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Ethics / Philosophy

Perfections of Thought

This post is part of the series Knowledge in Philosophy

Other posts in this series:

  1. Pure Appearances?
  2. Comparing Theories of the World
  3. Perfections of Thought (Current)

In my previous post, I showed that theoretical virtues were innate because of our humanity but were also learned. They are learned by reflecting on our thoughts. Theoretical virtues are perfections of thought in the same way that moral virtues are perfections of our abilities.

It might seem that theoretical virtues are simply dimensions to compare theories by. So the virtue of simplicity allows us to compare one theory with another in regards to simplicity, while explanatory power is a different dimension entirely. This is certainly true. But theories are simply the results the thought. If one theory is better than another theory it is because the thoughts are better. If the thoughts were perfect, then the theories would be perfect as well. But a perfect theory would have the theoretical virtues perfectly. Therefore, theoretical virtues are perfections of thought.

This proof may be difficult to understand. Some theories are better than other theories. When we compare one theory with another theory, we must compare them in a certain way. We might say that one theory uses simpler math than the other or that one theory explains more kinds of things than the other. Any kind of comparison that shows that one theory is better than another in that way is a theoretical virtue. Suppose that there were two theories: X and Y. Theory Y is simpler than X, but theory X explains more than Y. Although each theory is better than the other in one specific way, it is hard to tell which one is better in general. Real world theories are often like this.

But theories are just thoughts about the world. The theory of gravity is not an object in the world. It is an understanding of the world. It is the same with any theory at all. All of them are not things in the world. They are a way of understanding the world. But an understanding of the world is just the same as true thoughts about the world.

If theories are thoughts about the world, then the perfections of theories are perfections of thoughts. The theoretical virtues are ways in which one theory is better than another. But theories are thoughts. Therefore, theoretical virtues are ways in which one thought is better than another. Theoretical virtues have a maximum. The best theory of all would have all of the theoretical virtues apply perfectly to it. That theory would be perfect. But since theories are thoughts, the perfect theory is also the perfect thought. So theoretical virtues are also measuring how close to perfect theories actually are. In other words, they are perfections of thought.

Although theoretical virtues are perfections of thoughts, thoughts arise from the power of thinking. Human intellectual activity is a power that has virtues of its own. So it is correct to say that theoretical virtues are a secondary sort of virtue because they depend thoughts which depend on the activity of thinking.

Next, I will discuss the relationship of theoretical virtues and truth.

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