The Two Pronged Fork of Human Knowledge; Empiricism and Rationalization

All the above to say, when trying to determine what we can know, understand, and/or experience, we will always be dealing with what we can call “a two pronged fork” (a play on Hume’s fork), where:

  1. Prong one is material, empirical, facts about the world and generally contains objective judgements. Ex. “The man is sitting on the chair,” or “the man arose from the chair.” It is the category of that which we can confirm with our senses without rationalization (and thus often implies a degree of objectivity).
  2. Prong two is formal, rational, facts about ideas and often contains subjective judgements. Ex. “1+1=2,” or “all bachelors are unmarried,” both of which are objective, or, “the bachelor has integrity and feels pride sitting patiently in the chair” (a subjective judgement). What we can only confirm with some degree of rationalization (and thus which often implies some degree of subjectivity).

Here, as noted above in relation to humans, one could consider the first prong as body (or the physical), and the second prong as mind (or the non-physical, the formal or rational).

On a table it looks like this:

Empirical / Material (Based on Experience) Rational / Formal (Based on Ideas)
Physics (Empiricism) Logic (Pure Reason)

NOTE: Above I say “generally subjective.” This is because there are subjective and objective aspects of each category. For example one can have subjective knowledge about physics in terms of frames of measurement affecting things like space-time. Likewise, one can have a somewhat objective feeling of pain, or a subjective thought and a rational objective mathematical proof. Likewise, while free-will is largely subjective, actions taken can certainly be judged with some amount of objectivity. The list goes on, so the term “generally” is used to denote complexity (and later “mixed categories” will help us to account for this complexity; for example we will call the study of beauty, aesthetics, which some call a thing of ethics, a thing of physics and metaphysics… remember this is a unique theory, not an attempt to categorize things exactly like others do).

Considering Categories of People, Places, Things, Actions, and Ideas, and the Personal, Interpersonal, Collective, and “Universal”

From here we can begin to talk about other types of classes (or categories) and note that we can know about people, places, things, actions, ideas, and feelings.

In terms of people, we can know things about ourselves, about our relationships with people, about our relationships with groups, or our relationships with the world.

Likewise, we can know things about other people, other interpersonal relationships, other collective relationships, and about the relationship of the world to itself (See personal, interpersonal, collective, and “universal”).

We can know things about the actions and reactions of these things, we can have ideas about these things, or we can use our imagination and feelings to better understand the relationships between these things.

Therefore, every concept or judgement that can be held within the grey matter of the human mind is either related to:

  • A thing (a person, a place, a group). “Physics” or the category of physical things that Aristotle roots his categories in.
  • A thought of a sentient thing. “Logic” or the category of thoughts.
  • An action of a thing (free-will actions).  “Ethics” or the category of actions.
  • A feeling / intuition / imagination. “Metaphysics” or the category of sentiments.
  • The relations of these things. The relationships of logic and reason which Kant categorizes… and the social relations of things (which Comte muses on and which form the foundation of the social sciences).

This forms the foundation of the “four primary categories of human knowledge” which are based on our two core classes of the physical and rational. This will all be explained in the next section.

TIP: There are “things,” and in the universe they are all made of the quanta and exist in relative position in spacetime. Some things are sentient. All sentient things “think,” “feel,” and “act” and thus we get physics, logic, ethics, and metaphysics. From here the only thing really left to do is deal with relations like Kant does, or to show how we make the categories positive and deal with social relations like Comte. Of course its a bit more complex than that, so let’s keep peeling layers off the onion.

The Four Pronged Fork: The Four Primary Categories of Human Knowledge

Knowing all the above, we can also consider a “four pronged fork” of sorts (which just speaks to the different types and mixes of rational thought and physical being).

This won’t change the basics of logic and reason, and it won’t change our two pronged fork, it will simply give us more categories to work with (this will help us to distinguish between different types of rationalizations and experiences so we don’t go trying to judge actions, morals, rocks, math problems, and data from experiments from the same exact reference frame; that would be very confusing!)

Here we can define four different categories of “what we can know” based on our two pronged fork.

This will allow us to consider what can be called in relation to a human: body, mind, “spirit,” and free-will, or generally: physical, logical, metaphysical, and ethical.

A simple way to phrase the categories, before moving on, is that every concept or judgement that can be held within the grey matter of the human mind is either related to:

  • A physical thing and its motion (all physical objects and the cause and effect of Newton’s physics); The material one that relates to body. A mostly objective category. This category can be called physics, after the Greek term physis (meaning the physical world, not just Newton’s physics).
  • A logical thought, rationalization, or conceptualization. The purely formal one that relates to mind. A fairly objective category. This category can be called logic, after the Greek term logos.
  • “Metaphysical” impressions such as sentiments, imagination, or morals. The category that relates to the “soul.” A fully subjective category. This category is often considered as one with ethics, but we will, like Aristotle and Kant, call it metaphysics. It is the ideas upon which ethics are based. It is related to the Greek concept of pathos.
  • The intentions behind the purposeful action of a thing (the choices and customs behind our conduct born from values, rules, and free-will). A fairly subjective category. This category can be called ethics, after the Greek term ethos.

Ex. based on our moral sentiments related to a sense of duty (metaphysics) we rationalize (logic) that we should use our free will (ethics) to decide to help the old lady (a thing of physics, in this case a person) cross the street (an ethical action involving material things).

By knowing about helping an old lady cross the street (material objects), and by rationalizing how this will work (using logic), and by understanding we have choice (free-will), and by connecting that good action to a higher purpose (a metaphysic moral), we have an example in which we have knowledge of all four categories.

So, to summarize: The category of things is called physics, the category of thought is called logic, the category of the will behind action is called ethics, and that category of imagination and feelings involving that which isn’t purely empirical can be called metaphysics. We can call these the four categories of human knowledge (see that link for a detailed discussion).

TIP: In physics causes and reactions are physical things, they aren’t “ethical actions.” Ethical actions are any actions involving willpower (such as all human actions).

TIP: Consider an intention, it is a thing of logic and metaphysics and appears as ethics (when action is taken). We judge based on intention, that is how the courts work, yet we can’t hold an intention in our hands (we instead have to conceptualize it rationally based on intuition and make judgements and inferences). This is one of many examples of why we really do need to consider pure reason, pure philosophy, and ethics. There is no strictly empirical reference for intention, we need to “cross forks” to have a useful understanding. We still want to root everything in the physical empiricism to the degree we can (examining evidence of all types in the court, including testimony), we just don’t want to limit all our understanding to it.

Categorizing the Physical, Logical, Ethical, and Metaphysical as Natural Philosophy and Moral Philosophy

From there we can say that all knowledge that applies to the world around us can be called natural philosophy (ex. math and science; the physics and logic of “what is;” that which is rooted in the material and considers the physical world and the logic of the physical world).

All knowledge that applies to our sentiments, imagination, or actions can be called moral philosophy (ex. the feeling of love, the concept of a Deity, or acting on Duty; the ethics and metaphysics of “what ought to be or might be;” that which is rooted in the formal and considers morals and ethical actions).

Therefore, With the above in mind, we can consider human knowledge as being subdivided into.

  1. Natural Philosophy which contains physics (here understood as all physical things, not Newton’s physics, but all material objects that form the aesthetic) and logic (pure reason like the pure practical reason of mathematics and theoretical physics), and
  2. Moral Philosophy which contains ethics (like a lawyer’s rule-set, any action, especially the actions we consider “ethical”) and metaphysics (the potentially unprovable pure morals behind the lawyer’s rules; pure philosophy, the non-physical or logical factors our ethics is based on).

TIP: Another term for natural philosophy is natural science, another term for moral philosophy is moral science. Both philosophies/sciences deal with probability, but each type is subject to a different type of probability. Consider, all things physical are subject to the probabilistic nature of matter (see quantum physics), but yet is very certain and has certain reactions (on average due to the rule of large numbers and “laws of physics”). Some logic deals with probability, other logic deals with certainty (yet it is rational, and is probabilistic in that way). Ethics deals with human action, and therefore is steeped in a mix of probabilities. Metaphysics is that which we can’t know for sure, and this nature of the unknowable is a very probabilistic thing. As we dig into more categories, we’ll find more flavors.

TIP: We can illustrate most of what we have covered so far like we do on the following table.

Spheres / Categories Empirical / Material (Based on Experience); Generally Objective Rational / Formal (Based on Ideas); Generally Subjective
Natural Philosophy (Based on Experience); Generally Objective Physics (Empiricism; all physical things) Logic (Pure Logic and Reason)
Moral Philosophy (Based on Ideas); Generally Subjective Ethics (Philosophy-in-Action; free-will) Metaphysics (Pure Philosophy; sentiments and imagination)

TIP: One can consider ethics and metaphysics, as one as moral philosophy, where ethics deals with actions, values, and related rule-sets, and metaphysics deals with the morals behind the actions, values, and rule-sets. However, not all of metaphysics deals with morals, thus (for this reason and more) it is helpful to give it its own category like Kant does in his Fundamental Principles [AKA Groundwork] of the Metaphysic of Morals.

TIP: All of the ontological categories of Aristotle (reality) and Kant (concepts) can fit in one or more of our categories above (this is why I call them fundamental/primary). Consider Aristotle’s categories: Substance (physical), Quantity (physical and logical), Quality (any), Action (physical and ethical), etc. As we can see most of Aristotle’s deal with the physical. Meanwhile some Kant specific categories, like those dealing with modality, are purely rational. Now consider a quality like “happy,” or the subject “happy rock,” those qualities are metaphysic. What Kant and Aristotle called fundamental categories can be placed in our system. No one theory is right, instead they all inform each other with the ideal end result being insight for the reader!

Ancient Greek philosophy was divided into three sciences: physics, ethics, and logic. This division is perfectly suitable to the nature of the thing; and the only improvement that can be made in it is to add… [metaphysics]. – Kant

With that in mind, and to offer more insight before moving on to other aspects of knowledge, the categories above can be described in more complex terms as:

  • THE PHYSICAL (“PHYSICS”): Empirical and Material Physical Things (that which we can sense directly or measure). Ex. “The bachelor is sitting in the chair.” Any observer can confirm this with their external senses (or with scientific measuring tools). Knowledge of this type is therefore objective in most cases.
  • THE LOGICAL (“LOGIC”): Formal Rationalizations; AKA Pure Thoughts. Ex. “All bachelors are unmarried.” We can’t confirm every bachelor is unmarried, but we know this logically because being a bachelor implies being unmarried. Our reasoning might be sound, but we can’t confirm it with our senses. Knowledge of this type is often objective, but it can delve into pure theory and become subjective.
  • THE METAPHYSIC (“THE PHILOSOPHICAL”): That which is Empirically or Rationally Knowable to us alone, but formal and requiring rationalization to those outside of us; Feelings / Morals / Values / Intuitions / Imagination / Pure Philosophy (what ought to be, what might be, or what we feel or imagine there is). Ex. “I feel sad for the bachelor, he must be lonely in that chair,” or, “the bachelor is following his heart waiting for the right partner, he has integrity,” or, “imagine a perfect vacuum.” Our feelings about the bachelor are true for us, but they aren’t objectively true for all observers. The bachelor’s moral qualities and the sentiments that arise may be “true” for him, but they are somewhat subjective and they are not confirmable by outside observers directly (only his related actions would be). Meanwhile, we know pure vacuums are useful to consider in physics, but they can’t be experienced directly (we have to imagine them and rationalize). Like it will be with ethics, metaphysics relates to the other categories in many cases, it involves emotions (which are partly physical), it involves rationalization (which are related to logic), and it can compel ethical action, but for our purposes we can consider pure metaphysics of its own category (a category that has incalculable degrees of uncertainty). This category is subjective for the most part.
  • THE ETHICAL (“ETHICS”): The Formal Rule-Sets Behind Actions born from Free-Will; generally pertaining to our concept of right and wrong (the choices and customs behind our conduct). Ex. “The able bodied bachelor chooses to arise from the chair,” or, “the married person didn’t flirt with the bachelor because their morals compelled them not to act.” A human has some degree of free-will, thus the able bodied bachelor can choose to get out of the chair (unless something is preventing him, such as a law; perhaps the action of sitting in chair is “unethical,” thus, based on a custom, the bachelor chooses to arise using his free-will; perhaps the national anthem is playing?) Likewise, the married person choose not to flirt with the bachelor, it was a possible choice, but was deemed “unethical” due to a set of customs and values. Ethics are the customs behind our conduct, they are not the physical action itself, nor are they the laws themselves, nor are the they they logic behind those rule-sets, nor are they the morals and values upon which our actions are based. Those can be thought of as physical, logical, and metaphysical aspects of ethics, but they are not pure ethics themselves. NOTE: As you can see, like with “metaphysics,” this category is hard to define in isolation, because most human action generally involves aspects of physics, logic, and metaphysics. This is one reason why we considered our two-pronged fork first (we CAN explain everything as a two pronged fork, but having the four categories will help us to make important distinctions later). NOTE: This category is generally subjective, but has objective aspects. Consider a court case where a person is judged on intent and action. The will to act was subjective, but the actions can be objectively judged to some extent.

Introduction to the Mixes of Categories and Other Details

With the above in mind, we can actually consider mixes of categories to produce a wide array of possibilities and to allow us to categorize complex things like the logical rule-sets behind ethics, the moral values behind ethics, the physical emotions related to sentiments, or the action born from physical reflexes.

We can also use these concepts to work with complex judgments which consider a mix of categories (where knowing the category of a term used in a judgement will help us understand its qualities and thus some qualities of the judgement).

For example: Imagine that the bachelor felt sad, so he decided to get up from his chair, and observer A watched this. Meanwhile, a second observer, observer B, recorded the events and the testimonies of the bachelor and observer A.

Observer B could then state with a high degree of confidence, “given my research, there is a high degree of certainty the bachelor got up from his chair because he felt sad.”

It is objectively true he preformed the action of getting up, but somewhat subjective and metaphysic that he “felt sad.”

This honest statement is grounded in fact, but necessarily uses a mix of objective and subjective information (as it was based on not only observation, but on sentiment, human action, and testimony).

Because the statement considered ethics (choosing to get up) and metaphysics (feeling sad) to some degree, a bit of rationalization was required to explain the empirically observable aspects of the event.

By understanding categories, concepts, and rule-sets pertaining to truth, we can then begin to apply logic and reason to draw inferences from the world around us, denote certainty, and differentiate between subjective truths, objective truths, opinions, theories, facts, emotions, “counterfeit information,” and other types of truths and non-truths.

At the end of the day, everything is either true or it isn’t… yet, not everything that is true can be proven. This means for all the considering we can do on “what we can know,” there is no guarantee that we can know everything (in fact there is an assurance we can’t)… and that is where other technologies like skepticism come in!

Below we explain “a basic theory of knowledge” (an epistemological theory of what we can know and how we can know it).

More Details on Mixed Categories

One sort of problem we have with above categories is that they don’t account for concepts like aesthetics (which is sort of physical and sort of metaphysical), or the empirical aspects of emotion (“the impressions of passions and sensations”), or the speculation of cosmology (speculation about the universe).

To account for that, we are going to describe those things as a mixture of physics and metaphysics; what I call “The Physics of Metaphysics” and “the Metaphysics of Physics.”

The same logic goes for ethics which, as it deals with human action as an ends, also deals with a mix of categories.

Consider, ethics is a purely formal thing, as it considers thoughts and feelings, but it has material results (the results of human action born from free-will or custom are empirically observable, and thus that aspect relates to material physics). Other aspects of ethics include moral judgements of actions (which relate to metaphysics and logic), and logical rule-sets (which relate to logic). Suffice to say, each category has its complexities.

The benefit of our system of categorization is that it addresses all the above complexities via mixed categories where we consider the physical, logical, ethical, and metaphysical aspects of each physical, logical, ethical and metaphysical category.

For example, as noted above, we can consider the empirical aspects of emotions or cosmology, where the empirical aspect of emotion deals with the chemistry of how an emotion arises (and the physics of how it affects our neurology), and the empirical aspect of cosmology deals with what we know about quantum physics and astronomy (which we can thereby use for proper inductive reasoning).

Considering Material and Formal Physics, Ethics, Logic, and Metaphysics

Here we could jump right in and consider the physicslogicethics, and metaphysics of physicslogicethics, and metaphysics.

However, there is one step in-between to consider, and that can be done by considering the material and formal divisions of physicslogicethics, and metaphysics (AKA these are 8 categories of human knowledge):

Spheres Empirical (Material sphere of facts based on experience) Rational (Formal sphere of facts about ideas)
Material Natural Philosophy Material Physics (Practical Material Empiricism) the Physics of Physics Material Logic (Practical Material Logic) the Physics of Logic
Formal Natural Philosophy Formal Physics (Pure Formal Empiricism) the Logic of Physics Formal Logic (Pure Formal Reason) the Logic of Logic
Material Moral Philosophy Material Ethics (Practical Philosophy-in-Action) the Physics of Ethics Material Metaphysics (Practical Material Philosophy) the Physics of Metaphysics
Formal Moral Philosophy Formal Ethics (Pure Formal Philosophy-in-Theory) the Logic of Ethics Formal Metaphysics (Pure Formal Philosophy) the Metaphysics of Metaphysics

 Considering the Physics, Logic, Ethics, and Metaphysics of the Physics, Logic, Ethics, and Metaphysics (the Fundamental Transcendental Categories)

With the above models in mind, we can subdivide this again.

This time we won’t just consider the material and formal of each category, we will consider the physicslogicethics, and metaphysics of physicslogicethics, and metaphysics.

This last sub-division will unveil the true character of our four category model (16 variations). We will from here be able to compare and combine terms, propositions, and inferences, to construct complex mixed systems, and to categorize anything we can know.

NOTE: There is some serious over-lap between categories here (which for me is a sign that this level is a good level to subdivide into). What is the difference between the physical aspects of metaphysics and the metaphysical aspect of the physical? Great question! Part of me says one contains F=ma and the concept of beauty and the other contains force and a beautify object. The other part of me says, these categories as simply [in Kant’s terms] transcendental and bleed into each other to such a degree that we should treat the physics of metaphysics and the metaphysics of physics as being of the same transcendental category. I assume this will become clear over time, for now each of the 12 gets its own definition, but can none-the-less be considered transcendental in the cases where we get a mixed category (like the metaphysics of physics) and pure when we get a pure (in the sense of “only” not in the sense of “formal rationalized idea”) category (like the physics of physics).

TIP: This section still needs work, take it as an example, not gospel (the general idea here is right I think, but I’m sure there is much more to uncover).

  • The Physics of Physics (material physics) describes that which is (like a rock); the purely external that can be experienced directly (or via measurement tools). All action that does not involve free-will is this. Literally physics and also “being”.
  • The Logic of Physics (pure logical physics) describes the logic of that which is (like F=ma, the logic of how a rock falls on earth); describes the logical aspects of theoretical physics (the mechanics of physics).
  • The Ethics of Physics (ethical material physics) describes the art of correct experiment and measurement (for example the art of employing the scientific method); also the social sciences touch upon this category. Also could describe things like how to treat the earth, or perhaps even how a positive and negative charge attract. Aspects of the art of appreciating beauty and earthly pleasures (aesthetics).
  • The Metaphysics of Physics (pure metaphysical physics) describes aspects of theoretical physics; also can be said to contain aspects of the art of appreciating beauty and earthly pleasures (aesthetics); our emotions arise from here (on a chemical level).
  • The Physics of Logic describes the literal equations we use (how formulas work).
  • The Logic of Logic describes the formal logic behind the equations.
  • The Ethics of Logic, the best ways and best practices of using logical rule-sets (from math to rhetoric and reason).
  • The Metaphysics of Logic, from theoretical mathematics to theories like Gödel’s, to theories of influence, rhetoric, and reason.
  • The Physics of Ethics, practical ethics in action (the action).
  • The Logic of Ethics, the logic behind the action.
  • The Ethics of Ethics, manners and such (considerations on the action).
  • The Metaphysics of Ethics, the moral and theoretical considerations of ethical rule-sets.
  • The Physics of Metaphysics, morals in action, practical philosophy, emotional reactions (that which one can experience even if they can’t define or measure); the Church is a thing of physics and metaphysics.
  • The Logic of Metaphysics, epistemology, the logic behind theorizing on what we can’t know for sure and that which we can.
  • The Ethics of Metaphysics, considerations for actions based on morals.
  • The Metaphysics of metaphysics, the study of that which we know we cannot know in any other way except internally; includes pure theology.
Spheres Material Natural Philosophy Formal Natural Philosophy Material Moral Philosophy Formal Moral Philosophy
Material Natural Philosophy The Physics of Physics The Physics of Logic The Physics of Ethics The Physics of Metaphysics
Formal Natural Philosophy The Logic of Physics The Logic of Logic The Logic of Ethics The Logic of Metaphysics
Material Moral Philosophy The Ethics of Physics The Ethics of Logic The Ethics of Ethics The Ethics of Metaphysics
Formal Moral Philosophy The Metaphysics of Physics The Metaphysics of Logic The Metaphysics of Ethics The Metaphysics of Metaphysics

TIP: We can put the complex category “social” in a number of categories, thus accounting for economics, politics, food distribution, group psychology, and such… or we could loosely file all of this under ethics. I prefer to think of “social” as a category that is predicated on the four primary (and 16 sub). The physical world is reality, then because there are sentient beings, there is rationalism. Because there is rationalism, there is metaphysics (as there is both a mathematical aspect and an knowledgeable aspect to thought, both sentiments and pure logic)… and because there is all of this, and because beings can act, there is ethics (which is action based on thought and sentiment). So, “social” (what arises from human as a social sentient creature) is not outside the categories, it is within it and predicated on it in some ways, and in other ways it is simply “ethics.”

What we can know by knowing what category an object or idea is in: The physical, logical, ethical (metaphysics as it relates to human action or conduct), and metaphysical are all classes that contain different types of knowledge. As such, “what we can know” about things in each category differs by category. The same is generally true for the related categories of moral philosophy and natural (and the sub-categories noted on this page). The physical includes what we can know with things like physics and observation (where things have probability in the way quantum objects do and have observable objective certainty), the logical with things like mathematics and logic (where proofs are objective, but logic is none-the-less a thing of pure ideas), the ethical with things like social science and experience (where we get a mix of the problems and perks of each other category), and the metaphysical with things like individual experience and imagination (where we can have useful knowledge, but deal with unknowns like we do in induction; where everything is at best probable). Information about the physical world possesses some aspects of certainty and can have logic applied to it (what makes the science of physics possible), meanwhile metaphysics dabbles in the probabilistic and uncertain. All this to say, knowing which of the transcendental and categorical “primary” classes information is in, tells us about what type of knowledge we can expect to be gained from studying the properties of objects in that class. It also gives us information about how objects and ideas in different classes relate. And then of course, the same is generally true for any type of category of epistemology, such as the one’s of Aristotle and Kant.

TIP: “I think therefore I am,” and one might, say “I feel therefore I am.” Our thoughts and feelings are subjectively real for us and we can be very certain about them. Meanwhile, the rock in front of us is objectively real. Sure, our external senses could be tricking us, but so could our internal ones. All types of knowledge are useful, but each type has a different quality! Alone each type only paints part of a picture, the full cannon of human knowledge, experience, and understanding can only be gleaned by crossing the categories.

TIP: Below are four videos. One gives a “map of philosophy,” one a “map of the maths,” one a “map of chemistry,” and one a “map of physics.” All philosophy is essentially “of the metaphysics” to some extent, but regardless we can take each category from the philosophy below and place it under our categories above. Does it deal with ethics and action? Well then it goes in a category with the term “ethics in it.” Does it deal with the foundational logic of metaphysics? Well that is a sign it goes in the logic category (generally under the metaphysics of logic or the logic of metaphysics). Likewise, we can do the same for the other videos. Are we discussing chemistry? Well chemistry is a physical system, so it will go in cats that have the word physics in them, the ethics of physics perhaps (which is the category of physics that deals with action… and what is chemistry if not physical non-sentient things in action?). Are we discussing physics? Most of that will be covered under non-sentient action and the physical category itself, but of course there are lots of metaphysical aspects of that. Lastly, for the maths, while they are all rooted in logic, they also often relate to metaphysics. After-all theoretical physics is a thing of logic, but also of metaphysics and physics. Sure, the basics like a number itself are purely arational (but don’t they also speak to the physical act of counting?) If we consider theoretical math, it is metaphysic. When we consider change there are aspects of physical and non-sentient action going on. Yes, these categories transcend, and we’ll need to consider mixed categories, but this is why we use transcendental categories for the complex things that arise from the simple dualities. With that all in mind, we can take the systems in the videos below and place each category or subject or sub-set and place it neatly into our categories above. If we couldn’t, then this wouldn’t be a very good “system of fundamental categories of being and knowledge.”

The Map Of Philosophy. A basic overview of the branches, see our more complete list below. Notice the colors they use in their map. Yellow for logic, green for the physical, blue for metaphysics… these colors are consistent with western element theory and astrology. Are they convention or not? We won’t muse on that question of metaphysics, but let us just say, I know I did not pick them at random for our theory. The colors like the subjects have meaning. All philosophy is the art science of moving toward knowing and exploring that meaning.

The Map of Mathematics. Plato tells us to start with mathematics. One of the many smart things he suggested. Math is a very simple analogy for all real systems. If we can categorize math into the applied/empirical and pure/rational we are well on our way to connecting all the dots… and we can, and this video does, and this page connects those dots. No, I don’t yet have a master list of everything categorized, but if you understand this system you can none-the-less categorize everything (as I will do when I’m fully ready).

The Map of Chemistry. Arguments for a virtual simulation aside, while we can argue philosophy and math, it is hard for any empirical minded person to argue against chemistry. It is about as real as it gets… and guess what? The fact that it is the real basis of everything means that fitting it into our categories is very easy and symbolic of what we are doing with other fields to create a full list. A protein is real, made of real elements and real chemical re-ACTIONS, meanwhile the logic behind it is logical, and the application can be considered, and the metaphysics of it, etc. All systems, real and theoretical can be placed in the categories. Now, is this useful? Well, that is a whole other question.

The Map of Physics. If we can map out chemistry, then of course we can map out physics in a similar way. Both are physical systems in-action that form the foundation of being.

Additional Notes on the above

TIP: Each phrase above represents a category in which to place all human knowledge that belongs in that category, so each example is only some of the possible examples. Consider every subject one studies in school, and every field one enters into after, can be categorized below. Knowing this we will be able to see things such as “why aspects of the social sciences are elusive and uncertain, despite being useful and true,” and more. Consider, people are physical beings, and so are economies and markets, but the relations between those physical bodies are not purely material, and thus uncertainty is introduced (and thus truths become probable and not externally fully knowable).

NOTE: There is some serious over-lap between categories here (which for me is a sign that this level is a good level to subdivide into). What is the difference between the physical aspects of metaphysics and the metaphysical aspect of the physical? Great question! I’ll answer that here and in the next notes (as i’m working on phrasing it and thinking on it). Part of me says one contains F=ma and the concept of beauty and the other contains force and a beautify object. The other part of me says, these categories as simply [in Kant’s terms] transcendental and bleed into each other to such a degree that we should treat the physics of metaphysics and the metaphysics of physics as being of the same transcendental category. I assume this will become clear over time, for now each of the 12 gets its own definition, but can none-the-less be considered transcendental in the cases where we get a mixed category (like the metaphysics of physics) and pure when we get a pure (in the sense of “only” not in the sense of “formal rationalized idea”) category (like the physics of physics).

NOTE: The categories below should explain themselves with a little critical thinking. The physics of physics should be thought of as “the physical aspects of physical things.” Likewise, the ethics of physics is “action as it relates to physical things.” So the physical aspects of metaphysical ideas (sentiments and imagination) speak to real things like music, art, feelings as chemical reactions, and the metaphysical of physical things are more like the theory of physics, the theory of music, the theory of art (aesthetics). Both those cats are “of material natural philosophy and formal moral philosophy,” but they each express a different aspect of this relation. The way these categories bleed into each other is “transcendental.” See “the spheres of human understanding” for more on that.

NOTE: These categories represent different “flavors.” Some flavors are pure (like the physical aspects of the physical; “the physical”) and some flavors are mixed (like the metaphysics of the physical). Mixed categories represent where transcendental knowledge and be categorized. The transcendental aesthetic, that is in the metaphysics of physics (and bleeds over into the physics of metaphysics). A synthetic a priori, that falls in the same category (it speaks to both the physics of metaphysics and the metaphysics of physics). Lastly, geometrymusic, and color all have both physical and metaphysical qualities, aspects of them are therefore “transcendental.”

Some Logic Behind What We Can Know (a Detailed List of Epistemological Laws)

With the above in mind, we can make the following [generally] true statements about human knowledge (some of this will be repeats of the above, some of it will be new; the goal will be to better understand the different types of terms/concepts we can place in our categories of knowledge):

TIP: This section is meant to deal with nuance and includes some repetition of what we already covered above.


  1. Human knowledge is everything that can be known for sure or understood to any degree (even if only theoretically).
  2. There are two ways to know things, via experience and/or thought.
  3. All knowledge that we can know directly via our senses, internal or external, is empirical, and all knowledge that we have to imagine to any degree is rational.
  4. Of the rational there is that which is rooted in experience, and that which is pure rationalization (pure imagination).
  5. When we know something about what we experience directly, we can call the truths that arise “facts based on experience,” when we know something based on thought, we can call what arises “facts based on ideas.” In science, we want to verify based on experiment to ground theories in “facts based on experience,” but that doesn’t mean that Pure Reason (pure ideas) isn’t useful (more on that below).

From there we can say:

  1. Human knowledge begins with the physical, material, and empirically sensible. We are made of quanta, not magic, thus it stands to reason that everything arises from “the physics/the physical” (so to speak). This is to say all knowledge begins with the external world around us that we can sense with our senses, even if it doesn’t end there.
  2. We can also consider our “empirical” internal senses, what we Hume called impressions of sensation or original impressions, like the feeling of pain. These are the internal feelings that are natural, don’t require rationalization, and arise from chemical reactions to stimulus (they don’t require rationalization and instead are a sort of reflex to stimulus that we can intuit the impression of immediately).
  3. We can call those things we sense directly, internally or externally, and know immediately intuitions (similar to what we know today as sensory memories). The things we can confirm directly via experience, internally and externally, and don’t require rationalization, form the basis of our knowledge.
  4. What we know from our external senses, that which can be confirmed via falsifiable experiment is positive empirical knowledge. Knowledge gleaned directly from a measurement tool is not exactly the same as direct experience, but it can generally be considered positive. That which we intuit from our own internal senses without rationalization is also a type of empirical knowledge, but it notably is harder to prove (as it must be proved by ourselves alone or proved with a probability based on testimony and social experiments).
  5. Knowledge that comes from outside of us that is confirmable by others without rationalization is objective, meanwhile knowledge that comes from within us is confirmable only by us and is subjective. Knowledge that uses a mix of the two, and thus requires rationalization, is mixed. Ex. I am cold (internal; subjective), or, look there is a rock (external; objective), or, that rock is beautiful (external; subjective), or, look at the data from this measuring tool (a mostly empirical extension of the senses), that atom has strange geometry (external via a measurement tool; objective… but the term strange is a little subjective), or, every time we repeat this social science study the data shows that the feeling of belonging and the need for approval drives people to obey authority (external/internal via experiment, testimony; objective/subjective; AKA “mixed”).
  6. On Impressions from our internal senses there are two types. The impressions of sensation (empirical impressions), or original impressions (as noted above), are the feelings we get from our five senses as well as from our internal senses of the same sort, such as our immediate sensations of pain and pleasure. These are sort of impressions of reflex, they are automatic (see our many internal and external senses according to science). Meanwhile, there is another type of impression. Impressions of reflection (rational impressions), or secondary impressions, are impressions from reflections rationalized based on our original impressions. Secondary impressions (impressions from reflection) are the emotion we feel from considering ideas (they are emotions we feel based on rationalization). Here we can consider not only the passion we feel thinking about a concept like Justice, but the impressions we feel like when we witness and consider the just act of another. In this sense they are the mostly “metaphysical” aspect of our feelings, the desires, emotions, passions, and sentiments that arise based on experience and rationalization (or in modern terms, emotional biases based on experience, the emotions related to them, and the impression they leave). NOTE: Hume will question whether or not justice has any sentimental meaning in a world that knows only equality, there is a whole conversation here that we will cover below. For our purposes, the emotions related to a moral quality (a virtue) like justice and the concept of justice itself can be considered to be of both physics (the chemical emotion) and metaphysics (the concept of justice), while also not removed from ethics or logic, and can be considered secondary impressions.
  7. Original impressions from our internal senses are empirical (but formal; they aren’t tangible material objects), secondary impressions from our reflection, although they have an empirical quality when we feel the related emotion, are partly rational (and formal); i.e. secondary impressions are mostly metaphysical (but with a physical root). They come from rationalization, and they compel ethics, but they are (if we have to place them in one category and not a mix of categories) “of metaphysics.” Consider, if we think of complex ideas related to Duty, then “feel a sense of Duty” the emotion itself is empirical, but the pathway to emotion, the rationalization, is… rational/formal.[4] However, “a sense of Duty” is not “1+1=2” and thus it helps to categorize in a separate category of moral philosophy and metaphysics. NOTE: See Hume’s Delicacies of tastes and passion and other works, he called internal passions and sensations like feelings impressions; see also Smith’s moral sentiment, it is an empirical theory of impressions so-to-speak; both authors are giving an empirical theory of “metaphysics”). NOTE: While we can feel sensations and have tastes, sentiments, and passions, they don’t exactly have the same qualities as a rock, and that is the point here. Below we will categorize these in different types of impressions and rationalizations in different categories and we will explain “mixed categories’ which help account for things that have both a formal and material nature.
  8. We can use our understanding to make sense of sensory data, internal or external, physic or “metaphysic” (“conceptualizing” and “rationalizing” by associating basic sensory data; as we do in our memory process when we store and recall data). In this process we can use our imagination as we creatively combine, copy, transform, and transpose ideas. We can imagine spacetime, or we can imagine a fable, or we can imagine a secondary impression as a form of the virtue of True Justice or as Duty or Honor (and then tell the tale of how King Arthur displayed these qualities to inspire the next generation). Are these shared formal passions that we weave into metaphors pertaining to the natural and moral important, yes! Are they empirical and material, no! These things are partly imagined and rationalized. These things are metaphors, and they inspire us and speak to real things, but they are not themselves real in the same way a rock is. Metaphors are a thing of “metaphysics.”
  9. Here we can consider that our senses could be tricking us, and so could our rationalization. That is why we want to consider different types of data, be skeptical, use positive experiment, root things in objective empirical data, and consider both the empirical and rational for what they are.
  10. Of imagination there are two types, there is the type that uses empirical data to imagine variations of real things, and the type that is pure imagination. For an example of the real type, imagine you had only ever seen a blue ball and a red box. Here you could imagine a red ball and a blue box even though you had never seen either (but, if you had only seen the color blue, imagining something red would likely be impossible, as you would have no frame of reference for understanding this). For an example of pure imagination, imagine existing in the spacetime of the 10th dimension 10 billion years form now. Here we can be skeptical that it is possible to imagine ideas based on nothing, but we can at least note that there is a class of things we can know that is far removed from direct experience (the class of metaphysics; more on metaphysics and imagination below).
  11. On the above, like Kant does, we can call those things based on direct experience “intuitions,” and those things that were rationally conceptualized based on intuitions concepts… but for our theory we are going to call them both concepts (denoting empirical intuitive concepts and formal rationalized concepts as necessary). Another word for “a concept,” when dealing with it in logic is “a term.
  12. One way to discuss terms or concepts is to use a symbol. Symbols are simple signs that can stand as a placeholder for many complex ideas. In other words, each symbol has anchored to it a number of different judgments about different categories of things. There are simple symbols like F (for force) or complex ones like “human knowledge” (which stands for everything discussed on this page and more). See: Language as symbolism. We can in turn place a number of symbols in a single judgement and we can then reason based on series of judgments (therefore actually rationalizing a myriad of complex ideas).
  13. When we start dealing with complex mixes that have uncertainty, we have to accept that we are in territory where we can’t know for sure. Instead of knowing for sure we have to use experiments to test for outcomes and look for theories that are useful and not useful. If F=ma always works, it doesn’t HAVE to be a law in all possible worlds, it can just be useful in most contexts.
  14. In all categories of life we can employ experiment, rationalization, testimony, metaphor, symbols, logic, reason, judgements, etc to better understand useful human knowledge.
  15. Here we can note again, that although we are physical beings, and although all knowledge begins with the senses, there are some types of knowledge that deal with that which have no direct or indirect empirical reference frame (or if they do, it is far removed from what we are imagining). For example the concept of free-will, the concept of infinity, or the concept of morality, the concept of a Deity, and the concept of spacetime are all of this sort. These go beyond even a secondary impression like an emotion, and dive into pure metaphysics (pure formal philosophy). We can certainly argue that even these have an indirect frame (I would for example that the frame for space is the imagining of the antithesis of matter), but that is aside the point. The point is that some things are in-part or in-whole metaphysics. See Kant’s transcendental.[5]
  16. When things have a reference frame in the physical world, we can call them natural philosophy (empirical science and the logic of it), when things deal with imagination and human action, we can call them moral philosophy.
  17. Here we can say there are thus four types of concepts: Concepts based on direct outside experience that we can sense are of physics (that which is physical, not Newton’s physics), concepts which are rationalized are of logic, those are things of natural philosophy, meanwhile concepts which deal with actions (like free-will) are of ethics, and concepts which deal with pure imagination, AKA pure philosophy, (like spacetime or virtue) are called metaphysics., those are things of moral philosophy.
  18. Here we can also say that each of those four concepts are subject to our other terms. They each have a material and formal category, they can each be the subject of imagination, they can each be subjected to some sort of testing, etc. etc (although not every single thing mentioned applies to each category in the same way). This gives us many things to consider, but a foundation to place those considerations on.
  19. Then, with our general types of “concepts in mind,” we can use our logic to make judgments about two or more concepts/terms (of any type).
  20. Then we can use our reason to understand a series of concepts and judgements on a deeper level and make “reasoned inferences” (even considering “concepts” of “pure ethics” like free-will or “pure metaphysics” like spacetime; or, you know, the categorizing of human knowledge, which is a thing of metaphysics, a branch of philosophy called epistemology).
  21. Then, again, to tie this together, we can anchor these ideas to symbols and give names to things. Then we can run those symbols back through the process of logic and reason. As we dilute the empirical with rationalization we lose degrees of certainty, but we gain degrees of understanding.

In summary, the 1 (what we can know or understand), has been abstracted into the 2 (that which we know based on experience and that which we can understand based on rationalization), which has been abstracted again into the 4 general categories of human understanding (physicslogic, ethics, and metaphysics), which can themselves be subdivided (see below).

From here we can divide these further (in the many ways eluded to above) or we can make judgements and reason using terms/concepts and construct “systems” of terms, judgements, reasoned inferences, and other properties.

As we reason, we will see that there are different “flavors” of concepts and judgements that can be treated in different ways, that there are different types of truths (with some systems and categories have a more probable nature, like the social sciences, and some are more empirically positively provable, like engineering).

Considering concepts, judgements, and inferences in categories, and collections of this as systems, will help us to better understand the nature of the different flavors of human knowledge (through inductive reasoning).

From here there are many ways to go, we can talk about logic and reason, we can talk about sensory information, we can talk about abstractions and concepts, we can talk about the different relations between flavors of concepts and judgments, or we can talk about categorization some more.

Given the many directions we could go the rest of the page will focus on one topic at a time explaining different concepts that relate back to the above.

A Rough Illustration of the Categories (Re-working the Above into a Single Theory That Connects to the Next Section)

Speaking to all the above, a bullet-point the hierarchy of categories looks like this:

  • Reality itself.
  • Of Reality: Being, non-being, change (and relations).
  • Of Being: Physical beings: Sentient or non-sentient (Physical systems and the cause-and-effects and forces of physics). And, for sentient beings, rational Ideas and language (logic) and willfull actions (ethics; willfull change).
  • Of Ideas and language: Logical (purely rational) and Metaphysical (sentiment based).
  • Of the Qualities of all physical bodies: [in Aristotle’s terms] Substance, Relation, Quantity, Quality, Place, Time, Situation, Condition, Action, and Affection (essentially just properties for determining the state of a physical objects in spacetime).
  • Of the Qualities of rational ideas when expressed in language: [in Kant’s terms] Quantity, Quality, Relation, Modality (essentially just terms for how terms relate in propositions).

Then all of that can be grouped together by shared properties into the categories of the physical (physics), logical (logic), action based (ethic), and metaphysical (sentiment and imagination) where the qualities of physical bodies and rational ideas generally apply to each category (and where social relations span all categories).

We can then from there consider mixed-categories and sub-categories to help differentiate which parts are based on direct experience and which parts are rationalized. After-all, while our language tells us about these things, our language is just a tool we can use to describe concepts (it isn’t a direct reflection of reality itself in the same way “a rock itself” is).

A basic version of the above might look something like this chart showing different related ways to categorize concepts in their different forms (reality, as conceptuzeiations, as language, as fields of study, etc):

HOW TO SORT: When using categories there is a general desire to place a term in a category. But this is an awkward way to look at the world. Instead of doing this, place a term on its own two feet and consider each category to be a property. Then like an artist with a pain brush, dip your brush in a category and paint a term. A happy rock is a physical non-sentient thing, with metaphysical qualities. We should create a sub-category for this type, or we could simply dip our brush in both physics and metaphysics and define the categorical properties of the happy rock. Then, when all is said and done, the effect will be the same, we can sort by categorical properties.

 General Category Physics (Physical Reality) Ethics (All Action) Logic (Rational Ideas) Metaphysics (Feelings)
Reality Being Change and relations Non-Being & Non-substance
Human Conception Non-Sentient Physical Systems Sentient Physical Systems Basic Action and Reaction Willfull action Logical Ideas Sentiments Imagination
Human Fields of Study (Examples) Geology, Astronomy, Physics in terms of the properties of physical systems. Biology Physics and Chemistry (in terms of actions and reactions), Engineering. TIP: Essentially a part of the physical, but the part that deals with forces and motion. Legal, Social Sciences (including aspects of Group Psychology). TIP: The part that deals with Human Action (and all purposefully action of sentient beings). Mathematics, Semantics. Moral Philosophy, Aspects of Psychology, and Cosmology.
Human Reason and Language Empirical A Posteriori and Objective Empirical A Posteriori and Objective Mix – Toward Empirical Mix – Toward Rational Rational A Priori and Objective. Mix – Speculative A Priori and Subjective (based partly on sentiments that have an aspect of empirical a Posteriori).
Qualities Aristotle’s Categories

The state of something and its being. Physical-substance (physical concepts), Relation, Quantity, Quality, State, and relative Position in spacetime.

The action and rules behind the action.

Ethical-substances (concepts of ethics) and cause and effect (in terms of sentient and non-sentient systems).

Kant’s categories

The rational-substances (rational concepts) and the mathematical and semantic rule-sets that govern them including Quantity, Quality, Relation, and Modality as it relates to the a priori and a posteriori and such (logic in the language form).

The metaphysic substances (concepts of imagined ideas and sentiments).
Probability Flavor Physically Quantum, but otherwise empirically certain. Physically Quantum, but otherwise empirically certain. But must account for factors related to sentience. Physically Quantum, but otherwise empirically and rationally certain. But must account for changing systems. Mix (deals with real physical systems and ideas). Logically certain, but purely rational (and thus not directly provable empirically). Uncertain by nature.

A chart showing a system of “transcendental” categories for concepts (and properties, propositions, and systems) that relates to the above chart: The above correlates to the following chart where we consider the physical, ethical, logical, and metaphysic aspects of physics, ethics, logic, and metaphysics. NOTE: These categories represent different “flavors.” Some flavors are pure (like the physical aspects of the physical; “the physical”) and some flavors are mixed (like the metaphysics of the physical). Mixed categories represent where transcendental knowledge and be categorized. The transcendental aesthetic, that is in the metaphysics of physics (and bleeds over into the physics of metaphysics). A synthetic a priori, that falls in the same category (it speaks to both the physics of metaphysics and the metaphysics of physics).

The Categories Material Natural Philosophy Formal Natural Philosophy Material Moral Philosophy Formal Moral Philosophy
Material Natural Philosophy The Physics of Physics (the physical aspects of the physical). The Physics of Logic The Physics of Ethics The Physics of Metaphysics
Formal Natural Philosophy The Logic of Physics (rational rule-sets pertaining to physical things). The Logic of Logic The Logic of Ethics The Logic of Metaphysics
Material Moral Philosophy The Ethics of Physics (action as it relates to physical things). The Ethics of Logic The Ethics of Ethics The Ethics of Metaphysics
Formal Moral Philosophy The Metaphysics of Physics (theories and sentiments as they relate to the physical). The Metaphysics of Logic The Metaphysics of Ethics The Metaphysics of Metaphysics

Finally, the chart below speaks to how concepts/terms relate in logical statements (dealing with terms, logic, and reason in language): Now that we have a way to categorize concepts, we can now move onto categorizing propositions and the relations of terms in propositions using logic similar to Kant’s, which on a table (of logical judgements) looks like this:

NOTE: Each layer of category relates and speaks to another. Mortality universally speaks to men as a whole and to Socrates the man. Socrates and men are physical sentient beings, but mortality is a metaphysic concepts applied to physics (a metaphysic of physics). The statement all “men are mortal” is categorically physical -> universal -> metaphysic of physics. We now know this has somewhat of an uncertain probability (as we dipped a toe in the metaphysics and thus we now “don’t know for sure”). Logic can pull us out of this, showing us that the proposition is of the analytic a priori, but metaphysical questions like “perhaps all men aren’t mortal” pull as back in. The categories help us to understand what propositions we are working with, based on properties and relations, as anchored to concepts real and imagined, in propositions with their quantity, quality, relation, and modality, as can be found in complex reasoned arguments such as is found in this metaphysical system a priori of categories.

“Crossing Forks”

When categories are mixed to any degree, generally by comparing two more propositions or using a mix of terms in a single proposition, we can say we are “crossing forks” (a term that comes from the concept of Hume’s fork; meaning, “the crossing from one category to another;” generally within a single judgement or by comparing a series of judgments and terms from different categories; More on this below).

By crossing forks with the empirical we can turn some elusive “spheres of life,” like the social sphere, into positive sciences (at least partly).

Or, for a more simple example, when one uses F=ma in their equations for calculating the building of a bridge, they are in some respects “crossing the forks” of physics and logic.

Likewise, when the scientific method is applied to social psychology, it may even cross into the ethical and metaphysic forks to some degree.

Probability and Natural and Moral Philosophy: The Uncertainty Principle of Logic and Reason

When judgments and reasoning use terms that have degrees of uncertainty, it results in information that possesses a degree of uncertainty. When there is uncertainty it should be denoted clearly, thus keeping the information useful and honest and making the skeptics job easier.

In the social sciences even the best theories have a degree of probability to them (that means theories and inferences related to politics, psychology, and economics are often “probable”).

A thing is either true or it isn’t, but when we can’t know, we can still construct a good theory based on positive data that has a high degree of certainty.

This isn’t like with quantum physics were we can detect quantum probability perfectly over a large set of instances (like how we can measure the reflectiveness of a surface).

Instead, in the social sciences, metaphysics, ethics, etc we can only have a partial degree of knowing (we can’t have certainty in all things).

Truth exists as a probability. In natural philosophy that results in the ability to create exact predictions, but in moral philosophy even the best theory is only telling us about likelihood (people have “free will” and different “sentiments” and act on “morals,” we can quantify their behavior, but only to a degree.

TIP: The physical and logical are the only things that are definite, so, natural philosophy contains definite things (often with a probable nature, like quantum particles), and moral philosophy (including impressions) contain probable things (often with a definite nature; like happiness having a predictably positive effect).

TIP: One can offer details to make information better. This includes: describing sources (including their reliability and access to the information they provide), clearly expressing uncertainty (even using a scale from doubtful to highly certain), distinguishing between underlying information and analysts’ judgments and assumptions, exploring alternatives, demonstrating relevance to the customer, using strong and transparent logic, and explaining change or consistency in judgments over time. See Background to “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution for a quick lesson on using these skills of analytic judgement at a high level to provide honest information about a complex and uncertain topic.

Positivism in Natural and Moral Philosophy

To address the above directly, we can discuss positivism.

In other words, we can look for empirical evidence backed by logical and mathematical proofs in order to have a degree of positivity about something. In the fields that are mostly natural sciences this is easy, if we have the right measurement tools, we can create theorems that work.

However, in spheres that are largely ethical and moral, like the social sphere (which deals with free-will, sentiments, and human relations), we have to deal with the probability that arises from the human will (unlike a photon, a person, has a partly unquantifiable nature).

TIP: In religion they say “have faith.” Someone like Hume might reject this aspect of the world ideas having weight, but we shouldn’t reject that advents of unquantifiable things like faith. If they drive behavior, and that behavior affects the outside world, then it should be considered. Sometimes the things we think are voodoo in the west are really standing as metaphors for something we can’t yet express (or something that is important and probable, but not empirically easy to quantify). In other words, there is a positive aspect of things like tastes and fancies and theology; it just doesn’t work like the physics of a rock as it reflects the sun.

Knowing Vs. Understanding

Now that we have that theory of categorization down, we can move on to other concepts that we have discussed above.

The first concept we should return to above is the distinction between knowing and understanding.

I already said knowing is for our theory, literally everything we are talking about, but for Kant was that which was sensed via the outside world empirically (intuition). There I also pointed out the internal senses.

However, there is a bit more to say if we consider the different semantics of this. So below semantics are considered.

First off, these terms can be synonyms or not. Generally however we can say, knowing is having information, and understanding is the path of mastering information.

When we say we have knowledge of something, we don’t mean we have a full understanding, just that we can have some conceptualization of it in our minds (to the extent we can at least denote it as a term alongside a general definition).

The top left category (physics of physics) is the most knowable and understandable with the senses, the bottom right (the metaphysics of metaphysics) is that which can only be understood from within using logic and internal feelings (our internal senses-that-aren’t-senses so to speak).

The more we move away from the empirical physics, the natural world, and the material, and the more we move toward the pure, formal, moral philosophy, the less understandable the “human knowledge” becomes!

In other words, we can have knowledge and understanding about the metaphysics of metaphysics, or whims, or fancies, or feelings, but we can’t “know for sure” in the same way we can about a rock or the laws of physics.

To say this another way, notice how, especially if we consider the sub-divisions of formal and material and sub-divisions of physics, logical, ethics, and metaphysics, that there is a part of metaphysics that is formal in every respect (“pure” philosophy; the metaphysics of metaphysics), and likewise that there is a part of physics that is material in every respect (practical material empirical physics; the physics of physics).

That lines-up well with the certainty with which most of us would feel we could know about each type of information. A rock is easy to know empirically, but how exactly do we approach knowing moral concept empirically? Or conversely, how can we know a rock internally?

Well, the answer is we use the model above to see where we can cross forks and know probable truths by pulling out all forms of application, experiment, and theory we can shake a stick at!

Sure, we can hardly know pure philosophy with certain external empirical positivism, but that which arises from within is no less important (just more uncertain and internal).

I’m not suggesting we publish statistics on morals in Nature (the peer-reviewed journal), but outside of the NATURAL sciences we should care about this stuff.

We want to eat all of our cake, not just the material parts, so to speak. From this lens we really do have a duty (a metaphysical concept) to dig toward the metaphysics of metaphysics. For more, see Kant’s Groundwork (see link above).

We can consider each category above in more detail, or we can consider “the metaphysics and logic of knowing and understanding,” but for now lets leave these concepts on the back burner and move onto another aspect of this theory, that is “the art and science of reason and logic.”

BOTTOMLINE: By taking the concept of human knowledge, and pairing it with the concept of the empirical and rational (and material and formal), we generally create four possibilities (from which many more arise). We can illustrate this and create a model by which we can better explain histories empirical and rational theories.

The Three Pillars of Understanding in the Arts and Sciences

We can apply the concepts of theory, experimentation, and application to all the arts and sciences. For instance we have theoretical physics, experimental physics, and applied physics (same is true for math, other natural sciences, the social sciences, and arguably most systems).

  • Theory: Predictive
  • Experimentation: Testing predictions.
  • Application: Applying well-tested predictions.

TIP: See also, The Three Pillars of Understanding.

Applying the Concept in the Familiar Area of Physics

Theoretical physics uses math to determine what is possible (a sort of logical metaphysics), experimental physics tests theories to see what can be applied (a thing of logic). Applied physics applies these theories to real life (a thing of logic, ethics, and physics).

Theoretical physics comes up with F=ma, experimental physics runs tests to verify the equation, applied physics uses this equation to build a skyscraper.

Each step from theory, to experimentation, to application brings physics closer to real world application. Each works hand-in-hand to create the study of physics as a whole.

We can apply this basic concept to any field and to many subjects.

A List of Types of Reasoning: Deductive, Inductive, Abductive, and Beyond

Now we have the basics of logic and reason down, and we have some fundamental classes down.

The next step will be to talk about reason and reasoning methods.

What is Reason?

Reason in this sense is another name for the process of using logic and reason to compare terms (concepts like “A”), construct logical arguments (and state propositions AKA statements like “A=B” and “B=C”), and draw reasoned inferences (make conclusions like since “A=B” and “B=C” therefore “A=C”). See an explanation of logic and reason.

  • Specifically, reason can be described as the most complex part of thinking, the part that deals with inferences.
  • Broadly, and in the sense we mean it here, it is simply “all parts of though including logic and conceptualization.”

TIP: Anything we think, we can “know” and is therefore human knowledge. So here we truly, in one long breath, answer the questions “what can we know, and how can we know it?”

The Aspects of Human Reason

In this sense there are three basic aspects to all human reasoning (which can be described in terms of the process, the product, or the language we use to denote them; like we covered above):

  • There are terms or concepts based on comparing attributes and conceptualizing “things”; like Socrates, men, or mortality.
  • There are logical judgements or propositions (statements) based on comparing terms and concepts; like the proposition (or logical judgement about Socrates) Socrates (subject) is a (modality; the relation) man (predicate), and all men are mortal.
  • Then there is reasoned inferences or conclusions based on comparing logical judgements and propositions; like since Socrates is a man and since all men are mortal, therefore Socrates is mortal.

In other words,

  • We can observe empirically or conceptualize rationally to define terms (defining attributes and properties of systems).
  • We can make logical judgements about terms to form propositions (statements).
  • We can draw reasoned inferences from judgements.
  • And, we can generally consider all these parts, even comparing reasoned inference (themselves propositions) to each other and draw terms and judgements back out of them.

In all cases, we are always comparing things and looking for patterns based on observation. So, all human reason is really just comparing things (observations and rationalizations), looking for patterns, and of course remembering.

No matter which direction we go, whether we use Analysis (where we break a complex thing into parts) or Synthesis (where we consider how parts connect as systems and how systems and parts relate), or what method or reasoning below we use (deductive, inductive, abductive or other), we are always essentially working with these fundamental parts of logic and reason.

After-all, sensory (observation), short term (storage of a few things and “working with them”), and long term memory (storage of all things, the connections between them, and working with them) are very specific (and related) physical things, and that empirical foundation is what all our rationalization is built on in the most physical sense.

TIP: When we discuss anything, we can generally say we are either discussing the physical, logical, ethical, or moral (or a mix). Each “sphere” (or class of things) gets treated a little differently, because each class has different properties by its nature. The concept of justice is not exactly the same as a rock, so it follows that we would use different reasoning types to deal with each. In other words, it was important to understand the basic products/processes of thought, the classes, and the basics of logic and reason, all so we could move onto this vital step of reasoning methods! Opening this door will then open more doors, and so it will go until we have left the bounds of “a basic theory of human knowledge.”

A List of Types of Reasoning: Deductive, Inductive, Abductive, and Beyond

The first thing one should note when discussing the many different reasoning types and all the many things that relate to them is that there are essentially only two true forms of reasoning/logic/argumentation. Those are deduction and induction.

From there many different forms of reasoning can be denoted, including the rather important abductive reasoning.

TIP: Deductive, inductive, and abductive get multiple definitions and special attention here as there is more than one way to express these fundamental forms of reasoning.

  • Deductive Reasoning (Reasoning by Certainty; top-down reasoning): The reasoning method that deals with certainty. Can be described as deducing certain conclusions from certain facts, or determining certain facts about specific things based on certain truths about classes of things, or deducing conclusions by comparing a hypothesis to certain facts to find a certain conclusion. In all cases, it is the determining truth-values with certainty based on certain truths. Either 1. Facts that contain only certainty -> Comparison -> Conclusion based on certainty (produces more facts), or 2. Theory -> Hypothesis -> Observation -> Compare Hypothesis and Observation -> Draw Certain Conclusion (Confirming or Contradicting the Hypothesis based on testing). When testing is done to try to falsify a hypothesis in the scientific method, this is deductive reasoning. Inferring B from A when and only when B is a formal logical consequence of A. Ex. All A are B, and all C are A, therefore all C must be B.
  • Inductive Reasoning (Reasoning By Consistency; bottom-up reasoning): The reasoning method that deals with probability. Starting with an observation and then looking for facts to back it up, or predicting something about a class of things based on specific facts, or starting with likelihoods and looking for probable conclusions. Starting with facts that contain uncertainty (statistics or an observation about a specific thing for example) and finding what is likely true (determining probability and likelihood and then formulating a theory based on that data). Either 1. Facts that contain uncertainty (like statistics) -> Pattern -> Conclusion based on probability (produces a hypothesis/theory), or 2. Observation -> Compare observations and/or other facts -> Pattern -> Hypothesis -> Theory. Inferring B from A where B does not necessarily follow from A. Ex. Most Aare B, and most C are A, therefore this C is likely B.
  • Abductive Reasoning: The reasoning method that deals with guesswork. Starting with an observation and finding a “good explanation” for an event using facts and experiment (induction based on speculation; a sort of guesswork where you start with an observation, compare the observation to facts, and form a hypothesis based on shared properties). Observation -> Facts -> Likely explanation (a speculative hypothesis). Inferring Aas an explanation of B. Ex. This A is B, and most C are A, perhaps C is B?
  • Inverse Forms (of Deduction, Induction, Abduction): Doing the inverse of any reasoning type. For example with inverse deduction, we would start with the conclusion and look for facts that proved the conclusion with certainty. Or with inverse induction, we start with a hypothesis and look for facts to support it. Bottom-up and top-down terminology aside, working with certain truths only is deduction and working with specifics and likelihoods is induction. Likewise, no matter what direction you go, comparing observations and specific facts to produce a speculative hypothesis is abduction. The same is generally true for all other reasoning types; I would argue that the fundamentals define the type more than the order.

Here one could consider the above terms like this:

Deductive Inductive Abductive
Major Premise All Men are Mortal (a certain fact about a class of things) Socrates is a Man (a fact about a specific thing) All Men are Mortal (a fact about a specific thing or class of things)
Minor Premise Socrates is a Man (a certain fact about a specific thing or class of things) Socrates is Mortal (a fact about a specific thing) Socrates is a Mortal (an interesting observation)
Conclusion (Inference) Socrates is Mortal (Deduce a fact about a specific thing or class of things; produces a certain fact) All Men are Mortal (Infer a fact about a specific thing or class of things; produces a likelihood) Socrates is a Man (Speculate a connection between the interesting observation and the fact; produces an uncertain speculative hypothesis, a guess)

Or, one could consider the terms like this:

Deductive Inductive Abductive
Major Premise Rule: All the beans from this bag are white. Case: These beans are [randomly selected] from this bag. Rule: All the beans from this bag are white.
Minor Premise Case: These beans are from this bag. Fact: These beans are white (observation). Fact: These beans are white (observation).
Conclusion (Inference) Therefore\therefore  Fact: These beans are certainly white (logical truth). Therefore\therefore  Rule: All the beans from this bag are likely white. Therefore\therefore  Case: These beans are from this bag (hypothesis; guess).

Rule, Case, Fact: Above we used the terms rule (something that is always true), case (something that is true or is suspected to be true “in this case”), fact (something that is observed to be true or was deduced as a logical truth). From this perspective, the reasoning types are defined by where rules, cases, and facts appear in the conclusions or premisses (the order of the premisses doesn’t matter). With that in mind, abductive reasoning is unique because it tries to connect an observation with a general rule to formulate a hypothesis (guess) about what could have happened in this case. Abductive is therefore like a mix or bridge between deductive and inductive reasoning. To help wrap your mind around the difference between these three, see an interesting take on the matter from

  • Reductive Reasoning (Reasoning by Contradiction): Starting with a conclusion or premise and using facts to prove it is not true (disproving a claim using facts to show it is “absurd”). The method of reductio ad absurdum attempts either to disprove a statement by showing it inevitably leads to a ridiculous, absurd, or impractical conclusion, or to prove one by showing that if it were not true, the result would be absurd or impossible. Conclusion -> Facts -> the Invalidation of a conclusion (disproves theories).[8]
  • Analogous Reasoning: Reasoning by analogy (it is true for this system, real or metaphorical, perhaps it can tell us truth about this other system it shares properties/attributes with). Includes reasoning by metaphor; like using magnets to explain quantum interactions, or looking to a past historic event to help us understand a current event (by looking at properties the events share and speculating that it could share other properties and cause and effect chains).
  • Reasoning by Generalization: Reasoning by generalization (a type of analogous reasoning and cause-and-effect reasoning that merits specific mention). This is one of the most common types of reasoning. Machiavelli does it for most of his works where he offers general rules for politics based on his reading of political history and his own experiences. The idea is the same as it is with analogous reasoning, it is looking at the properties a set of events share and speculating what could be true for another system based on that. Ex. the Dutch Disease hypothesis (growth in one sector leads to a decline in another).
  • Deontic Reasoning: Reasoning where a conclusion logically follows from a single premise (a premise with a necessary conclusion). Ex. Lying is wrong; therefore one should not lie (the second premise, that one doesn’t want to act wrongly, isn’t needed, or is at least implied in the premise).
  • Statistical Reasoning: Inductive reasoning using statistics (thus producing probable truth values based on statistical data).
  • Comparative Reasoning: Reasoning by comparison (I reason I am short, because most people are taller than me). It is reasoning that establishes the importance of something by comparing it against something else (the comparing of two real systems to find similarities and differences; not just comparing by metaphor).
  • Conditional ReasoningIf…then… logic. Logic where outputs change depending on variables. This is contingent reasoning that considers inductive and deductive logic based on variables (or “possible worlds”).
  • Modal Reasoning: Reasoning by qualifiers. Conditional reasoning is one example of this. For example, since A then necessarily B. This is what Hume’s fork expresses essentially. Things are either possible if and only if it is not necessarily false (regardless of whether it is actually true or actually false); necessary if and only if it is not possibly false; and contingent if and only if it is not necessarily false and not necessarily true (i.e. possible but not necessarily true); impossible if and only if it is not possibly true (i.e. false and necessarily false).
  • Cause-and-effect Reasoning (Casual Reasoning): Reasoning what could or should happen given an effect or cause (what would happen if there was no taxes starting tomorrow?) See types and modes of causal reasoning.
  • Counter-ArgumentsAn objection to an objection (or more broadly an assertion). Disputing a premise, inference, or relationship between the premisses or the premisses and conclusion (an inference objection) generally by supplying additional premisses and conclusions. In debate and rhetoric, counterarguments are used to cast doubt on other arguments. See the Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement below to understand different aspects of the counter-argument (including contradiction and refutation).[9]
  • Refutation: A Type of counter-argument that seeks to invalidate a part of or whole line of reasoning.

  • Rhetoric: Using a mix of logical reasoning types (a dash of appeals to emotion) to persuade people (persuasive reasoning).
  • Debate: A dialogue consisting of reasoning types, rhetoric, and counter-arguments.
  • Abstraction (dialectic)Taking a concept and abstracting out other concepts (it is in essence the root behind deduction and the syllogism). One can also think of this as taking premises, arguments, or hypotheses and drawing out other premises and taking arguments and drawing out other concepts, premises, arguments, or hypotheses (it is essentially a form of analysis). From the concept of height comes short and tall (necessarily; to the extent that it is almost tautological). Or, for example, from the thesis of liberalism comes the anti-thesis conservatism, comes the synthesis centrism. Can be used to create spectrums and to discover new terms.
  • ConceptualizingObserving attributes to define terms (the fundamental process of logic and reason). One can’t define a system without observing its properties. Without concepts there is nothing to reason with.
  • Logic (in general): Making judgements from comparing terms.
  • Reasoning (in general): Making reasoned inferences by comparing judgments and terms.
  • Temporal Reasoning: reasoning based on the qualifier of time (where something can be true some times and then false other times).
  • SkepticismPoking holes in arguments by trying to falsify, invalidate, weaken, provide counter-arguments (including refutation and contradiction), or generally use reductive reasoning (questioning inferences and premisses).
  • Analytical Reasoning: Looking at a system and analyzing its parts.
  • Synthetic Reasoning: The opposite of analytical reasoning. Looking at how the parts of systems fit together and looking at the spaces in between (considering relations by analogy and forming hypotheses from that). A sort of mix of induction, abduction, and analogy.
  • Critical Thinking: A name for employing all these thinking methods and pairing them with imagination to practice philosophy (natural and moral). Thinking “what is,” “what might be,” and “what ought to be” to draw out more truth from what is known.
  • Fallacious Reasoning: Reasoning based on false beliefs (reasoning based on beliefs that are not actual facts).
  • Butterfly Reasoning: Reasoning by imagination (not formal logic). A way to describe the common reasoning method people use where connections are drawn based on perceived associations (that don’t necessarily connect logically). It is the assumption of a relation without proof of a relation (a type of fallacious reasoning). This form of reasoning can produce compelling arguments and lead to useful hypotheses, but uses unsound, invalid, weak, or uncogent arguments. It was defined by the very useful website “” to describe the sort of reasoning people use in the every day (and, as a side note, the sort of reasoning conspiracy theories often use). TIP: This reasoning method is very useful despite its informal nature, it is the basis of imagination (where we use all the tools in our toolkit to find patterns and connections). It is a first step, not a final step.

TIP: Any of the above reasoning types can generally be transposed onto a syllogism or onto a conditional “if…then…” statement. The right form to use depends on the argument, field, and class of things we are comparing. With that in mind, let’s tackle the syllogism.

The Rule-Sets of Thought and The Structure of Arguments

Now that we know the types of arguments (reasoning methods), let’s study their structure and some rule-sets they follow.

The Laws of Thought and Probability

The general rules behind the nature of what we can know by deductive reasoning are reducible to a few axioms, these are the Classical Three Fundamental Laws of Thought.

To this we only need to add the laws of probability (which speak to inductive reasoning) to have the general rules behind what we can know through any reasoning method.

  1. The Law of Identity: Whatever is, is; Every A is A.
  2. The Law of Contradiction: Nothing can both be and not be; Nothing can be A and not A.
  3. The Law of Excluded Middles:  Everything must either be or not be; Everything is either A or not A.
  4. The laws of thought are very useful, but they alone don’t comprise a perfect epistemological theory. We also need to consider the following points.
  5. The “Law” of Probability (the Axioms of Probability): [Very loosely speaking] things can exist in a state of probability (like a coin, sometimes being A and sometimes being B, but never literally both A and B at the same time). In other words, everything is either true or not when it happens, but we know from quantum physics that some things can exist as probabilities before they occur. With information, sometimes we can’t know things for sure, and instead we have to express likelihood. Since inductive logic produces degrees of probability, we must also consider probability when dealing with truth.

Everything we deal with will essentially follow these rule-sets.

The General Structure of an Argument: General, Conditional, and Syllogistic

Typically an argument has a basic structure such as:

  1. a set of assumptions or premises
  2. a method of reasoning or deduction and
  3. a conclusion or point.

TIP: In logic P, Q, and R are generally used in place of A, B, and C (especially when an equation needs to use all those symbols like inductive Bayesian equations do).

The format follows a few basic rules depending on what type of argument we are making.

We can follow the law of detachment (a law behind if… then… conditional reasoning that uses a hypothesis):

  1. P → Q (a conditional statement; → means “then;” if A “→” or “then” B)
  2. P (hypothesis stated; assigns a value to P)
  3. Q (conclusion deduced; therefore Q)

Or, we can follow the law of contrapositive (a law behind if… then… conditional reasoning that uses a variable):

  1. P → Q (conditional, if P then Q).
  2. ~Q (~Q means if it is Q in this case; it is a type of variable)
  3. Therefore, we can conclude ~P (we can conclude it will be P in this case)

Or, we can follow the law of the syllogism which can be stated in a conditional form (a law behind if… then… that works with two certain statements):

  1. P → Q (if P then Q)
  2. Q → R (if Q then R)
  3. Therefore, P → R (if P then R)

Or, the syllogism can be transposed to this classical “syllogistic” form which shows equivalence:

  1. A = B
  2. B = C
  3. Therefore, A = C

Generally all arguments can be phrased as one of these conditional or syllogistic forms.

TIP: See a list of List of logic symbols.

The Syllogism

A simple and classical example of an argument is the syllogism.

Although forms of reasoning and argument, including the conditional forms, can essentially be transposed onto a syllogism. Given this, let’s focus on on the syllogistic form. A version of the classic syllogism looks like this:

  • Premise 1: All humans are mortal; or, A = B.
  • Premise 2: All Greeks are a human; or, B = C.
  • Conclusion: All Greeks are mortal; or, Therefore, A=C.

It looks like this with explainers:

  1. Major Premise: All humans (subject term; middle term) are mortal (predicate term; major term). (a logical proposition that uses the categorical terms “all humans” and “mortal,” where “are” tells us their relation; we can reasonably assume all humans are mortal using inductive reasoning).
  2. Minor Premise: All Greeks (subject term; minor term) are a Human (predicate term; still the middle term). (logical proposition; again we can reason that All Greeks are human via inductive reasoning).
  3. Conclusion: Therefore, All Greeks (subject term; minor term) is mortal (predicate term; major term). (reasoned inference; we draw the logical conclusion or reasoned inference that All Greeks are mortal because they are human and “all humans are mortal”).

NOTE: A categorical syllogism is an argument consisting of exactly three categorical propositions (two premisses and a conclusion) in which there appear a total of exactly three categorical terms, each of which is used exactly twice. The syllogism above is an example of a “categorical” syllogism. Here categorical means the term is a category things, not a specific thing.

The Mood of a Syllogism

The syllogism above is a thing of deductive reasoning and is an “AAA” “universal” categorical syllogism made from categorical propositions; categorical: because it uses categories of things and not specific names and, universal: because the subject term applies to the predicate in each premise and conclusion (i.e. the subject is distributed to the predicate; it is not undistributed, meaning it applies only to “particular” cases).

Further, it is affirmative, because each statement is denoting that the claim is true (if it was “aren’t” instead of “are” it would be negative).

Another way to say this is each proposition and the conclusion are all Universal Affirmative (A). All valid “AAA” syllogisms have a constant truth-value.

In other words, there is a logical rule-set behind reasoning where each proposition or conclusion is either in the form of:

  • Universal Affirmative (A). All A are B.
  • Universal Negative (E). No A are B.
  • Particular Affirmative (I). Some A are B.
  • Particular Negative (O). Some A are not B.

The above is always true for deductive reasoning (because it speaks to certainty), but can only loosely be applied to inductive reasoning (because it speaks to likelihood).

In other words, the style of a syllogism works for both deductive and inductive logic/reasoning/argument, but the bit about mood only directly applies to deductive reasoning (one of the ways in which these two forms of reasoning are different).

TIP: To be clear “AAA” means a universal major premise, a universal minor premise, and a universal conclusion. Learn more about figure and a term which describes the position of the middle term, mood.

Deductive Reasoning Vs. Inductive Reasoning

The structure of a syllogism works for both inductive and deductive arguments, but these two types have a key difference.

Deductive reasoning produces constant truth-values, inductive doesn’t (it produces probable truth-values AKA likelihoods).

With that in mind, an inductive syllogism (a non-deductive or statistical syllogism) might look like this:[6]

  1. Almost all Adult Humans are taller than 25 inches.
  2. Socrates is an Adult Human.
  3. Therefore, it is “highly likely” Socrates is taller than 25 inches.

With deductive reasoning we can know whether an argument is true or not based on figure (as long as we confirm our logic is sound). That means we can create a logic rule-set that always works.

It doesn’t work the same way with inductive reasoning (as we aren’t just working with certain truths).

In other words, there are different metrics that apply to deductive and inductive reasoning respectively. So let’s cover those now to further illustrate the difference between these two main logic types.

Deductive Reasoning and Validity and Soundness Vs. Inductive Reasoning and Cogency and Strength

  • Deductive arguments are either sound or unsound and either valid and invalid.
  • Inductive arguments are either cogent or uncogent and either strong or weak.

All of that speaks to whether or not the parts (subject, premisses, predicates, etc) of the logic make sense together (that the connect logically).

TIP: For more reading see: Deduction and Induction from Patrick J. Hurley, A Concise Introduction to Logic, 10th ed.

The following is true for deductive arguments only:[7]

  • valid deductive argument is an argument in which it is impossible for the conclusion to be false given that the premises are true.
  • An invalid deductive argument is a deductive argument in which it is possible for the conclusion to be false given that the premises are true.
  • A sound argument is a deductive argument that is valid and has all true premises (if it isn’t true for all premisses, it is “unsound”).
  • An unsound argument is a deductive argument that is invalid, has one or more false premises, or both.

The relationship between the validity of a deductive argument and the truth or falsity of its premises and conclusion can be illustrated by the following table:

Premises Conclusion Validity
T T ?
T F Invalid
F T ?
F F ?

Meanwhile, the following is true for inductive arguments only:

Unlike the validity and invalidity of deductive arguments, the strength and weakness of inductive arguments is expressed in degrees of probability.

  • To be considered “strong,” an inductive argument must have a conclusion that is more probable than improbable (there must have a likelihood of greater than 50% that the conclusion is true).
  • The inverse is also true (i.e. argument is therefore “weak” if it has less than 50% probability).
  • Thus, an uncogent argument is an inductive argument that is weak, has one or more false premises, or both.
  • Meanwhile, A cogent argument is an inductive argument that is strong and has all true premises; if either condition is missing, the argument is uncogent.

The relationship between the strength of an inductive argument and the truth or falsity of its premises and conclusion can be illustrated as:

Premises Conclusion Strength
T prob.T ?
T prob. F Weak
F prob.T ?
F prob. F ?

TIP: As you can see inductive reasoning follows rule-sets like deduction does, but it doesn’t produce certainty like sound and valid moods of syllogisms do. Instead it only offers insight. This is due to the probable nature of induction.

TIP: With both deductive and inductive logic we should consider how the terms of propositions relate to each other, do they follow necessarily? Are they tautological (do we need to say All Greeks are mortal, isn’t mortality a property of the categorical class “All Greeks” in the first place)? You can learn more about that on our page on Hume’s Fork, it doesn’t speak directly to the differences between reasoning types, but it is very important to understand (so let’s discuss that quickly).

Modality and Hume’s Fork

Here are some other important things to know about the terms we are using and about the modality (the relations) between subjects, predicates, premisses, and arguments.

  • Concepts and Terms: To make a judgement, one must compare terms. To have a term, one must conceptualize something. To conceptualize something, one must have observed the attributes/properties of an object or imagined something. In general there are two types of concepts/terms: empirical (observed) and rational (imagined).
  • Proposition: A logical judgement (or simply “a statement”) about two or more terms (a subject and a predicate; ex. “a bachelor is sitting in the chair” is a proposition or judgement about the subject, “a bachelor,” who is “sitting in the chair,” the predicate). In other words a proposition is a proposed logical judgement about at least two terms.
  • Category: A class of things that share properties. TIP: When we say a priori we could be referring to a term/concept, a judgement/proposition, or a class of things. It depends on context. Space and time are a priori terms, judgements about space and time are a priori judgements, all terms and judgements about space and time are of the category a priori.
  • Premisses and Conclusions: Two types of propositions; where a premise is a proposition that leads to a conclusion (another proposition).
  • Empiricism: Knowledge through empirical evidence (information from the senses). Facts about the world. What we observe. We observe something and form a concept by observing its attributes. All real objects and real attributes and the real relations of objects are empirical.
  • Rationalism: Knowledge through ideas (information originating in our minds). Facts about ideas. Everything that isn’t material, and is therefore formal, is rational. All argument involves rationalizing about rational and empirical concepts.
  • Deduction: Deductive reasoning where one compares certain truths to draw out other certain truths.
  • Induction: Inductive reasoning where one compares specifics facts and probable truths to draw out likely truths.
  • Objectivity: That which is confirmable as true. The state or quality of being true even outside of a subject’s individual biases, perspectives, interpretations, feelings, imaginings, and/or opinions. Ex. “Water is wet” or “1+1=2.”
  • Subjectivity: That which we perceive. Knowledge based on individual biases, perspective, interpretations, feelings, imaginings, and/or opinions. Ex. “The water feels cold to me.”
  • Skepticism: Generally, the art of questioning and contradicting. In this case, being skeptical that rationalism (pure reason) can result in true knowledge about the world. Can be interpreted broadly as skepticism about both empirical and rational knowledge. For instance, Kant suggests fusing the two styles as, “our senses themselves could be tricking us.”

The three basic distinctions we are working with (as noted above) are:

  • The analytic – synthetic distinction: Analytic statements can be proven true by analyzing their terms (they are tautological), meanwhile synthetic statements cannot be proven true by analyzing their terms.
  • The necessary – contingent distinction: Necessary statements are necessarily true in all cases, meanwhile contingent statements depend on more information (they are conditional).
  • The a priori – a posteriori distinction: A priori statements do not rely upon direct experience (they are rationalized), meanwhile a posteriori statements do rely on direct experience (they are empirical).

The terms used in those distinctions can be defined in terms of propositions (logical statements) like this:

  • Analytic proposition: A statement that is true by definition (can be proven true by analyzing the terms).  Ex. “All bachelors are unmarried.” The bachelor is unmarried because he is a bachelor. “Being unmarried” is an attribute of “bachelor,” thus the statement is necessarily true by definition.
  • Synthetic proposition: A statement that is not true by definition and requires observation or more information (cannot be proven true by analyzing the terms alone). Ex. “The man is sitting in a chair.” Nothing about sitting in a chair makes one a man, but we can look to see a man is sitting in the chair. The statement is not necessarily true by definition, it is contingent on more information (such as observing to see if it is true in this case).
  • a priori proposition: a proposition whose justification does not rely upon experience. Ex. “1 + 2 = 3,” or “all bachelors are unmarried.” It stands to reason all bachelors are unmarried, but I can’t meet every bachelor to confirm this empirically (I have to confirm it rationally). Likewise, we know 1 +2 = 3 rationally, but numbers aren’t tangible material things we can confirm with our senses (we can’t look at see a 1, 2, or 3 directly).
  • a posteriori proposition: a proposition whose justification does rely upon experience. Ex. “The man is sitting in a chair.” I can confirm the man is in the chair empirically, via my senses, by looking.

This gives us four possibilities (four mixes of the analytic-synthetic and a priori-a posteriori) of which:

  • Analytic a posteriori proportions: experience based propositions that can be shown to be true by their terms alone. This produces a contradiction and can be ignored. There are no Analytic a posteriori statements.
  • Synthetic a posteriori proportions: experience based propositions that can’t be shown to be true by their terms alone. Ex. “The man is sitting in a chair.” I can confirm the man is sitting in the chair by looking.
  • Analytic a priori proportions: propositions not based on experience that can be shown to be true by their terms alone. Ex. “All bachelors are unmarried.” By their nature, all bachelors are unmarried, although we can’t confirm it via direct experience.
  • Synthetic a priori proportions: propositions not based on experience that can’t be shown to be true by their terms alone. Ex. “F=ma.” F=ma is necessarily true and not tautological, yet only indirect evidence can prove it (we can’t observe force, mass, and acceleration directly).

A simple table that shows the a priori-a posteriori, analytic-synthetic, necessary-contingent distinctions, the terms and the relations of our terms look like this:

Analytic (a statement that can be proven true by analyzing the terms; related to rationalism and deduction)

Ex. “All bachelors are unmarried”

Synthetic (a statement that cannot be proven true by analyzing the terms; related to empiricism and induction)

Ex. “The man is sitting in the chair”

A priori (a statement that does not rely upon experience; therefore often logically necessary and often tautological; related to rationalism and deduction)

Ex. “All bachelors are unmarried”

Analytic a priori are propositions not based on experience that can be shown to be true by their terms alone.

“All bachelors are unmarried.” Logical.

Synthetic a priori are propositions not based on experience that can’t be shown to be true by their terms alone.

“F=ma” Transcendental (mix of logical and empirical).

A posteriori (a statement that does rely upon experience; therefore logically contingent; related to empiricism and induction).

Ex. “the man is sitting in the chair”

Analytic a posteriori are experience based propositions that can be shown to be true by their terms alone.

Can be ignored. Hypothetical.

Synthetic a posteriori are experience based propositions that can’t be shown to be true by their terms alone.

“The man is sitting in a chair.” Empirical.

TIP: Kant “proves” that synthetic a priori judgements are possible early on in his Critique, pointing to mathematics (ex. “7 + 5 =12”), geometry (“a straight line between two points is the shortest”), physics (“F=ma”), and metaphysics (“God gave men free-will”). The main question he then seeks to answer is, “how are a priori synthetic judgements possible?” To be clear, Kant doesn’t explicitly give all those examples, but they do fit the bill. Since metaphysics, in its dealing with freedom, God, and the will, deals with the unknowable a priori, the key to figuring out the limits of our knowledge and the usefulness of rationalism, are found in mathematics (including geometry) and physics.

Terms of these four categories of propositions can then be of the following types:

  • necessary proposition (necessarily true): Any proposition which is necessarily true or necessarily false.  Ex. “The white cat is white; or, the white cat is not black.” The white cat is by definition necessarily white.
  • contingent proposition (dependent on more information): Any proposition in which the truth of the proposition depends on more information. They are propositions that are neither “true under every possible valuation (i.e. tautologies)”, nor “false under every possible valuation (i.e. contradictions)”. Ex. “a black cat is sitting in the chair.” That statement is only true when a black cat is sitting in the chair, otherwise it is false. It is contingent on what the case is in this instance.
  • Tautological proposition (necessarily true but redundant): That which must be true (or could be true) no matter what the circumstances are. Ex. “the black cat is black.” It is redundant (tautological) to say the black cat is black. TIP: It may be redundant to state a fact about a property of a system (such as the blackness of a black cat), but it is still a useful trick of analysis. So it isn’t useless, it is just tautological.
  • Contradictions (necessarily not true as it contradicts itself): That which must necessarily be untrue, no matter what the circumstances are or could be. Ex. “the man is in a chair and not in a chair.”
  • “Possible” proposition (is true under certain circumstances): Are true or could have been true given certain circumstances. Ex. “x + y = 4.” That could be true, it depends on the values of x and y.

With that in mind, let’s put the basics together in a table like we did above, but this time with more detail to better illustrate all this.

Phenomena and noumena: Kant also considers other terms like phenomena and noumena. Phenomena are the appearances and properties of things; that which constitutes what we can experience and sense. Meanwhile, noumena are posited objects or events that exist without sense or perception (that which constitutes reality). In other words, the properties and effects of a thing that we can sense directly are phenomena, and the rest is noumena. All synthetic a priori judgements that tell us about the world are rationalizations about phenomena (like F=ma which describes the phenomena of force, mass, and acceleration). Understood loosely, 1. noumena is of the rational and phenomena is of the empirical, and 2.noumena is the thing-in-itself and phenomena is the effects (the manifestations of those things that can be perceived via the physical senses). TIP: See Plato’s theory of the forms (a theory of a noumenal world; as a metaphor at least) for more on different ways to understand noumena. NOTE: Empirically speaking, an object is a collection of properties (ex. a photon isn’t a widget with properties as far as we know; the only way to describe a photon is to describe its properties, its phenomena). From this perspective there is only phenomena in the physical world and noumena is just a metaphysical idea (at best describing a collection of properties; directly observable or not). With that said, loosely speaking, it helps to understand that we can have useful knowledge of an object beyond what we can sense about an object directly. Still, the takeaway is “the noumenal world may exist, but it is completely unknowable through human sensation… and therefore it is a purely metaphysical concept.”[8][9]

What does “transcendental” mean in Kantian terms? An important but complex concept of Kant is the “transcendental.” Essentially each part of our discussion gets a transcendental, which generally describes where one category (like a priori) transcends into another (like a posteriori). Important for our conversation is the Transcendental Aesthetic, which describes the a priori of empirical things (like space, time, geometry). Here it describes not the metaphysical aspects of space and time, but the useful physic concepts used to predict behaviors of physical bodies that transcends the limits of pure rationalization and becomes useful knowledge about the world. Meanwhile, to flesh out the picture, Transcendental Logic describes the aspect of logic that relates to the empirical (like the categorizing of relations between objects). A synthetic a priori is of the transcendental aesthetic and we have categorized it using transcendental logic. Learn more Kant’s Transcendental.

TIP: As you can see a from the above, some terms are very similar, this is because all these terms speak to different aspects of “what we can know.” All of logic is a bit like that, sometimes we are talking about the process of thought, sometimes about the product. Sometimes about a judgement, sometimes about a term. A justification that relies on experience (a posteriori), and a statement that is true on observation (synthetic) can use some of the same exact examples (as they are both speaking about an empirical judgement). Likewise, we can consider synthetic a priori terms, judgements, and categories (not just judgements/propositions/statements). Despite this, each term speaks to a different aspect of thought and has a slightly different meaning. In other words, many terms are similar, but they have specific meaning, and need to be considered on their own merit.

TIP: Remember we also have affirmative, negative, universal, and particular (as covered above).

We now have the basic building blocks down. As you can see, some things are necessary (like we find in deductive logic) and some things are probable (like we find in inductive).

Quantity: Organizing and Ordering by “Sets of Logical Attributes”: Considering Levels of Measurement for Terms

Now that we have all the above covered, it is important to realize that there are a ton of different categories related to each term, statement, inference.

One way to order and categorize terms we can draw from classifications in biology to statistics and databasing. Let’s do all of that quickly.

Attributes to consider for ordering and organizing terms in our above categories (for categorizing terms based on relationships) include:[10][11][12]

  1. Fixed categories, like the categories noted above. We can call these “taxonomies.”
  2. Attributes. These are properties of a concept.
  3. Variable attributes. These are categories that can change.
  4. Values. These are numbers that can be assigned to concepts to offer meaning.
  5. And relationships themselves. These are relationships between concepts.

There are typically four levels of measurement used to determine the above factors, they can be defined as:[13]

  1. Nominal. A singular thing like a name. We can use this to order things by name.
  2. Ordinal. Something that can be ranked in order. We can use these to order things by “rank.”
  3. Interval. Something that considers the relations and changes between things (a range of things); in statistics it can be used for comparing 35 – 50 degrees to 65 – 80 degrees for example. We can order by interval.
  4. Ratio. Something in which absolute zero has meaning, like with stocks where a zero percent return is “not good” but better than a negative return. We can order by ratio.

Like our categories each is increasingly complex, unlike our categories, they don’t denote probable truth (although they do relate to it indirectly, these categories are generally used in statistics; statistics is human knowledge, so we certainly have to discuss that too).

Hume’s Fork (in Kantian Terms)

Above we talked about our two pronged fork when discussing categories, now lets use it again to discuss the reasoning methods and the relations of terms, judgements, and inferences.

Using reason we can define a two pronged fork (Hume’s Fork) like this:

  • Rational (facts based on ideas), Relations of Ideas – Statements about ideas. These are analytic, necessary statements (tautology) that are knowable a priori. They are known through reason (rationalism). Things we know through thought alone. Ex. “1+2=3,” “all bachelors are unmarried.”
  • Empirical (facts based on experience), Relations of Facts – Statements about the world. These are syntheticcontingent, and knowable a posteriori. They are gained through empirical evidence (empiricism). Things we know through the senses. Ex. “An apple tastes sweet,” “the bachelor is sitting in a chair.”

Crossing Hume’s Fork

To show that it is useful to consider both the empirical (a posteriori) and rational (a priori), we have to prove that a synthetic a priori is useful (we have to prove that “pure formal reason” is useful, that the world of ideas is useful and not pure tautology that tells us nothing about the world of things).

Luckily, Kant did the hard work for us.

Kant “crosses Hume’s fork” (Hume, if it isn’t clear was an empiricist who thought, in Kant’s terms, synthetic a priori was meaningless, and Kant’s critique of Pure Reason is him rebutting this) by proving that we can create a confirmable [via testing] “synthetic” “a priori,” a proposition that is true and not dependent on itself, yet can’t be proven via direct empirical evidence (it can only be proven indirectly).

An example of a “synthetic” “a priori” that is provable indirectly is E=mc2, as it is true, but we can’t confirm it with direct experience. Likewise, spacetime would be a synthetic a priori concept that “is real” and “useful” and tells us facts about the world outside of us (Kant uses space and time as examples in his work).

More on Skepticism

A key part of Reasoning is Skepticism, skepticism is the art of being skeptical about terms, judgements, and reasoning.

The scientific method is a great example of applying skepticism, it is also a good example of combining everything we did so far.

It is a logical ruleset, that compares judgements, using empirical data, but based on a rational hypothesis. When we apply that method to the social sciences, where we have to judge actions and phycology where we have to judge feelings, we really begin to dip our toes in utilizing the above.

TIP: Hume was a skeptic. He was skeptical that pure reason told us anything useful about the world. See: Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume.

More on the Relations of Cause and Effect, Cycles, and Other Relations

Concepts and judgements (or things and systems of things rather) have relations to each other beyond relations quantity and category.

We can also consider things like Causality and Dependence (cause and effect), Substance and Accident (being

  • In all natural systems cause and effect is fixed and based on the laws of nature.
  • In all systems that deal with moral philosophy, cause and effect has an element of probability.

Feelings can cause an action as an effect, but not with 100% certainty; instead it increases probability (it impacts the will).

So we can quantify and qualify human behavior, and we can create “rules and laws,” but these are social laws, they aren’t like with physics, they don’t have the same degree of certainty.

If a spouse cheats, our free-will is fed a type of fire, it spurs us toward action, but it doesn’t ensure specifics of how we react. This is where ethics and morality come into play. How should we act, based not only on our free-will and feelings, but based on a rationalized rule-set and the physical laws of our chemistry, and the somewhat quantifiable nature of social relations?

When speaking of cause and effect, we also have to speak of cycles.

In general we can say, “most systems go in cycles.”

Day and Night is a cycle, it has a sort of indirect cause and effect relationship (where the objects of the solar system cause it), however it isn’t a direct cause and effect relationship, it is a cycle.

Many cycles we experience are physical, but many are metaphysical. The mood of the country, the ups and down of a relationship, the switching of party to party, we can quantify these cycles and predict them with some degree of certainty, but we can’t make a science of this fully positive. It isn’t in its nature to be fully positive, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a useful understanding of it or consider relations.

Other relations we haven’t noted yet, but should be discussed, can be learned about at the, see “Book 2. A Short Critique of Kant’s Unreason Chapter 5. Kant’s “categories.”[14]

TIP: Consider the virtue of Friendship. It is a metaphysical social concept, a social virtue. You cannot fully make the science of friendship positive, but it is important, it drives us to act, and we affect the world. Friendship is the cause, our action is the effect, our actions are the cause, and friendship is the effect. We cross forks every day and rarely even realize it. When we “have understanding” about Friendship, and when we create “laws” and “rules’ of social relations, we are doing something potentially useful, but we kid ourselves to think rules like F=ma’s social equivalent will work in the social sphere. We don’t need to treat an apple like an orange, we can just enjoy both for what they are.

TIP: Newton’s laws of physics are worth considering here too. The properties of physical systems are generally comparable to the properties of conceptual systems as at least an analogy.

Working With Probabilities and Theories

Not everything that is true can be proven. This becomes clear when we think of what a theory is (it is a model for understanding, not a “fact”), and it becomes clear when we consider:

  • Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems, which show there are things that are true that we can’t prove true using mathematics (an equation that works out the logic behind a paradox like the sentence “this statement is a lie”).
  • Bayes’ Theorem, which shows that we can compare conditional probabilities to find the “likelihood” something is true or false (even when we can’t know it for sure).
  • The Scientific Method, which shows that we can create a rock solid and usable theory based on a collection of related facts, testing, and a strong hypothesis. We don’t need to know F=ma directly, we just need to know it works every time when subjected to rigorous test.

As I noted above, most things have a probabilistic quality, but where physics itself is founded on the purely probable quantum physics, the nature of metaphysical and ethical truths (not their material physics so to speak) is what is probable. Is it wrong to kill? We can’t REALLY prove it, but we can make a strong case.

Like Bayes can find a likely truth in insurance adjustment, we can find likely moral truths (using analogous technology). For example, we can do a study of social science and show that most people consider killing immoral. pair that with studies that show killing has negative effects, and we can start building a positive case for “thou shalt not kill.” Still, it isn’t a rock or math problem, and we can’t expect to quantify it like a rock or math problem with no other considerations.

Each category (the 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, etc) has its own considerations; it is absurd to try to treat a moral exactly like a rock (with a tests or standards).

Using Metaphor

Since some things aren’t provable, and since some things have probability, and since some things are metaphysic it helps to use metaphors.

We can use metaphors like Plato’s cave allegory to speak about things which aren’t purely empirical. Sometimes it helps to use metaphor to talk about that which posses the quality of uncertainty and exists as a sentiment.

If we want to discuss feelings, sentiments, virtues, morals, social relations, or anything with a degree or metaphysic or ethic we can use metaphor. Metaphysic was never fully physic, it doesn’t need to be talked about like it is.

Consider these lines from the TAO:

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

The Tao taught us being and non-being, naming things, abstraction, and the metaphysic. Later it teaches us some physics and ethics and rules for the social system of war and the social system of leadership. It hints about economy.

It does this in a poem.

These are metaphors about ideas, like Campbell’s heroes’ journey, they teach us ethics, but they don’t tell us anything about the outside world directly. They contain useful knowledge, but they aren’t subject to an empirically positive and certain law (and to the degree they are, we can only know probability of truth).

Advice: Generally speaking, on average, self-interest drives the free market in the economic sphere. Or, generally, wearing a sports jacket (or suit) in the right setting will result in being given more respect in social relations. For a politician, votes are capital. Fairness is at the heart of true justice, true equity. Nothing I just said is provable, it is just probable and based on some degree of positive experience. However, even things with hardly any positive qualities, even pure philosophy can be useful. We can relate it to our own experience, and in this way, anything we can know really has at least an indirect degree of positivism (even when we generally wouldn’t consider it to). TIP: That doesn’t go for everything. Spacetime is something we can’t experience directly, but can pump into an equation to get certain results. There are many different types of things that span the categories.

TIP: Our recent ancestors used to think the planets were Gods, then science offered a better answer. Some things of physics and logic work like this, where we don’t know yet because we don’t have the right measuring tools and technology. However, some things, like the nature of Deities or the science of feelings might never be fully empirical and positive. That isn’t a sign of their merit, it is a sign of their nature. We can treat these un-positive things with metaphor, respecting their metaphysic qualities, accepting them for what they are (in all their useful or non-usefulness for a given subject).

TIP: We can take any set of concepts, judgments, and reasoned inferences and then define them by a single term (thus creating a system and giving a name to it). In the next section we can work with everything from a simple concept with one meaning to a complex system denoted by a single term.

Passions, Tastes, and Moral Sentiments

The internal rational impressions that aren’t reflex, but are based on them, the passions of reflection are an odd bunch of physical metaphysics.

They are the most important part of most people’s lives, and they have an empirical root, but they are fairly elusive consider the degree to which they drive all human behavior.

Smith’s whole economic theory is based on moral sentiments, our desire for approval. Yet, even though so many of us agree on the virtues of friendship or justice generally speaking, these internal passions always have an element of probability and subjectiveness to them.

We can speak about them in metaphor, we can test for them in the social sciences, we can base a theory around them, but we should accept them for what they are. Which is, a lot harder to pin down than a fully positive science like astronomy.

More on Abstraction, the Dialectic, and Golden Means: Philosophical Alchemy Using Terms, Judgements, and Reasoned Concepts

Another form of reasoning, which is really just a system of induction, deduction, and synthesis I call “abstraction.”

Here we will take a single thesis (take the 1), abstract a one or more antithesis(es) (abstract the 2), and find a syntheses between any pair of theses and antitheses.

This is close to Plato’s idea of being, non-being, and change (or difference).

Some terms will not have an antithesis (Tom, my name, does not have an antithesis; except maybe “not Tom”), some have a single antithesis (such as 1 has -1), some have many antitheses (such as individualism has anti-individualism and collectivism at least).

For any term that has at least one antithesis, we can from that create a “golden mean paradigm,” in most cases this will give us a vast spectrum of possible degrees between our terms.

Consider the infinite series between (-1…0…1).

We can use this technique to extrapolate terms from terms, this is a form of making reasoned judgements (i.e. it is really just induction and deduction and synthesis).

With the math example covered, in simple terms, what we do is (here using left-right politics as an example):

  1. Define terms: ex. Liberty, Equality. TIP: This can be one or more terms, we are using the core two as an example.
  2. Abstract each term to find its thesis antithesis: Liberty abstracts to its antithesis Authority, Equality (ex. social equality) to its antithesis Inequality (ex. social hierarchy). TIP: Be careful, some terms don’t have an antithesis, some have more than one (there is also a system of categorization for that; it is explained in Aristotle’s Categories).
  3. Define middles and extremes: Extreme Liberty/Authority, Moderate Liberty/Authority, Extreme Equality/Inequality, Moderate Equality/Inequality. TIP: Not all terms have extreme and moderate positions, but when they do they almost always work to define the bounds.
  4. Consider the spectrum of possibilities between: Extreme liberty <-> liberty <-> moderate liberty/authority <-> authority <-> extreme authority, Extreme equality <-> equality <-> moderate equality/inequality <-> inequality <-> extreme inequality. TIP: One can define as many middles and variations of extremes as makes sense for the topic. Some concepts exist in binary, others have countless degrees of possibilities.

This mode of thinking can then output spectrums like this, which we can then plot on an XY Chart (TIP: This is a golden mean):

SPHERE OF ACTION Extreme Left Left The Left-Right Mean Right Extreme Right
Liberty Extreme Liberty Favoring Liberty Balanced Liberty Favoring Authority Extreme Authority
Equality Extreme Equality Favoring Equality Balanced Equality Favoring Inequality Extreme Inequality

This is the type of logic we will use below to expand on the basic foundation we have introduced above.

For more see: Paradigms, Dialectics, Abstractions, the Golden Mean, and Dealing With Dualities.

TIP: At this point I need to discuss a few more things, but this page will be added to over time. What I don’t discuss about things like the different types of concepts and their relations can be found in works like Aristotle’s and in fields like statistics (where a number is a static property that doesn’t get abstracted in the same way a complex concept like “individualism” does). See Aristotle’s Categories and Kant’s Categories (Categories of the Faculty of Understanding).

The Nature and Types of Truths

All statements above that are not false are true, that is the nature of truth.

However, given the probable nature of things and the different types of terms, judgments, and inferences, there are different forms of good information (which we can call semantically “different types of truths and non-truths”).

TIP: See also major theories of truth. Each deals with the question of “what is a proper basis for deciding how words, symbols, ideas and beliefs may properly be considered true, whether by a single person or an entire society.”[15]

First, the nature of truth:

  1. Everything is either true or it isn’t. However, not everything true can be proven as such. In other words, some probable truth is probable because we don’t know for sure (other is probable in the way a coin flip can result in either A or B being true after a flip). All truth that is necessarily true is called logical truth.
  2. Everything we can know is either empirically confirmable or requires rationalization.
  3. Everything we can know is either objectively true (confirmable by others), or it is subjectively true (confirmable based on personal experience or tastes).
  4. We generally consider things true when they have some degree of objective empirical evidence backing them up (when they can be confirmed by may facts, and/or repeated experiment, and/or direct experience). See: Correspondence theory of truth.
  5. When we use deductive reasoning, we want to stick to what we can know with certainty (or frame things in a certain way), this allows us to produce sound and valid conclusions we can state as fact. When we can’t have certainty, then we use probability and state likely-hood.
  6. Statements that contain more than one idea may contain a mix of truth, opinion, and belief.
  7. Any statement that is not fully objectively true is not fact. Only statements that are fully true (where all terms and judgements made are true) are facts.
  8. Statements that aren’t fully true, but have many facts pointing at them, and contain many truths alongside belief and opinion can still be “honest” and “useful” or insightful hypotheses and theories, but they are different than objective provable truths.
  9. When a theory is likely true, when it has a high degree of certainty based on facts, it can be framed as such and therefore be considered a type of truth. Ex. It is a fact that, according to intelligence reports, there is a high degree of certainty that Russia ordered an influence campaign in 2016 to undermine public faith in the US democratic process and the sway the election (i.e. we are making our statement true by adding the necessary qualifiers like “high degree of certainty;” this allows us to offer opinions, facts, beliefs, and theories as truths while also distinguishing them from empirically provable certainties).
  10. Honest and useful information that aims to be objectively provably true is good information, information meant to misinform is a type of counterfeit information. Even facts and theories can be twisted via wordplay or in the way they are presented, if the goal of the information is to mislead, it can be thought of as a type of counterfeit information in that context.
  11. We should always be skeptical of information, as any good theory can stand up to skepticism, and if it can’t than even better (perhaps being skeptical will lead to a better theory. “Question everything” as they say. That IS the art of science and philosophy (<– an example of an honest subjective truth, a justified belief and opinion; but not “a purely empirically objective fact”).
  12. To confirm one has accurate information, it always helps to be honest about sources and to be honest about what is fact and what is theory. Always presenting pure information is not easy, but making an honest attempt is to do so is the mandate of any truth teller. If there are two sides to a story, it is proper to strive to let the reader know both sides.

With the above in mind, different types of truth include:

  • In a strict sense, truth is something that is provable, objective, and not “opinion.” It is verified not to be false in any objective way, based on logic, reason, and/or empirical evidence (what is proper differs by what we are discussing; for example a mathematic truth can be proved with reason, where a truth of physics likely requires testing).
  • Of the truths, the empirical and logical truths are the most concrete (we can sense, measure, and confirm their properties with certainty). Meanwhile the ethical and metaphysical truths tend to contain a degree of uncertainty (they exist partly or wholly in the “world of ideas” or in our own internal experience). For example, the laws of motion are solid logical and empirical truths, while the idea that all have “a right to life, liberty, and happiness” are a less tangible ethical and moral truths “we know in our hearts.” In both cases we can use indirect empirical evidence, logic, and reason to approach knowing, but certainly that which is empirically provable (either directly or indirectly) is the most certain (assuming our senses and measurement tools aren’t lying to us).
  • A belief is something a person thinks is true, it may or may not be justified, and it may or may not be proven by facts. If one believes something, it is “a belief.”
  • A justified belief is a belief based on reason, backed by facts, theories, logic, and empirical evidence. A justified belief isn’t necessarily true, but it is reasonable, and thus is proper to employ in debate, analysis, and rhetoric (although it should be treated as a justified belief and not fact; presenting truth dishonestly is a type of misinformation / BS / spin). TIP: Justified beliefs gleaned from the pairing of “pure reason” and “empirical evidence” are very valid non-statistics-based “likely truths.” In the sciences we call these “theories,” a theory isn’t always right, rather it invites skepticism, opinion, debate, and rigorous testing. A well oiled theory is a valid argument, until proven false.
  • There are different types of theories that apply to different fields. For example, a scientific theory is a type of theory that is held to a the standard of the scientific method. In the physical empirical sciences like physics, a theory is expected to work every time without fail (or it gets tossed out). However, a theory in the social sciences will have a degree of probability to it (as it deals with human behavior), and a theory of metaphysics (while it can be backed with sound reason and logic) has an even higher degree of probability to it.
  • An opinion is a belief based on data of any kind. Opinions can be insightful, they can be honest, and they can be well substantiated by evidence, theory and fact, but they aren’t necessarily true or factual (nor or they meant to be). It is proper to label an opinion has such, and then to support that opinion with fact.
  • A fact is something that is proved to be undoubtedly true.
  • A myth is something that is proved to be undoubtedly untrue.
  • A factoid can be said to be something that appears true but is unverified.
  • A Counterpoint is a type of information that adds context or debate to another type. One might present a fact, then present a theory that augments it, then present an opinion that challenges it (providing counterpoints).
  • Alternative facts” are inconsistent sets of information submitted as plausible evidence for competing sides of a case/debate/argument. They can range from factoids, to counterpoints, to hypotheses, to half-truths, to talking-points, to actual facts. The term can have different connotations depending on how it is used, in 2017 the term began to be used a sort of synonym for “BS.”
  • Frame of reference, some types of subjective truths can depend on a “cognitive” frame of reference (perception). Even aspects of physics depend on frame of reference. It can be useful to denote a frame of reference when telling truth, for example on can say, “in terms of physics, from my point of view on this rocket, time seems to be at a normal speed.”
  • A lie is something that is not true, but is knowingly framed as truth anyways. If a person tells a lie, but thinks they are telling the truth, they are being honest, but “spreading counterfeit information,” due to their “belief” that the information is true.
  • A half-truth is part lie and part truth, either oscillating between multiple claims or mixing fact and fiction in a single claim.
  • There are also types of “counterfeit information” designed to provide inaccurate information or instill emotion and influence opinion, these include propaganda, disinformation, and misinformation (i.e. they are not information, which is fact and truth designed to inform, they are disinformation designed to influence). Misinformation is designed to misinform someone and usually uses half-truths, it can include information a person believes to be true (they are misinformed and spreading misinformation). Disinformation is purposely designed to misinform someone and usually uses intentional lies (it can use false logic and logical fallacies). Propaganda is designed to convey emotion rather than fact and can be comprised of truth, lies, half-truths or no information at all, it is designed to spread belief not truth.[16] TIP: If the ends of information is anything other than “to convey truth,” it is a type of propaganda (very roughly speaking). Here propaganda doesn’t just mean a poster from WWII, it is rather any information designed to manipulate public opinion rather than to spread accurate information.
  • BS describes a wide variety of counterfeit information designed to manipulate opinion; it can be comprised of truth, lies, half-truths, or any other type of claim. Misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda are all types of BS. The archetypical “used car salesman” uses BS. Their only goal is to sell the car for high price, everything else is just a tool used to get to that point.
  • Spin is a PR term that means “to twist the truth” to make something look good. It is a type of BS and a type of propaganda. It, like BS , can be half-truth, truths, and/or lies. The goal is influence, not information.
  • A statistic is any quantifiable bit of data. We can find likely truths with algorithms like Bayes’ theorem by pairing the science of logic with statistics (watch out though, not every statistic is created equally, reason must be applied and skepticism is healthy when considering sources).
  • Mathematical truths, such as proofs, are a type of truth that can be proved “on paper”. See Types of Truths Arithmetical, Geometrical, Logical (Analytic), Synthetic, and Ethical Truths.
  • A talking point is often a factoid meant for the purposes of BS (but not always). It is typically a type of propaganda that is often also a type of disinformation or misinformation. It is designed for influence, not information, but certainly it can contain information.
  • A hypothesis is a testable educated guess. A theory is the ends of a hypothesis shown to be reasonably true with facts. A scientific theory, in the strictest sense, is one that has never been proven false. See an essay on theories.
  • A conspiracy theory is a theory formulated based on a limited set of facts. Here some facts may be right, but the overarching hypothesis, conclusion, and some connections may not be (thus a conspiracy theory is like the “half-truth” of theories; generally well intentioned, sometimes justified, but ultimately relying on assumptions rather than proofs to some degree). See an essay on conspiracy theories for more detail.
  • Common language words like folk tale, common belief, etc. describe types of factoids (claims that aren’t specifically verified as true).

Subjective, Objective Truth, Honesty, and Scientific Facts

Honesty can deal with subjective truths, but facts (in the scientific sense) deal with objective truths.

There is from this perspective, there are two types of confirmable truth.

  1. That which is true for us, and is not confirmable by others with certainty,
  2. and that which is provably true and confirmable by others with certainty.

Justified beliefs, opinions, feelings, the metaphysics and ethical and rationalized beliefs we have, when we speak about them honestly we are being honest. However, we are speaking subjective truth.

  • Imagine you feel happy but say “I feel sad,” you are not being honest about subjective truth.
  • Imagine you feel happy and say “I feel happy,” now you are being honest about subjective truth.
  • Imagine I say that artwork is beautiful, but you say, “it is ugly.” We are both being honest, but the truth is subjective.

Now imagine you say 1+1=3, in this case you are not being honest (despite knowing it equals 2). The answer to 1+1 is an objective truth, you misrepresented the truth, thus you have not been honest.

Often people will pair misinformation with honesty, spreading un-truths with conviction. This, if we can rank insults to our intelligence, is much less offensive than purposefully propaganda.

Yes, that is a matter of taste, and a subjective judgement. However, we could seek to confirm it by a measurement tool such as an opinion poll.

Modes of Persuasion and Economics

Part of the reason one categorizes is to organize, the other part is pure practical. One useful thing to use this for is rhetoric.

Rhetoric uses a mix of ethos, pathos, and logos (the modes of persuasion) to sway people politically.

Ethos appeals to the ethical, logos to the logical, and pathos, to the moral and emotional (it exploits political emotion so to speak).

We can also apply these ideas to economics (as I’ll note more below), where we can consider not only the logic of the physics of the economy, but the moral and ethical economics of political economy and its relation (things like that). Here we’ll be able to tell things like “what level of probability does my theory have” or “does this theory depend on ethical and moral factors; or is it just cold hard logic?”

Introducing Complex Relations, Sub-Categories, and Other Types of “Spheres”

From here, with terms and models based on terms (like the golden mean) defined, we can start populating categories and considering complex relations, moving on to considering sub-categories and the relations between the categories noted above.

When we consider categories, sub-categories, properties of those categories, and their relations we are considering “a system,” for our purposes, we’ll call any system based on the above “a sphere.”

For example we can consider the logic of physics in terms of economy (the logic behind the division of labor and resource and capital), and then we can consider the ethics of that, and upon what morals those ethics are based. We can, in words, consider logic, physics, ethics, and morals in “the economic sphere.”

We can also apply this line of thinking to other even more complex matters.

For example we can consider “the relation of the concepts of left-wing and right-wing” in “the economic sphere” (so we can consider the physics, logic, and ethics of economy, abstracting concepts to define left-wing and right-wing positions in terms of economics, noting how specific positions relate to each other, to better understand the properties being discussed; more on that in the notes below; see the political left-right as an example).

By doing this we can ensure we know what type of information we are discussing, whether it is going to material or formal, and whether we are going to be discussing aspects of natural or moral philosophy as a primary or secondary factor (if at all). This will help us to understand what sort of knowledge we are dealing with in any discussion (and will help us to avoid senseless arguments that lack direction).

Great, so all knowledge should be able to fit in that sort of model, and thus it should work as a general metaphor for all walks of life, especially the social sciences and philosophies where things get a little ethereal (but where categorization and models are needed none-the-less to formulate things like ethical and moral principles and analyze things like laws).

Well of course, it isn’t that simple, but indeed, this is the gist.

An example of all the above (sort of).

  1. Athena is the Goddess of True Justice and Liberty.
  2. All true Greeks love Athena.
  3. Therefore all true greeks love True Justice and Liberty.

The above syllogism uses sound logic (sort of, if we assume a few judgements), but it discusses pure metaphysics and theology and ignores those odd hypocritical ancient Greeks that say they love Athena but really don’t respect True Justice and Liberty (see biases and the social sciences).

If we don’t take the above as metaphor, then it becomes near useless and full of holes (it tells us nothing about the world, it is just facts about ideas), however, if we do take it as metaphor (and if it is presented as such) it has a certain type of use value to it. It is an allegory of sorts, it has a moral, it tells us something about morals and ethics.

By understanding what type of information we are considering, and in what sphere, we can better understand both the human condition and the physical world in which we live.

TIP: I will be coming back to this page shortly, in case the world ends and this page survives, here it is in an unfinished (but published state).

Article Citations
  1. Chapter 4. The Theory of Knowledge and Creativity
  2. Epistemology
  3. Knowledge
  4. Hume – Account of the Mind
  5. Kant’s Views on Space and Time
  6. Statistical Syllogism
  7. Deduction and Induction from Patrick J. Hurley, A Concise Introduction to Logic, 10th ed
  8. Kant: Experience and Reality
  9. Noumenon
  10. Variable and attribute (research)
  11. Relation (database)
  12. Taxonomy (biology)
  13. Levels of Measurement
  14. the, see “Book 2. A Short Critique of Kant’s Unreason Chapter 5. Kant’s “categories.”
  15. major theories of truth

Author: Thomas DeMichele

Thomas DeMichele is the content creator behind,,, and other and Massive Dog properties. He also contributes to MakerDAO and other cryptocurrency-based projects. Tom's focus in all...

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