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PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2015 6:58 pm  Post subject: Quotidian Perfection's Interpretation of MacBeth  
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Hi Merqury City Members:

I am currently working on writing a scholarly Introduction to MacBeth. Please read the analysis and leave feedback.

Falsification as Truth in MacBeth Prophecies

Did the Witches and Apparitions in MacBeth possess native gifts of clairvoyance, which permits them to foresee the consequences of MacBeth’s behavior? Is it coincidental, or is it difficult to decipher, percentagewise, which prophecies are verified, or proven beyond a reasonable doubt? Unfortunately, without information about the nature of God in MacBeth, we know little about whether or not God allows individuals or spirits to forecast events, and to what degree of confidence they can do so. However, the MacBeth reader can know the following verity: MacBeth’s predictions are all disproven in the play. When the Third Witch predicts MacBeth’s ascendancy to the throne (1.3.50), when the First Apparition’s predilection implies the notion that MacDuff’s presence will threaten him (4.1.71-2), when the Second Apparition asserts that MacBeth will be conquered by a man not of female birth (4.1.80-1), and when the Third Apparition prognosticates the movement of “Birnam Wood to High Dunsinane Hill” (4.1.95-6). MacBeth posits such events will not transpire. In essence, MacBeth expects all of the preceding prophecies to be false, thereby contradicting a priori the Third Witch’s and the Apparitions’ propositions which reason vice-versa. Yet, at some point, an observation is made capable of affirming or refuting MacBeth’s prediction, or the Third Witch’s and the Apparitions’ futuristic postulation. At such a juncture, MacBeth, and the Third Witch and Apparitions, face a scenario where the former or the latter will be disproven. In other words, the verity arising from such must be exclusive, as one claim will be falsified. In the text, MacBeth eventually attains kingship over Scotland (2.4.31-2) via murdering its rightful ruler, King Duncan (2.2.15), but, subsequently, is pursued by MacDuff, a threat to MacBeth (4.3.237), who, eventually, winds up as the “man not of woman born” (MacDuff is delivered via C-Section) (5.8.15-6), and, preceding that particular event, camouflages his allied forces (5.4.5-7) to bring “Birnam Wood to High Dunsinane Hill” covertly (4.1.93-4). One prophecy remains unmentioned, though. Although the fortunes stated above refute MacBeth’s denial of them, the Third Witch also promises Banquo that “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none” (1.3.67), causing MacBeth to order Murderers to slay a former friend, Banquo, and his family, as recorded in Act 3, Scene 1, Lines 122-3; his motive entails removing Banquo’s bloodline from the throne so that they will not threaten his kingship. All Witches and Apparitions, in the future, show MacBeth spirits which bear a striking resemblance to Banquo’s ghost (4.112-4), although whether or not the Third Apparition’s fortune is accurate remains to be observed. Some might argue that, since, since the demonic entities are correct about the first four predictions, they must be right about the fifth one, too.

However, one must ask the following question: if the Witches and Apparitions in MacBeth are not God, who possesses universal knowledge, but merely creatures designed by Him, then, based on their existential states, is there not a limit on the understanding of the latter two? If one cannot be assured of the extent of the Third Witch’s and Apparition’s cognition, then one must wonder about its inhibitions. The Third Witch’s and Apparition’s ability to predict four events does not necessarily imply the propensity to forecast the fifth. The odds of accurately predicting a coin flip four times in a row are one in sixteen, and, with all the variables involved, the odds against the Third Witch’s and Apparitions’ prophecies coming to light are much greater than that. Yet, a soothsayer, like a coin-flipper, can, in much the same way as God, albeit in a limited capacity, realize the outcome of given events, and be able to prophesize accurately; this, according to Jonathan D. Sarfati’s “Does God’s Foreknowledge Entail Fatalism?,” is how God can pronounce truthful prophecies. Unlike God, though, the Third Witch and Apparitions might lack the capacity to look into the future again, and predict that fifth coin flip, or could be incorrect about Banquo’s descendants assuming the throne, raising the odds to well over one in sixty-four. For purposes of simplification, the coin flip model is useful, since it illustrates that, for each increasing predilection, the risk of error increases exponentially. After the first coin flip, which is a ½ probability of guessing correctly, it must be multiplied by ½ again, this time giving one a ¼ chance of accuracy. For the third prediction, one must multiply ½ by ½ by ½, which produces an eighth of an opportunity for correctness, and so on. And, since the Third Witch and Apparitions are not omnipotent, statistics suggest that one of their predictions might be wrong. Therefore, this analysis will examine the Third Witch and Three Apparitions not as soothsayers whose fortunes are wholly probable, and, therefore verifiable, but as individuals whose forecasts have yet to be falsified. Thus, it will view the Witches’ and Apparition’s perception that Banquo’s successors will be monarchs not as a prediction that will occur but a prophecy which might not materialize.

According to Karl Popper’s Logic of Scientific Discovery, an “asymmetry” exists between verification and falsification (41). In order for one to verify a scientific prediction, that particular claim must be one-hundred percent correct (41). However, this is especially significant since a human’s limitation in cognition causes that individual to understand facts on a partial basis, and, just because one can know about data en parte does not mean that he or she can use existential observations to hypothesize universal claims about them (41). A human can be correct about the knowledge of which he or she is aware, but incorrect about the facts of which he or she is ignorant due to being restricted in knowledge (41). On the other hand, and for the reason previously stated, if one part of a theory is refutable, then the entire theory can be falsified (41). Logically speaking, inductive reasoning, which is employed to support verification, as Michael J. Tamayo’s implies in his “Popper and His Method of Falsification,” verification can be written as such: if p is true, then q is true, or, put differently, p, called the antecedent, causes q, or the consequent. However, it is invalid to say that, if q is true, then p is a true, since as Tamayo’s “Popper” suggests, such a delineation argues an effect can cause a cause; hence, contemporary science forbids deducing a universal statement from an existential one, which is known as the existential fallacy. Dr. Sarfati, in his Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins and Evolution, notes why the previously mentioned reasoning is fallacious
1) If I had just eaten a whole pizza, I would feel very full;
2) I feel very full;
/ I have just eaten a whole pizza. (75)
However Dr. Sarfati argues that the fullness alluded to herein could be for a myriad of reasons; consequently, “many possible theories” can “predict a given observation” (75). Tamayo’s “Popper” gives the faulty logic used above a specific name: “verifying the prediction.” Popper, to the contrary, argues in his Logic that if p is true, then q is true; hence, if q is false, then p also must be false, a technique known as falsification, or, in propositional logic, modus tollens (76). As Dr. Sarfati notes in his “Loving God with All Your Mind: Logic and Creation,” modus tollens, or falsifiability, is the backbone for scientific hypothesizing (9).

An example of falsification, as recorded in The Logic of Falsification, is “Stephen Hale’s experiment against the hypothesis of the circulation of sap in plants” (8). The circulation hypothesis contends that “sap” travels up “the inner core of a plant’s stem,”; inversely, the sap “just inside the outer coating or bark” goes in the opposite direction (8). Hales hypothesized that if the aforementioned scientific thought is valid, and “a vertical section of the outer coating is removed, then its upper edge should become moist before its lower edge” (8). However, just the opposite happened (8): according to Hale’s Tree Sap Experiment, “the lower part was moistente’d, and not the upper part,” leading Hales, after attaining the “same” result with Apple, Duke-Cherry, and Quince branches, to falsify the prevailing botanical hypothesis concerning sap circulation (Experiment XLIII).

Nevertheless, Irme Lakatos’ “Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes” perceives an error in Popper’s falsification model, which Lakatos labels as “dogmatic,” since, by using the preceding technique, scientists might falsify physical laws, and, hence, render forevermore untrue laws which are actually valid (174). Lakatos ameliorates this problem by testing a given theory alongside various hypotheses in such a manner that the hypotheses, rather than the theory, can be rejected (174). Lakatos imagines a physicist toiling hitherto Einstein’s time using Newton’s “law of gravity” (N), and the accepted initial conditions” (I), and tries to employ both in predicting the movement of a heretofore unidentified planet, (p). However, p “deviates” from the expected calculation (174). Rather than falsifying N, though, the physicist postulates that perhaps “a hitherto unknown planet,” or p’, inhabits p’s path (174). According to Lakatos, the physicist “calculates the mass, orbit, etc., of this hypothetical planet and then asks an experimental astronomer to test his hypothesis” (174). Nevertheless, p’ might be so minute to be observed even by a telescope, so the experimental astronomer looks for p’ with a more powerful telescope (174). If p’ is discovered, then it tentatively proves Newtonian physics (174). If not, the experimental astronomer hypothesizes that “a cloud of cosmic dust” conceals p’, “calculates the cloud’s “location and properties,” and uses “a satellite to test” this prediction (174). The finding of such a cloud would, again, tentatively support Newtonian physics (174). Yet, if the cloud remains undiscovered, the experimental astronomer would hypothesize that a “magnetic field in the region of the universe” interfered with the satellite’s functioning (174-5). Newtonian physics is redeemed if the magnetic field is located (175). In the end, Newtonian physics is not refuted (175). In the future, one can continue to establish hypotheses to validate Newtonian physics on a tentative basis, or just regard it as an unfalsified theory (175). The problem with Lakatos’ falsification methodology is polarized to the one posed by Popper: a nonexistent law can be kept on life support in the scientific community.

As pointed out above, Lakatos implies that “core theories are not tested in isolation, but are ‘protected’ by auxiliary hypotheses,” which Dr. Sarfati notes in his “Loving God” (9). Modus tollens, according to The Logic of Falsification, only necessitates that either the theory or the hypothesis needs to be untrue, and the rejection of the theory is not mandatory (9). Hence, the hypotheses, rather than the theories, are adjusted (9). The Logic of Falsification draws attention to the fact that there is no rule for scientists assuming the a priori fallacy of the consequent, q (23). Lakatos’ falsification method, as Sarfati’s “Loving God” explains, works in the following way:
1) Theory T and auxiliary hypothesis A predict O will not be observed
2) O is observed
/ Either T or A is false. (9)
Since Lakatos seeks to falsify A, his falsification technique proceeds as follows: T and A, a conjoined antecedent, will cause the nullification of O, its consequent. If O is spotted, it is not confirmed, but undergoes double negation, meaning the observation of such suggests that it is not the case that O is not true. This double negation nullifies T and A quantitatively, meaning that T and A are not both valid. The falsification can then be executed in one of two ways. One is via a conjunctive argument, where the acceptance of T nullifies A. The second, and longer approach, entails distributing the negation sign over both T and A, and changing the and between them, known as a conjunct, to or, which is called a disjunct. This distribution technique is known as De Morgan’s Rule. Afterwards, T is double negated, leaving one with a falsified A. The technique name for the latter element of the process is a disjunctive syllogism. Sarfati’s “Loving God” explains how Lakatos’ brand of falsification practically functions:
For example, Newton’s theory predicted certain movements of Saturn, provided there was [sic] no other massive objects interfering. When Saturn didn’t move as predicted, either Newton’s theory was falsified, or there was another massive object perturbing the object—this turned out to be the planet Uranus. (9)

In MacBeth, four predictions are made about MacBeth’s future, the first by the Third Witch, and the last three by various Apparitions. The Third Witch predicts that MacBeth “shall be King” (1.3.50), whereupon MacBeth responds by saying that if “chance” crowns him, then it will constitute an action contrary to his will (1.3.144-5). Act 1, Scene 3, Line 50 and Act 1, Scene 3, Line 144 both comment on MacBeth’s projected ascendancy to the throne, although the Third Witch’s fortune is denied by MacBeth, where he opines that the Third Witch’s prophecy will fail to materialize if he has any input in the matter (1.3.145). The First Apparition, in 4.1.71-2, tells MacBeth that MacDuff, the Thane of Fife, constitutes a clear and present danger to MacBeth. MacBeth’s response is “Then live, MacDuff; what need I fear of thee?” (4.1.82). Hence, in Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 80-1, the First Apparition cautions MacBeth to be wary of MacDuff, which is reechoed in the next line. The prophecy about whom to be cautious of, though, is dismissed by MacBeth in 4.1.82 on the basis that MacDuff will not pose a future threat to him. In Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 80-1, the Second Apparition prophecies that “none of woman born / Shall harm MacBeth,” which, for MacBeth, means that no mortal can imperil him, including MacDuff. While the Second Apparition deems that nothing biologically delivered by a female can hurt MacBeth (4.1.80-1), MacBeth rejects the Second Apparition’s forecast en toto on the following grounds: 1) if nothing is born of a woman, then it can harm MacBeth; 2) if it can harm MacBeth, then the lack of its ontology implies it cannot threaten MacBeth; 3) therefore, if nothing is born of a woman, then the absence of its being suggests it cannot endanger MacBeth. The Third Apparition also promises that MacBeth will remain unconquered until “Great Birnam Wood” comes “to high Dunsinane Hill” to attack MacBeth (4.1.192-4). MacBeth deems the preceding scenario impossible, in Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 94-6, as that would imply that the forest trees would have to uproot themselves, and instantaneously develop locomotive ability. Thus, the Third Apparition forecasts MacBeth’s conquest in Act 4, Scene 1, Line 92, more precisely, that his demise will transpire when “Great Birnam Wood,” which is, essentially, a population of trees, marches against MacBeth (4.1.93-40). Logically, MacBeth wonders how vegetation can walk, perhaps as a consequence of observing that all plants truncated from their roots die, which is imperative in allowing them to absorb nutrients from the soil, and in permitting them to photosynthesize (4.1.94-6) (i.e., to manufacture food for themselves from sunlight).

Later in MacBeth, the Third Witch’s and Three Apparition’s fortunes are observable to the reader. MacBeth reluctantly accepts Lady MacBeth’s, his wife’s, advice to assail King Duncan when he is asleep, and most vulnerable to attack (1.7.62, 71). The monarch, as MacBeth’s Messenger points out, decides to honor the MacBeths by lodging in their home (1.5.30); however, MacBeth chooses to use the “daggers” of one of Duncan’s servants to slay Duncan (1.7.77), a “deed” which is completed in Act 2, Scene 2, Line 15. Eventually, as the Third Witch predicts, MacBeth usurps the Scottish throne, for when Ross posits that MacBeth will likely assume kingship, MacDuff notes that “He is already armed and gone to Scone / To be invested” (2.4.31-2). The First Apparition’s prophecy of MacDuff constituting s threat to MacBeth materializes in Act 4, Scene 3, Lines 235-6 when MacDuff orders Malcolm’s army to bring him face to face with MacBeth, where they can engage in a swordfight. Macduff, though, vows that MacBeth will not escape with his life after the duel is finished (4.3.237). This plan becomes apparent in 5.6.6-7 when MacDuff tells MacBeth, “I have no words, / My voice is my sword” (5.6.6-7), and swears that, after the swashbuckling clears, that MacBeth’s head will be decapitated, and paraded around on a pole for Malcolm’s army (Malcolm is Duncan’s son) to see (5.8.25-6). MacDuff’s vanquishing of MacBeth is completely successful, and he shows MacBeth’s severed head lying atop a rod, thereby permitting the Second Apparition’s fortune to manifest itself (5.8.54-5). In Act 5, Scene 4, Lines 4-7, the MacBeth reader observes how “Great Birnam Wood” can come to “High Dunsinane Hill” (4.1.93-4). Malcolm explains how: all soldiers are to “cut down a bow” (5.4.4), and, in the next line, “bear’t before him.” The Third Apparition’s predilection becomes most apparent in Act 5, Scene 4, Lines 5-7. Malcolm’s intent entails using the woods as a disguise to conceal both their visibility from MacBeth’s spies, and to veil the “numbers” in Malcolm’s army, so it will render an inaccurate “report.”

Consequently, the events in MacBeth tentatively prove the Witch’s and the Apparitions’ prognostications. Banquo, a former companion of MacBeth, suggests that the Third Witch’s prophecy possibly came to pass when he declares, “Thou hast it now—King, Cawdor, Glamis, all / As the weird woman promised, and I fear / Thou hast played most foully for’t” (3.1.1-3). Upon hearing the First Apparition’s foreboding in 4.1.71-2 that MacDuff endangers MacBeth’s livelihood (4.1.71-2), MacBeth takes a precaution, and decides that MacDuff ought to be killed to eliminate the peril described herein (4.1.83). In Act 4, Scene 2, Line 85, a Murderer slays Lady MacDuff’s Son, and, in the following line, Lady MacBeth, witness to the atrocity, screams “Murderer!” Ross informs MacDuff about the somber news (4.3.205-6): MacDuff’s “castle is surprised,” and his “wife and babes” are “Savagely slaughtered,” or, as rephrased in Act 4, Scene 3, Line 212, “Wife, children, servants, all / That can be found” are assassinated. Malcolm, in Act 4, Scene 3, Lines 214-6 and Act 4, Scene 3, Lines 230-1, encourages MacDuff to use the atrocities committed against him as fuel for launching an assault on MacBeth. The First Apparition’s prophecy comes to light, and demonstrates itself as a verity, when MacDuff promises himself that MacBeth will not escape with his life for his wicked acts, since he will slay MacBeth in a battle of swords (4.3.234-6). The Second Apparition’s prophecy establishes itself as tentatively correct when MacDuff tells MacBeth that MacDuff “was from his mother’s womb / Untimely ripped,” or delivered via C-section, rather than by way of the womb, which is why MacDuff is labeled as not born of a female by the Second Apparition (5.8.15-6). The sword exchange is not depicted, although the outcome of it is: when the swinging of blades end, MacDuff emerges with MacBeth’s impaled head, as shown when he addresses Malcolm’s army (5.8.4-5). The Third Apparition’s fortune implies a tentative truism; it becomes obvious when one of MacBeth’s Messengers reports the following observation: while on guard, he spotted wood moving in Birnam (5.5.33-5). The Messenger then reaffirms his point: “Within this three mile may you see it coming; / I say, a moving grove” (5.5.37-8).

Hence, the tentative affirmation of the Third Witch’s and the Apparitions’ prophecies in MacBeth falsifies MacBeth’s negation of the former’s and the latter’s predilections. MacBeth states openly that “to be king / Stands not within the prospect of belief” (1.3.73-4), contradicting the Third Witch’s opinion as a result (1.3.50); yet, as noted by Ross in 2.4.29-30, MacBeth can possibly claim the throne after Duncan’s death, which is affirmed as definitive by MacDuff in 2.4.31-2. Consequently, MacBeth’s conviction that he will not be king (1.3.73, 4) is falsified in light of the Third Witch’s prophecy materializing in Act 2, Scene 4, Lines 31-2. MacDuff hypothesizes that MacDuff will pose a threat to him (4.1.83), but the First Apparition’s predictions state otherwise, and negate MacBeth’s belief (4.1.71-2). MacDuff asks the following rhetorical question concerning MacBeth, “Fit to govern” (4.3.103), before stating his answer, “No, not to live” (4.3.105).

David Bevington, in his Preface to MacBeth, poses the following question: how do they [the Witches] know that MacBeth will be King?” (1220). Bevington notices that one can ponder what would have happened if MacBeth did not commit regicide, but that is beside the point, since he did, thereby verifying the Witches’ prophecy (1220). In Bevington’s view, “Character is fate”: the Witches know of MacBeth’s shortcomings, and can tempt him, as a result with promises of power (1220). As Bevington posits, much like the Edenic duo, in John Milton’s Paradise Lost (PL), “he has free choice, but that choice will, in fact, only go one way” (1220). However, the narrator of MacBeth fails to provide enough information about the cosmos of MacBeth to comprehend what universal set of rules govern it. Tentatively, four possible cosmologies can exist in MacBeth: 1) pure free will, where humans choose evil or Godliness; 2) Arminianism, where God knows in advance where people will embrace good and evil, as in the case of PL, where God argues that the Edenic pair “cannot justly accuse / Their Maker or the making or their fate” (3.111-2), since God declares that “They themselves decreed / Their own revolt, not I” (3.116-7); 3) Calvinism, where natural human will only breeds evil, and only those actively persuaded by God to perform good works can act righteously; 4) equal ultimacy, where God causes people to behave evilly and Godly. The inquiry now entails whether MacBeth could discern right from wrong, even if his choice is foreknown, if MacBeth constitutes the wickedness, according to Calvinism, of human under original sin, or if MacBeth is coerced into behaving wickedly. From an existential standpoint, such deductions are difficult to make, as drawing conclusions about a universal experience from an existential experience commits, as described earlier, the existential fallacy. Also, the Witch cannot be wholly omniscient, as God created them, just as he designed Satan in PL. The bigger query, therefore, is not why MacBeth succumbs to evil which teases, but what universal rules are operating when he does so. If one cannot be certain about MacBeth’s cosmos, then one cannot make statements with certainty regarding how external forces affect MacBeth’s conduct. As will be shown later in analysis, no universal establishment in MacBeth rules out the possibility that their prophecy of Banquo’s descendents becoming Scottish Kings, a soothsaying yet to play out, might turn out to be false, which will lower the Witches’ and Apparition’s predictability rate from one hundred percent to eighty percent.

The Second Apparition promises that no one born of a female constitutes any threat to MacBeth (4.1.80-1), causing him to dismiss that claim outright for the reason that people not birthed by females demarcate a fallacious scenario which introduces nonentities MacBeth does not need to fear (4.1.82). MacBeth is perfectly ardent about his conviction, repeating in Act 5, Scene 3, Lines 6-7, “Fear not, MacBeth. No man’s that born of woman / Shall e’er have power upon thee.” However, when MacDuff informs MacBeth that the Thane of Fife is born via C-section, which is the “double sense,” or equivocal meaning, of the Second Apparition’s prophecy (5.8.15-6), MacBeth’s declaration that “I bear a charmed life, which must not yield / To one born of woman” is negated (5.8.12-3). MacBeth is eventually vanquished, as MacDuff explains in Act 5, Scene 8, Lines 54-5. The Third Apparition guarantees that MacBeth will only be conquered when the forest of “Great Birnam Wood” moves “to high Dunsinane Hill” to assail him (4.1.92-4), which is denied my MacBeth: “That will never be. / Who can impress the forest, bid the tree / Unfix the earthbound root” (4.1.94-5). Yet, MacBeth’s Messenger realizes, in Act 5, Scene 5 Lines 33-5 and Act 5, Scene 5, Lines 33-8, the movement prophesied by the Third Apparition, leading MacBeth to comprehend that he is wrong to assume that Birnam Wood cannot move to Dunsinane, since it can be moved by other people. MacBeth, although railing against “th’ equivocation of the fiend,” or the Third Apparition, “which lies like truth” (5.5.43-4), MacBeth is the one who confuses self-locomotion with movement by proxy. Hence, the witnessing of the Third Apparition’s prophecy manifesting itself disproves MacBeth’s denial of it.

This paper will feature a tripartite division. Part one draws heavily upon two texts, Karl Popper’s Logic of Scientific Discovery and Irme Lakatos’ “Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes.” The first section tackles the manner in which Poppers’ Logic explains the problem of inductive reasoning, and how the theory of falsification eliminates this difficulty. It also addresses the way Lakatos’ “Falsification” adds to Popper’s theory of falsifiability via showing how testing theories beside varying hypotheses prevents the wholesale elimination of a theory under the circumstances of nullification. Part two illustrates how MacBeth’s predictions that the Third Witch’s and Apparitions’ prophecies will not materialize are falsified. Part three treats the Third Witch’s fortune concerning Banquo’s descendants rising to the Scottish throne as an unfalsified proposition rather than an event which is certain to transpire in the future.

Verification and falsification, as Popper’s Logic notes below, follow different rational trajectories, such as the proper delineation for handing the black swan problem, commented upon by Nicholas A. Talib in his Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Dr. Michael J. Tamayo’s “Popper and His Method of Falsification,” and Dr. Sarfati’s Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on Evolution and “Loving God with All Your Mind: Logic and Creation,” provide technical reasons why, in situations related to science, one ought to trust nullification techniques over inductivism. The Logic of Falsification is also useful, as it points to how falsification works in practice, such as the instance when Stephen Hale unknowingly employed it to disprove the prevailing thought during his time about tree sap circulation (“Experiment XLIII”). Lakatos’ “Falsification,” too, provides, as Sarfati’s “Loving God” realizes, a falsifiablist approach, but formulates it in such a way that, as aforementioned, a hypothesis can be discarded to keep a theory intact—and then gives an example about how Lakatosianism functions in real life. Since the theory of falsification is going to be applied to MacBeth, it is important for one to be aware of its background.

The Popperian falsification model dispenses with two logical fallacies, affirming the consequent and the existential fallacy, while promoting the valid logical argument of modus tollens. Falsification is not a unique twentieth century philosophy, but one employed historically in experimental science, although the structural principles about what makes such a procedure more effective and preferable to inductive reasoning are first spelled out by Popper. Lakatos, then, borrowing upon Popperism, illustrated how, before theories are replaced, hypotheses explaining their failure to work can be tested in tandem with such theories. Like Popperism, Lakatosianism has always operated in experimental science; hence, Lakatos’ success lies in detailing the methodology of scientific testing programs. Unlike Popper, though, Lakatos’ falsification method is more advanced, since it is able to juxtapose two, rather than one, thoughts on an experiment, and then test them simultaneously. The Lakatosian nullification model is best suited to examine the complex circumstances surrounding predictions in MacBeth, the reasons of which the next section explains.
Although Lakatos’ practice might appear too quantitative to discuss Shakespeare’s MacBeth, it should be duly noted the accuracy of the Third Witch’s and the Apparitions’ prophecies are purely based on probability. As such, MacBeth’s denial of the Third Witch’s and Apparitions’ fortune must be tested against its proponents’ affirmation of it. MacBeth’s position is representative of hypotheses being tested against theories. In MacBeth, the soothsayers assume a theoretical standpoint. The witnesses of the prophecy will offer the evidence which falsifies a theory or hypothesis. Afterwards, either the theory or hypothesis will be tentatively affirmed; however, one will be nullified. The four prophecies offered by the Third Witch and Apparitions, and MacBeth’s denial of it, follow the same logical pattern outlined above, which is why the Lakatosian model is befitting for a complex Shakespearean work, such as MacBeth.
While varied, the Third Witch and Three Apparitions predicted a set of events, theories contradictory to MacBeth’s hypotheses. These observations disproved MacBeth’s hypotheses, while temporarily proving the Third Witch’s and Three Apparitions’ theories. Hence, the Third Witch’s and the Three Apparitions’ forecasts are sufficiently correct, while MacBeth’s hypotheses, which diametrically opposes the Witch’s and the Three Apparitions’ theories, are probably incorrect. Yet, the Witches’ and Three Apparitions’ perfect predication rate do not permit one to assume that the Third Witch’s guarantee that Banquo’s descendants will be Scottish monarchs is verifiable, only falsifiable. The last part of this paper will address the aforementioned issue.

In contradistinction to the four predictions presented above—which features instances where a hypothesis is tested against a theory when a prediction is made; a point in time when the data, en toto, is observed, the probable affirmation of a hypothesis or theory; the rejection of the former or the latter—Banquo’s prophecy never gets past part one of the criteria mentioned above. In other words, one is left to wonder whether the Third Witch’s prediction about Banquo’s successors becoming kings will become manifest. Unlike the other four predictions, which are fairly straightforward, assuming that, based on past history, the Third Witch can deliver yet another unfalsified prognostication is, indeed, a naïve perspective. Many variants can ruin the Third Witch’s fortune, which is the reason why persons should consider it as a yet to be falsified predilection, and not as an event that might occur.
Theoretically, the First Witch, in MacBeth, predicts Banquo’s fate to be “Lesser than MacBeth, and greater” (1.3.65), and the Second Witch, admits, too, that Banquo’s fortune will be lesser than MacBeth, yet much happier” (1.3.66). What the two Witches really mean, though, is that, while Banquo is not destined to become a monarch, his successors are (1.3.67). Even MacBeth acknowledges that Banquo’s “children” will ascend the Scottish throne (1.3.86), at least initially, to which Banquo adds the following statement: kingship belongs to MacBeth alone (1.3.87). Although not discussed in the play, the next line suggests the Witches probably predicted his successful rise to the rank of Thane of Glamis, causing MacBeth to wonder how such events can transpire. Hence, the difference between MacBeth’s hypothesis and the Witches’ theories entail the doubt in the mind of the former and the surety in the hearts of the other in terms of whether or not the Witches’ predictions will occur. Later in the play, MacBeth is shown by the soothsayers a Banquo-like apparition (4.1.112). The first king wears a gaudy “crown” (4.1.113), and the hair of the second monarch “is like the first” (4.1.113-4). The third king does not differ from the other two, and neither does the fourth (4.1.115-6). The viewing jumps to the seventh king (4.1.118), before proceeding to the eighth monarch, who “bears a glass” which shows “many more” king (4.1.119-21). The foreboding concludes when “the blood-battered Banquo smiles” upon MacBeth (4.1.123), “and points” to his successors as kings (4.1.124). MacBeth maintains his contingent hypothesis, echoed in his words, “What is this so?,” implying that he thinks the Third Witch’s prognostication might or might not transpire (4.1.124).

However, many variants can ruin the Third Witch’s prognostication in MacBeth. One does not know if the First and Second Witch’s fortunes, in Act 1, Scene 3, Lines 65-6, means that Banquo’s personal fate will be endowed with a legacy that is far superior to MacBeth’s reign as a regent. Banquo, though, “fears that Banquo’s bloodline will threaten his monarchy (2.1.50-2), as he echoes the same sentiments in Act 2, Scene 1, Line 66, and Act 2, Scene 1, Line 71. MacBeth, too, harbors so much angst against this possibility that he tells Murderers that “Both of you / Know Banquo was your enemy” (3.1.115-6), in an effort to magnify their personal hatred of Banquo, in addition to labeling him as a treasonous individual (3.1.117-9). MacBeth’s intention entails assassinating Banquo to eliminate a threat, which is clearly stated in Act 3, Scene 1, Lines 42-3, the heroic couplet that ends Act 3: “It is concluded. Banquo, thy soul’s flight, / If it find heaven, must find it out tonight.” While Banquo, although possibly recognizing MacBeth’s hand in the assassination plot, is slain (3.3.23-4), Fleance, Banquo’s son, avoids being killed (3.3.26); however, Fleance’s survival implies a possibility, but not a certainty of Banquo’s descendants ruling Scotland. Hence, the first two Witches’ prophecies are dependent on what occurs in the future, and, if the Third Witch’s promise fails to present itself at a future date, the first two Witches’ predictions are disproven, since, in a conjunction, the fallacy of one conjunct invalidates the entire conjunction.

Even from an inductionist point of view, probability does not favor the Third Witch in her prophecy. The odds of the first king ascending the throne is one in two; the second, one in four; the third, one in eight; the fourth, one in sixteen; the fifth, one in thirty-two; the sixth, one in sixty-four; the seventh, one in one hundred twenty-eight; the eighth, one in two hundred fifty-six. Nevertheless, the Third Witch also did not specify when the crowning of such monarchs will take place, so the Third Witch, and the First and Second Witch, too, have until Judgment Day to prove that no one, as of have yet, has negated their forecasts. The Third Witch added an additional list of regents to her prophecy as well, so the odds against her tentative correctness in this matter increase drastically. Since observations, probable verification, and likely falsification of MacBeth’s hypothesis, enrooted in contingency, or the Witches’ theories, cemented in absolutism, have yet to be established, one can go no further than to label the Third Witch’s prophecy as a potentially falsifiable one.

In four circumstances above, prognosticators’ forecasting accuracy seem supportable by data, but, at least theoretically, they could run into a situation where their existential nature does not permit them to construct faithful predilections. Although the Witches and Apparitions suggest a pattern of exactitude, in God’s created world, as shown in MacBeth, patterns can change, and anomalies can occur. What percentage of knowledge, after all, are the Witches endowed with? If God is omniscient, then one must divide the cognition of each Witch and Apparition by God’s level of understanding. The dividend will be very close to zero. In Macbeth, too, it is significant to point out that the Witches and Apparitions often use each other’s knowledge to predict occurrences. If both the former and the latter cannot fully discern, at any moment, about the nature of providence, then such beings are not, in the true sense, able to prognosticate under every conceivable condition. One also cannot discern if any of the Witches’ or Apparitions’ predictions prior to MacBeth prove faulty. All one can know for certain is that one day his or her theories could be disproven.

The Witches and Apparitions in MacBeth might appear to some persons as fortunetellers, far removed from the methods contemporary scientists use to predict phenomena. Yet, as this analysis illustrates, the concepts are the same: science is all about knowledge, and part of scientific knowledge involves understanding the limitations in what humans can know about the cosmos. Since humans are not omniscient, like God, they must seek to look at all facts as data capable of being proven wrong, as there is bound to come a time where tentative facts are dumped in the landfill of discarded fallacies. By studying the Witches’ and Apparitions’ prophecies in MacBeth, we are essentially analyzing why scientists use a falsifiablist technique to comprehend the world, a suggestion that, if not agreed upon all literary critics, will hopefully provoke research into this sector.

Works Cited

Bevington, David. Preface. The Complete Works of Shakespeare. 4th ed. Ed. David
Bevington. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
The Complete Works of Shakespeare. 4th ed. Ed. David Bevington. New York:
HarperCollins, 1992.
Hale, Stephen. Experiment XLIII.
Lakatos, Irme. “Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes.”
Criticism and the Growth of Human Knowledge. Eds. Irme Lakatos and Alan Muskgrave. New York: Cambridge UP, 1970. 91-196.
The Logic of Falsification. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. Gordon Teskey. New York and London: Norton, 2005.
Popper, Karl R. The Logic of Scientific Discovery. New York: Basic, 1959.
Sarfati, Jonathan D. “Does God’s Foreknowledge Entail Fatalism?” Web. 20 Aug. 2013.
---. The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins and Evolution. Atlanta: Creation, 2010.
---. “Loving God With All Your Mind: Logic and Creation.” Web. 30 Jul. 2013.
Tamayo, Michael J. “Popper and His Method of Falsification.” Web. 3 Oct. 2014.

All research and writing is the work of QuotidianPerfection.

Take care--all comments and criticisms are welcome.

Best Wishes,

PostPosted: Sun Mar 15, 2015 11:45 am  Post subject: Re: Quotidian Perfection's Interpretation of MacBeth  
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Yeah, that's what I thought too.

PostPosted: Sun Mar 15, 2015 7:56 pm  Post subject: Re: Quotidian Perfection's Interpretation of MacBeth  
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Hi Khalpz:

Thanks for the commentary!

Stories which seem pretty straightforward actually become highly complex when viewed through the multiple lenses of critical theory. I'll offer more information on this topic when time permits.


Here is what transpires when a person uses literary theory to analyze what dressing the "turkey" means in the context of Amelia Bedelia books, a children's books featuring Amelia Bedelia, who takes all words which are "supposed" to be interpreted idiomatically at face value.

The Hidden Complexity of Idiomatic Language in Critical Theory

When Amelia Bedelia, a character in Amelia Bedelia children’s books who accepts the literal meaning of terms which are supposed to be taken idiomatically, is asked to “dress the turkey,” the reader, upon hearing the request, might find that the preceding request straightforward in that it requires her to season a pheasant. But, such a simplistic comprehension of an idiomatic phrase becomes quite a turbid concept to grasp when perceived through the lens of critical theory. Michel Foucault, for instance, reasons that societies mandate in advance what constitutes a correct or incorrect interpretation of a command. And, while Cultural Feminism strives to celebrate the contribution of women by highlighting the significance of female’s noteworthy performances in traditional gender roles, which prove beneficial to society, it is not divorced from Foucaultian Discourse though insofar as Cultural Feminists discern what or what does not serve as a historical gender role. New Critics sometimes splice a concrete word and its abstract referent, claiming that certain contexts can create ambiguity between the two. Reader Response Theorists press the ambiguity issue even further than the New Critics, and maintain that whether a person privileges the rote or metaphoric meaning of given words is inextricably linked to that individual’s social influence, which suggests that Reader Response Theory, at some point, branched off from the Foucaultian tree. Amelia Bedelia is now contextualized with four different types of interpreters, who will inevitably analyze her action in light of their philosophy; however, the once transparent interpretation of Amelia Bedelia, by the end of this paragraph, seems translucent, and will approach an opaque state once camps critical of Foucaultian Discourse, Cultural Feminism, New Criticism, and Reader Response Theory voice their opinions.

Inversely, Mikhail Bahktin’s notion of Carnival, Feminism, Realism, and Dr. Irme Lakatos’ model of Falsifiability seeks to refute, respectively, Foucaultian Discourse, Cultural Feminism, New Criticism, and Reader Response Theory. Whereas Discourse attempts to illustrate if a member of a given community processes information accurately, Bahktin’s Carnival analyzes those whose delineations contradict societal norms. Feminism negates the mores of Cultural Feminism in a similar fashion, with the major exception being that Feminists study how women come into conflict with gender roles, as opposed to Cultural Feminism, which comments upon how women can thrive within a socially appointed niche and benefit the community of which they are a part holistically. Also, although New Criticism sometimes focuses on ambiguities which arise from tensions between literal and figural senses of words, realism assesses if a work can be declared realistic, and, if the latter is not the case, then both the literalistic and idiomatic components of an idiom do not matter, for they are, in essence, in a fictitious medium where perceived real etymons are rendered meaningless by virtue of their environment. Lastly, Dr. Lakatos’ Falsification model, when applied to literature, does not operate upon looking at the influence a community exerts on people who accept certain expressions prima facie, or at a more profound level. Rather, Dr. Lakatos’ Falsifiability criterion implies, much like New Criticism, ambiguity between literal and idiomatic semiotics, the difference being that, in contradistinction to the New Critics, who perceive the interpreter as choosing between two potentially accurate linguistic tiers, the Falsificationists view the same person as deciding between two potentially inaccurate linguistic senses. In essence, Amelia Bedelia can decide to decorate the “turkey” (as we shall see) any way she pleases, as, oddly enough, critical reception to her choice will seem far more difficult to understand than her act.

In a Foucaultian society, Amelia Bedelia represents the individual who literalizes what is meant to be metaphoric. Amelia Bedelia’s rote dressing of a “turkey” is polarized to the societal customs that dressing a “turkey” means filling it with stuffing. However, Cultural Feminism adds a different dimension to the Amelia Bedelia story: as a woman, she is supposed to grasp the cooking prompt to “dress” a pheasant, yet she does not, implying that, at least momentarily, her comprehension of which domain she can exert authority over remains alien to her. New Criticism, as opposed to the first two theories presented, focuses on the difficulty Amelia Bedelia encounters when told to “dress” a bird, which either entails the literal act of putting a “turkey” in clothing, or spooning stuffing into it once the pheasant is open. Reader Response Theory seems the most merciful towards Amelia Bedelia, as those who order her to “dress” a “turkey” are correct in the respect that, from their societal standpoint, the aforementioned technique means seasoning a bird in some fashion. Yet, Amelia Bedelia might be indigenous to a community where the command to “dress” a “turkey” means what it says, and no more.

From a Bahktinian perspective, Amelia Bedelia, who does not “dress” a “turkey” by stuffing it but by decorating it with garbing, functions as the anti-Foucaultian individual whose modus operandi conflicts with the set social standards. Feminism might receive a boost from Bakhtinian rhetoric, in the respect that Cultural Feminist norms require Amelia Bedelia to familiarize herself with what dressing a “turkey” referes to (i.e., seasoning the pheasant) because cooking presents a domestic role which empowers women, which, Feminists might point out, Amelia Bedelia fails to comprehend in a contemporary world shifting away from gender roles. Though New Critics think that the ambiguity which Amelia Bedelia experiences when wondering what to “dress” a “turkey” entails—to accept such terms as they are uttered, as Amelia Bedelia does, or to fill in a pheasant with food—is meaningful, Realists can counter that claim by asserting that Amelia Bedelia is a character housed in a fictional children’s narrative, and, as a result, any words spoken in the text possesses neither literal nor figural value. They are simply vacuous. Reader Response Theorists might note that Amelia Bedelia’s decision to clothe a “turkey” rather than to stuff it with food can stem from Amelia Bedelia coming from a different community than the one which she serves in the book, although Falsificationists would examine the same issue as a dilemma, much like the New Critics. Yet, the dilemma will not be the one posed by the New Critics concerning ambiguity between two decisions, but, rather, vagueness over which individual or members of two particular societies will misinterpret a command. Even simple idioms, when dissected under intense critical theory, can become very difficult to fathom.

By QuotidianPerfection
13 Mar. 2015 (6:00 A. M.)

Take care,

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