This is a series of philosophical meditations attempting to tell the story about how 'truth' (general term) is a socially constructed phenomenon.
Monday, March 21, 2005
Reply to Comments
The following is a reply to the last comment of the last post.
Consider the following example. You are looking at a table-top, suppose it looks pretty smooth. So the statement,
(T) This table-top is smooth.
seems true. Now, suppose you use some sort of high-powered electron microscope to make "topographical" measurements of the surface of the table. You will find that the table has various inequalities on the surface so that the statement,
(T') This table-top is not smooth.
seems true. I leave you to see how this connects to the issues relating to the Cosmological Argument (or even the Teleological argument) discussed in the last post and the subsequent replies. (Hint: apply this example using the surface of an orange in place of the surface of the table-top in the above example; then apply the same idea to the entire universe. Note that you must use something different than a electron microscope to apply to these new objects--e.g. in the case of the orange you could use your own sight up close as opposed to just looking at the orange from across the room, say.)
It's an interesting example of the confusion of some philosophers about what constitutes "evidence" of God's existence. I see this particularly in light of my previous entry's observations about the symbolic nature of things. I.e. the complexity of DNA says absolutely nothing about the existence of a God or intelligent being just as the symbols "%^&^%&*^%*&^" are incredibly complex (except from the perspective of a human being) but say nothing about anything unless I interpret them to mean something--I could make it say "God exists" by saying that '%^&^%&' is the name of God and that '*^%*&^' is the third-person form of the verb to exist in some crazy language.
Or...suppose we found these symbols inscribed on some rock or something in a cave. We could justifiably account for these by saying that humans made these symbols and so say..."people were here!" But we cannot use the same argument to argue from complex non-natural-looking phenomena to the existence of an Absolute Being. (Well, we can but not without assuming a whole load of stuff that has nothing to do with the symbols themselves.) Why can't we do this? Well, first off, arguing for humans having been in the cave is ok because we have independent knowledge that humans exist at all. We have no independant experience confirming even the possibility of an Absolute Being.
So far this is mostly ranting and raving, but i hope to elucidate the ideas further...they would require a whole fucking book to do that. Note: I am not an atheist, just a concerned theist.
(1) If there is absolute meaning, then God exists in some form or another.
(1.1) The symbol 'God' is used merely as a placeholder for the Absolute.
(2) If God does not exist in any form, then there is nothing apart from the physical world. All phenomena can be accounted for in terms of physical explanations, and these explanations will be complete explanations.
(3) Therefore, if there is absolute meaning and God does not exist in any form, then the basis for absolute meaning must reside in the physical universe--i.e. can be explained by a purely naturalistic explanation.
(4) But, the physical universe consists of mere objects (if there is no God in any form).
(5) Mere objects cannot convey absolute meaning. They can be interpreted, but cannot be interpreted absolutely since there is no divine interpretation of them (assuming there is no God in any form).
(5.1) Even if God exists, mere objects do not convey absolute meaning, because they are merely symbols.
(5.1.1) Any meaning is an interpretation of them by a subject. An observation is not objective as long as it is made by a biassed subject--a subject living within the universe of the observed object. The only way for an observer to be objective is to be outside of the universe, and this is possible only for a God of some form.
(5.2) Even if God exists, any interpretation of the world is not implied by the world because the world is only physical. Hence any interpretation claiming to be "absolute" must have access to the divine interpretation of the symbols of the world.
(5.2.1) An interpretation is a function mapping symbols to meanings. For example, an interpretation of a first-order predicate calculus, or a sentential calculus. Without the interpretation function, the symbols are meaningless. Meaning does not reside in the symbol but in an interpretation function. This goes for everything, since everything is a symbol--there is, indeed, "nothing outside of the text" (Derrida) because there are nothing but symbols.
(6) You cannot use (1) to prove the existence of God in some form, because you must prove that there is absolute meaning to use (1) to that end.
(6.1) But, in order to prove that there is absolute meaning, you must prove the existence, first, of the Absolute, but this ammounts to proving that God exists in some form, for God is the Absolute.
(6.1.1) The Absolute =def. the unmovable.
(220.127.116.11) We can only use extrapolation of metaphors to see this: a monument, a mountain, the earth. These of course are not unmovable, there is no unmovable in the universe because there are no non-relative reference points inside the universe. If one exists at all, it must be outside of the universe. And there are no objective marks inside the universe of the Absolute existing on the outside, since there can be no objectivity in the universe (by 5.1.1).
(18.104.22.168) The Bible is not the Absolute because it is a symbol too--subject to interpretation.
(6.2) If a person believes in God in some form, then it is by faith.
(6.2.1) This does nothing to diminish God. In fact, if God is as the Christians conceive, then this does everything to increase the mercifulness of God, for God was so gracious as to cut through the physical world to speak to some, to impart the belief in the Absolute in a world constantly in flux.
(6.2.2) The Absolute does not show itself in the physical.
Nothing new of note to post (if anyone is still reading this thing) but just thought I'd mention that the reason is that I don't have much leisure-time for slowly plodding along thinking abot truth. However, I have done a lot of thinking about knowledge and the nature of epistemic justification. I posted on my yahoo site a paper which I just finished for my epistemology independent study called LEARNING AND LOGOS. Not a very interesting paper I'm afraid, but the ideas are interesting--which seems to be the case almost always: ideas are interesting but papers are boring.
Maybe if I have time (or there is demand--haha!) I will post some of my ideas about knowledge on here...wait and see.
Made some changes to the commenting: I decided to use the built-in commenting feature instead of the haloscan.com one. Pros: Fewer passwords to remember and fewer sites to log into to do administrivia; also you can specify an email address to have comments sent to when someone comments on your blog so's you don't have to check it all the time. Cons: You can't (as far as I can tell) delete individual comments (e.g. in the case when someone you don't know makes a stupid comment or whatever), you can only hide all comments for a particular post.
I emailed the people at blogger.com about this. Perhaps something will come of it.
Knowledge and truth seem to be the same in my analysis.
An Analogy. Mere opinion is to knowledge as stealing is to honest toil.
Now, "true opinion" is somewhere in between. "Merely true opinion" is closer to "mere opinion" (on a spectrum) than it is to "knowledge." And "justified true opinion [belief]" is closer to "knowledge" (on the spectrum). So we have the following:
This is very much like there is a continuum between mere thievery and honest toil. Of course someone would argue against both counts believing that there is a precise point at which an action becomes stealing: there are necessary and sufficient conditions for stealing, and these conditions (taken together) are logically exclusive to the necessary and sufficient conditions of honest toil. And they would say the same of the relationship between mere opinion and knowledge.
But Let me illuminate further: acquisition of knowledge requires a certain type of experience that acquisition of mere opinion does not.
Socratic moment: How can I speak about knowledge when I do not as yet have a definition of it? Well, first of all I am not trying to come up with a definition [hence I do not assume the primacy of definition], and second, I am able to use the term knowledge coherently in a community of speakers [unless I'm actually crazy or something] hence I am legitimate in speaking about knowledge; for I am speaking about he use of the term 'knowledge' and the proper use gives way to a proper understanding of the term which comprises the proper meaning.
What is the nature of this "certain type of experience"? I have already spoken of the analogy: knowledge is like honest toil. If I seek knowledge of calculus I will read about it, trying to understand what someone has written about it; I will work problems, and someone will check them. When I make mistakes, I will strive to correct them. Hence I come to have knowledge about calculus. There is not one essence to this experience but a family resemblance (to use an increasingly hackneyed term) amongst all of these experiences.
How does one know a person? You spend time with that person--in discussion, in silence, discovering what makes that particular person an individual.
How does one know virtue? One experiences the actions of others who are called "virtuous" and one mimics those individuals.
So we see that knowledge and experience are closely related. Having knowledge is not the satisfaction of some necessary and sufficient conditions, but is the gaining of experience with respect to the thing to be known.
A theory is the putting of reality in nice little boxes in our heads. This is the same as when I say that theories partition the world. A theory is a deception. A dream. (This is not a metaphor.)
For example, one theory of 'truth' establishes two boxes. Box 1 is called 'True' and box 2 is called 'False.' There is no provision for box 3, box 4, box 5, and so on unless they are given in terms of boxes 1 and 2. This is called a rule. So a conventional theory of truth has the following things. Boxes: 'True' and 'False'; Rules: "The boxes of all other theories must fit inside boxes True and False."
But now I have made a theory of theories. I will quit doing that. Theories should be done away with as soon as they are invented. I am not giving out a theory here--not saying what one ought to do but I am saying that when you make a theory then if you dedicate yourself to that theory it will become too hard to think any other way. I prefer not to do this, but you may have a different preference. I cannot (nor will not) decide for you.
I would like to be inventive, hence I do not want to think only in terms of True and False, or even in terms of the box of Box (i.e. my theory of theories as putting reality in boxes is itself a box and I do not want to put myself in a box permanently as I have already mentioned).
So there is only the here and now and it would seem that there is no way to pin anything down unless you dedicate yourself to a theory to a box, to a living space within reality. Actually I dislike moving around so much--it is tiresome. There needs to be some place to set one's head at night to sleep. But if you are always sleeping then what will you miss?
Yet I want there to be something which is like an overarching thing, a box, a shelter, in order to find some constant rest, but I fear about becoming blind. This is what happens when you are stubbornly holding on to your boxes: become blind to the goings on outside of the boxes.
Of course there's the stupid saying "think outside the box." My terminology is unfortunate to now be associated with that saying.
Be homeless then. Do not have a home.
Yes, "box" was a bad choice of term--contrary to purposes: moving the furniture around a bit.
Imperative: "Do not make anything out of my words. If you do, I'll be pissed."
Imperative: "Develop a theory and publish it. If you don't, you'll not have money." This is the problem with contemporary philosophical life.
Aporia: "Yes, but what can he mean?" "What? What is meaning?--I'm not asking a question."
In short, I am saying that theories are endless. Every word I make is trying to make something out of itself even when I try not to make it so. This is my ultimate philosophical problem. How to speak without unexpectedly making a theory. I want to speak, but I do not want to make a theory, but speaking (philosophically) implies making a theory. And by philosophical speach I do not mean speach which is explicitly philosophical, but speach with a hint of figuring things out.
Having things "figured out" conventionally means having a theory (albeit simple) worked out in the mind sufficiently so as to be able to put it into words when a friend asks "How's it going?"
My hypothesis is that non-theoretical philosophical speech is possible. This is the hypothesis--to be tested, by experience. But perhaps not. Such speech might be speech which is literally in comprehensible but which, in its intention, is understandable. This is what needs to be studied: speech which is literally confusing, disjointed, even crazy, but in its intention meaningful, insightful, illuminating, etc. This is a sort of poetic philosophy.
Where does all of this fit with the discussion of truth? Well, my problem is that I wish to say what truth is, but I do not want to make a theory of truth.
What do we do with language? Language is a social activity. The idea of illocutionary acts (e.g. promising, commanding, asserting, etc.) is the beginning of considering this notion. The nature of language is to do something. To do what? To interact with our environment: our peers. Language is an elaboration on a basic social space: that of multiple people coming together in the same physical space. It is an elaboration on basic gestures. Think of trying to communicate to someone who shares not a common language. Certain simple gestures are all that are available. In a very simple society basic gestures are all that are necessary, but in our technological society we must have a technological advance in our gestures: language is what is the technological advance of gesture. Language is merely complicated gesture. (It is interesting to note that such a theory [if I care to use such a "four letter word" anymore] predicts a sort of telepathy--i.e. gestures even more subtle than that of language.) But let us get back to another topic.
When we speak we tend to appear to be making categories. This is why speach or writing are difficult for me in order to make myself be understood: my very act of saying something makes the appearance of some category: the appearance that I am using some criterion as superior to the one that is the object of my critique. When I speak the conventional reader assumes that I critique old categories in favor of new, and that these new categories are implicit in my speach. Perhaps this is not a limitation, then, of language, but a limitation of the conventional reader. But here I really am advocating a new over old: the unconventional reader over the conventional one.
I want to say that you (the reader) need to try to overcome your reaction that I am trying to advocate new categories of judgment over the old categories of True and False, Rational/Irrational, Wrong/Right, Good/Bad, etc. I.e. you need to try to take my words not as advocating anything but merely addressing existence in it's pure form--i.e. unpartitioned, undifferentiated by any categories. But in this I am implicitly advocating the category of New Reader over Old Reader. Am I? It seems so, and indeed it isn't even very implicit but rather explicit when I come out and say it. And my above theory of language as gesture seems to be of a very conventional form: the better theory arguing against the worse.
Then it would seem that the only way to keep from contradicting myself is to contradict myself--or at the very least keep changing my mind. And this is the case in order to keep from judging the Old from the perspective of the New. Perhaps this explains the difficulty of some of the post-modern/post-structuralist writing--Lyotard, and Derrida to name a couple (i.e. the ones I have read).
Of course the post-modern (whatever) does not admit of an objective space in which to place the discourser--i.e. objective discourse is not possible: the discourser is always biased. But this is just theory, not the reality--never the reality, but the reality is the problem, but language is what we humans want to do, but language cannot (ever) be reality because language is not reality. And this would be predicted by my theory of language as gesture, but that would be cheating to say so because the theory is not the reality. Aporia!
What is the status of the above "law" of logic? This is a question that I have been sweeping aside for some months now; perhaps it won't be resolved for much longer. However, I must keep prodding the question.
At the moment I would say that it is very nearly a universal construction: just about everyone would accept it. But of course there are some who do not. And the former mock the latter for being irrational or for sloppy thinking. But "human stupidity is infinte."
A curious observation is that I cannot claim that the law of coherence is wrong, if I am one who is suspicious of it. I do not say that the categories of the True and the False are wrong or false, because then I would be assuming their validity in making that judgement. Rather I say that I am suspicious of it. And if you can derive in me a contradiction by my statement of suspicion, then you have not refuted me but you have shown only the inadequacy of language.
(Perhaps this gets to the bottom of my response to Dr O's comment in the last entry.)
Coherence is a choice: you choose to be coherent or not to be coherent in your beliefs. You choose to subject yourself to the categories of True and False. I do not reject those categories, but I am saying that they are constructed like one makes a shelter. The bullies have partitioned the world of experience into the True and the False and if you don't conform you are labeled as Irrational, another category of the powers that be.
Not only is it a choice but it seems that choosing in favor of coherence makes using language much easier: more clear and safe--definite. You are right or you are wrong. True or False. I do not deny the benefits of this scheme: It would make my job much easier. To convince myself I need only come up with arguments (in language) which thereby lend to the idea that my position fits into the category of True. But we must ask ourselves what are the consequences of acting as if the categories of True and False are final, regardless of how we partition the world according to those categories.
Am I trying to construct a theory of truth or what? Foucault thinks that truth is power. He is very post-modern. That term is used too much indeed, but it does have a proper use. Jean-Francois Lyotard calls post-modernism incredulity towards meta-narratives. This is how I understand the term, and what I think is the proper use of the term. Is what Foucault thinks a theory of truth? I do find affinity with what he says. To him, truth is power in that what is "true" is determined by a "system" put in place--e.g. scientific investigation. Science determines what is true and what is false for a large domain of our lives. Science is a meta-narrative: a framework for evaluating statements. Post-modernism, then, is skeptical of the "scientific method." In my understanding, post-modernism, tries not to offer a new "truth"--i.e. it is not skeptical of the scientific method because the method gives false results but because the method has no primacy over any other method (or meta-narrative), but science tries to put itself over all other meta-narratives and relegates them to the Other. I am just reviewing old stuff here. If post-modernism were to offer a new "truth" then somehow it would be incoherent, because that new truth would also be some form of a framework claiming absolute status.
Being as I am, I must stress that I do not wish to offer a theory of truth, because of that which has been outlined above. I am not modern, and I cannot therefore offer a theory of truth claiming to be better than other theories. This is why I need not criticise old theories of truth directly, i.e., for theoretical reasons, rather I criticise them for other reasons. Reasons less well-defined, perhaps than theoretical reasons. It is not the case that I claim that there is something out there (i.e. "truth") which the old theories model inadequately, and I am trying to offer an alternative. No. That is not what I wish to do.
The pursuit of truth, i.e. the hero of truth is also some sort of meta-narrative: it legitimizes the pursuit of truth. My criterion of a meta-narrative is anything which legitimizes something. Perhaps this is too broad. Do not take it as a definition, for, if that was my definition than even my very writing and thinking about such things would be incoherent to my purposes, i.e. my incredulity towards meta-narratives, i.e., my post-modernism. I should not even call it a criterion for that too has the ring of a definition.
I find myself even more confused now that I have finished writing the above thoughts. For it does seem that my ideas have the ring of trying to legitimize something. But perhaps not.
It seems that whenever we ask the question, What is truth?, we end up indirectly asking the question, What statements are legitimate?, i.e. deserve our attention?, are useful? (These are all forms of legitimation: utility, deserving of attention, for example.)
So what attitude is proper when approaching this question if we are to avoid incoherence? Or are we to give up the notion of incoherence altogether? For that seems to be some sort of overarching theme which has the purpose of providing some legitimacy to what some person is saying: coherence, a.k.a., the law of non-contradiction. This is a hard line of thought. I shall finish it here, and think upon it later.
Social Construction.(Continued) The individual holds the origin of truth: within each individual resides the tendency to evaluate a state of affairs which is put forward by an utterer in a discourse context (i.e. a social space). This evaluation is something we all know of and is exemplified in the simple dialogues of the last post. This evaluation is a feeling--and this is what truth is. Hence I am not putting forward a theory of truth so much as I am announcing a realization of what truth is.
Theory vs. Reality. In a theory of truth one begins with a few examples of things which are true (e.g. 'Snow is white', 'Der Schnee ist weiss', etc.) and attempts to find some sort of definition which encompasses all possible examples where we would say that such and such a statement/sentence is true. But the problem with theory is that it must always remain a theory and distant from human reality, which is the only reality of which we are communally and directly aware (any other reality requires some manner of faith to uphold it). Perhaps I am thinking of the distinction between theory and practice which was talked about so much by marxist philosophers (e.g. Georg Lukács).
Now how do we get away from relativism? According to what I am saying, each person is somehow a standard of truth, but I deny that there is any one standard of truth other than perhaps the realization that each person is the standard. (I must be careful to be clear here--this is difficult.) But relativism is fragmented and is not conducive to community or to human life in general: there is no absolute foundation above all other pseudo-foundations, but we must not fall into the abyss of fragmentation (where there really is gnashing of teeth) either. Ther is danger either way. So somehow I will end up saying that each person must decide what to do: no person can decide what to do for another. What is the nature of this decision? Perhaps it is a decision to live within a certain framework which at one time, and perhaps yet, claimed to be absolute, and to submit the truth of the self (the only direct, non-theoretical, truth) for the truth of the community which allows us to avoid the problem of the abyss of fragmentation.
Perhaps this is a decision which is continually being made. And I do not as yet admit that there is a right decision and a wrong one: so far there are only the implications to be considered: If one decides to devote one's self to the truth of the self then one must accept the consequences of that decision; if one decides to be devoted to the life of the community and the truth which is demarcated by that body, then one must accept the consequences of that. These are the paths to be worked out. Both are hard: the first allows freedom of the personal spirit (the self) but causes one to be set apart from the community, the later allows one to be part of the community (thereby feeling a part of an integrated organic whole--a "loving" community) but requires the submission of the truth of the self.
The bulk of the following was not written in mid April to mid May while I was still in Budapest, but the basic ideas were being developed in my journal during that time. The ideas predate those which I have since explained and are the motivation for beginning this blog. Perhaps some of these ideas do not mesh (or "jive") completely with what I have elsewhere said in this blog, but such is development.
The "basic" notion of truth. Truth in it's basic form is manifest in whatever makes a person exclaim "Yes!" either with his or her mouth or within his or her mind.
A: Does what I have just said resonate with you? [Without a pause]
B: Yes, it does. What you have said sits well with me. A: Then let us set about putting it into practice. B: This is a wise course of action.
This is truth for both A and B.
A: Does what I have just said resonate with you? [With an aprehensive look]
B: Not exactly. What you have said fails to acknowledge a few key things. A: Would you be more specific? B: I'm not able just now to say exactly what, but let us consider the cases.
This is truth for A and falsity for B, but there is hope.
There are many other possibilities of course; hence the truth values True and False are too strict.
The truth of the logician (and most philosophers, especially the ones in the analytic tradition) is something mechanical (the external property possessed by a proposition). Indeed, it was derived from the basic form of truth, but ultimately it is something entirely different.
The basic form is manifested in a conversation, in a poem, an experience, a gut feeling, a story, a song, a good meal, a good day, etc. (An explanation of a good many of these examples is well warranted--in time, all in good time.) In these manifestations there is "truth" when there is affirmation of some good quality--what this is will be left undefined for the moment; for now just understand the phrase "good quality" naturally, i.e. untechnically.
A conversation between friends will at one time yield a "Yes!" response from the one who listens (and even from the one who speaks), but at another time this affirmation may be absent (an indeterminate response "Maybe.") or there may be a negative response--a "No!" response. The words which at one time manifested truth, at another time did not have this property. This illustrates that truth is inherent in a person and not in the words.
Objection. Of course the analytic philosopher (or some person of that ilk and broth) will say that this is merely an example of one person making a mistake perhaps or one person being confused about the nature of reality. For example, the one who originally said "Yes!" was mistaken or just confused and then later realized the mistake or the confusion. Hence such a person will say that truth still resides in the words (or the expressed proposition, state of affairs, etc.), but sometimes we make a mistake or are confused and hence my example shows nothing other than that sometimes we make mistakes or we are confused about the nature of reality.
Reply. Indeed, this is a good objection. The simple response to which is that I do not admit that there is some sort of truth "out there" which is to be discovered and about which it is possible to be mistaken--i.e. I do not admit that there is some sort of logical space which is analogous to physical space (e.g. we can be mistaken about something in physical space, for example, from a distance I can think that a tower is round when in fact it is rectangular, but I do not assume, as does the contrary view, that it is the same with matters of truth when we are investigating about matters other than the physical universe). When we are investigating about such "physical" matters and when we are investigating about matters "beyond" the physical, such as God, etc., is a fuzzy distinction, which complicates my response. For now, suffice it to say that my notion of truth is social rather than metaphysical, and I argue against the metaphysical notion of truth. Someone subscribes to a notion of metaphysical truth when one believes that he or she is out to discover truth and to come to exemplify in his or her beliefs more and more the True (in the sense of one of Plato's forms existing in some ethereal realm).
The truth of the logician is set in stone. The bearer of truth is a proposition, and a proposition is either true or false, and if a proposition is true at some particular time, it must always be true. In this theory, truth and falsity is a feature of the objective universe. In my basic notion of truth, however, we cannot even discuss truth or falsity until we have an utterance, an utterer, as well as a hearer--all three are necessary (of course, perhaps, the utterer and the hearer may be the same person in a degenerate case, but this will have certain implications on the final truth evaluation which will be discussed later). The important thing to note is that truth in this sense is not some feature of the objective world (assuming the existence thereof, the alleged substantiality thereof), but is determined by the sociological space (e.g. two people conversing, one person having a particular experience, this blog, a large conference, a group of friends sitting around a table, and the like) and the interactions taking place therein. In particular, whether or not something is evaluated as true or false depends upon the attitude of both the hearer and the utterer. For example, in conversation A (the utterer or speaker) may utter S with a skeptical attitude (indicating the "falsity" of S), but at the same time the mental state of B (the hearer or listener) may be such that B thinks S to be rather profound (indicating the "truth" of S). Let us apply this idea.
What is an utterance? Examples are the saying of a sentence, the writing of a sentence, the humming of a tune, the waving of a hand, as well as so many other things. A direct definition seems ellusive and would ultimately be a stumbling block to the development of my ideas. However, for those who need a discursive definition I should say the following.
(D) An utterance is any act performed by someone in a social space.
This is my sentence. I have uttered sentence D, now you, the reader, evaluate it according to your understanding of the terms. Most likely you will react with suspicion (a sort of indeterminate truth evaluation, a "Maybe"). Perhaps you will be completely negative about it and even make some comment to that effect ("No!"). And If I am a good rhetor (not really) or if I am lucky (open to debate) then you would agree with me ("Yes!"). Perhaps you might agree in part but not wholly, or you might not wholly understand what the hell I'm saying (this is more positive than the "Maybe" response but is still rather indeterminate).
Sentence D suffices as a deffinition only partially for me (My response to sentence D: "Yes, but there are some special cases.") It is very ellegant, assuming definitions of 'act' and 'social space' and 'someone', but, for my part, I feel there are some cases that it misses. For example, and you may laugh at this, I consider things like beautiful sunsets, great music, and the like to be bearers of this basic notion of truth. (After all, you can respond to them with a "Yes!" or "No!" or the like and it has meaning, though it is hard to pin down.) If you are staunchly logico-analytical in nature then you will certainly laugh at that, perhaps you'll even quit reading. But remember that your are limiting yourself to the bias of one man--Aristotle. The logic system of Aristotle has held the world captive for many centuries. I prefer to free my mind from that bias, it is difficult for me to do that oftentimes.
Modus Ponens (MP). My suspicions have been growing for some time. Ever since the aforementioned independent study I did on modal logic (and the resulting presentation) I have been thinking about formal logical systems and the rationale for having inferential rules such as MP. Namely, I suspect that principles of logic (modus ponens,reductio ad absurdum, etc.) are just rhetorical devices. As such, there is nothing special (or "divine" as I like to say) about them except that they tend to be useful in communicating to an audience the affirmative response of the basic notion of truth ("Yes!")--i.e. provided one can distil what one wants to say into their form. For example, MP is special only insofar as it allows a speaker to get an audience to affirm the utterance of "q" provided he or she first gets the audience to affirm the utterance "if p, then q; p". Perhaps these forms are sufficient for the more quaint perennial problems of philosophy, but they are fatally limited if one desires to talk about the more profound issues of human existence.
Logic says that MP is "truth preserving"--i.e. that if the premises of the MP argument form are true then the conlcusion must be true (it is necessarily so). To a point there is nothing wrong with saying this. I do admit that MP is useful in communicating truth (in the sense above described), but we must not go too far by saying that there is something special or divine about MP. For example we must not say that MP is somehow a necessary truth--i.e. an absolute truth; true in all possible worlds. To say so is to make more of MP than is warranted, I think. To say so is to think, for example, that not only did Prometheus give man fire, but also MP--i.e. to ascribe some divine feature to MP, as if it were some beautiful feature of the universe established by some creator and without which there would be no hope of ever preserving truth or making any inferences. No, indeed, we humans have made up MP, and in this sense, there is nothing divine about it. MP is merely a pattern of speaking.
Application. I said that I think the logical "laws" are really just special cases of persuasive techniques or rhetorical devices for communicating to an audience. One of the implications of this is that what people conventionally mean by "reason" when they say "Use reason, don't try to pull the wool over my eyes with mere bombast" is really no more "correct" or "good" or "true" (if I may use such evaluative terms coherently) than "mere bombast" but is just a different method of acheiving a result. The above speaker is mistaken in assuming that by using "sound reason" it will be guaranteed that no one is pulling the wool over his eyes: it is possible to be duped by so called reason. "Reason" is not a guarantor of truth, though it is a good way of organizing some of our thoughts. "Reason" is just one class of methods for communication among many. Those who might say that such and such a speaker (or film maker as in the case of Michael Moore) should use "reason" instead of whatever "suspect" methods he or she does assume the same as the above speaker: that reason is the arbiter of truth. Furthermore to say that the philosophers and scientists (using these terms with loose designation) deal with rational thought (indicating superior position: correct, real, true) whereas the artists (poets, novelists, painters, etc.) deal with the mysterious, even profound, yet irrational (indicating a subordinate position: less correct, illusory, false) parts of life is to apply a false distinction. The distinction between what is rational and what is irrational is based upon giving primacy to a particular way of getting a point across: the "logical" argument.
Rules of thought. There is a tendency to call inferential rules such as MP a "rule of thought" or a "law governing thought." Indeed I am inclined to accept this--but only so far. It seems absurd to even try to conceive of a situation in which an utterer could affirm "if p, then q; p" but yet deny "q". The same is true of reductio ad absurdum as long as we accept the law of non-contradiction (another convention put in place by humans and not some God given rule of logic). However, this does not imply that these patterns of speaking are immutable laws. Furthermore, human thought is capable of transcending these patterns in order to achieve more creative ways of communicating the "Yes!" response--for communicating truth. Rules like MP and reductio are tried and true recipies, but ultimately the human intellect is the cook! In this way, to say that "logical" thinking is the only "good" thinking is like to say that the only good painting is Impressionism, post-Impressionism, or some other school; is like to say that the only good music is jazz, classical, or some other form. Certainly careful thinking is a good thing--I am not an advocate of sloppy thinking, but I do claim that human existence is more complex than what can be contained within a limited set of logical rules. What is good thinking should not be considered synonymous with thinking which can be put into, e.g., syllogistic form. Furthermore, so called "non-logical" thinking too is valuable, this is because human existence manifests itself in many a wild way, like some overgrown vine which is not readily forced into a given bound. Hence the communication of human experience requires creativity transcending that of the philosopher and scientist. This is the domain of the artist, perhaps.
Social Construction. Here we come to a point where I can describe how truth is a socially constructed phenomenon. (In one of my recent entries I talked about how dialectic is that social phenomenon which constructs truth. Here I am describing that same phenomenon from a different viewpoint and in different terminology. Perhaps I am looking at a different facet of the same concept.) Truth is the response that one has to an utterance. In this way the mind of each person is the seat of truth. (I am using 'seat' in the archaic sense.) This is why some will say that my theory is relativistic: each person has his or her own truth so to speak, but there is plenty more to say about that. In particular, I am not advocating relativism, at least not an extreme form, but certainly there is an element of relativism inherent in what I'm saying.
Question. Andrew Ottoson (Dr O), in response to my last entry, asked (via email) the question: what is the difference between universal truth and metaphysical truth?
Response. Really what I call metaphysical truth is what would more properly (i.e. more in accordance with standard philosophical jargon) be called "absolute truth." I call it metaphysical because the idea behind the notion is that it is something which has been established beyond the physical realm--i.e. it's not some physical "law" like gravity or what ever your favorite law is, but is some divine feature of the world as it has been constructed by some divine entity such as God or some Creator or whatever one believes in.
I haven't really considered what universal truth is but I suppose it is something which anyone anywhere and anytime would consider "true." So I guess that absolute (or metaphysical) truth is universal truth but not necessarily vice versa. However there are those who think that their particular system of beliefs (e.g. American Christianity) is absolute and therefore should be universal but that people are just denying the truth or some such absurd idea. I don't know, I'll have to think about it more.
Question. Dr O also asked whether it is possible to have a dialectical synthesis which represents everybody in the world, since I assume that it is possible for a community (less than the whole world) to develop a synthesis.
Response. I would say that in principle there is nothing to prevent this from happening, but I don't know if it's possible. This might be something like the completion of history in the sense of Marx or Hegel (I guess, I forget which one exactly talked about that). Somehow I don't like the idea, however. A very tentative response to the question would be that the whole world is just too diverse to allow a synthesis to construct a universal truth (in the sense above defined). This is due, in part, to human psychology I guess. We need an immediate context in which for our belief systems to operate: the whole world is too much, too broad, far from an immediate context. This is what differentiates the small community such as a local church from the whole Church body and from the rest of the world--the local community is the immediate context representing common aims of existence (business, art, communication, etc.), but the whole world represents aims which are so divergent.
I need to think more about this, the above thoughts are just my immediate response to Dr O's questions.
Dialectic is give and take between things or people. Synthetic dialectic results in the synthesis of a new thesis from a thesis and an antithesis (or the dialogue of many such things).
To sum up my whole point in a somewhat more accurate way than what I have ever considered before now: I want to say that truth is synthetic dialectic. Indeed, truth is socially constructed, but not just any social construction will do, perhaps. Dialectic, as I conceive it, is a particularly interesting form of social construction giving rise to what people call "truth."
Do not be confused. By saying that truth is dialectic, I am not saying that dialectic produces truth as a result, but I am defining truth as dialectic.
Now, of course if you believe like Marx and Hegel that there are dialectical forces moving inevitably towards a certain goal, then my definition of truth as dialectic somehow ends up (in the limit, so to speak) as the same notion as that notion which I am opposed to: the idea of metaphysical (absolute) truth discoverable (or even approximable) and external to the human intellect. This is because truth is just moving towards the "correct" truth--the "goal." This is not my intention, however. I do not admit that there is any metaphysical goal to which our dialectic inevitably tends--in fact, where we end up is quite arbitrary, perhaps. The final result depends upon each particular dialectical community (this is perhaps similar to a hermenutical community interpreting a religious text).
What I find interesting as I consider this more and more is that even though I do not admit that there is absolute truth, I find that it is not possible to really live in such an environment; humans must construct a framework in which to live, which becomes the "truth" of a particular community (which may consist of one or few or many individuals). Metaphorically, this is the same as the difference between being homeless and having a place to live. The homeless drift the streets picking up change wherever they can, just scraping by. But some live in houses, some in apartments, some in modern mansions, some in Romanesque castles, and still some in Baroque cathedrals. These are the structures each person and community builds in order to fill the void which exists because of the absence of any absolute metaphysics.
Let us consider the objection again. Can I give a concrete example showing that the mathematical concept of the proposition is inadequate to model the world of daily human experience? It seems to me that religion, ethics, and perhaps literature or art are areas of the human world which might yield such examples. Yes, perhaps, consider a work of literature.
Is it not customary to speak of the "truth" of a novel even if that novel is fiction? Perhaps we do not use the word 'truth' but we might say the "theme" of the work or "what the author is trying to say." However, all that this means is that the author is trying to "say" something and of course it is customary to say that what one says has "truth" in the sense that it is either true or false. (Please note that now I am talking about word use, and I am not talking about the truth or falsehood of the proposition that proposition theory posits. I am discussing the use of the word 'truth' as it is used in the context of discussing a novel, not in terms of the truth value of a proposition in proposition theory.) Therefore we grand that we speak of the "truth" of a novel provided we agree that the author is "saying" something through the form of the novel.
So what, for example, is Jack Kerouac saying through On the Road? (This is just the most recent novel I have read.) Is he saying anything? Although this sort of question is vague, we presume so. Afterall who would claim that On the Road is nonsense? Perhaps some might do so, saying that it is a pointless story advocating an unhealthy lifestyle of drugs, sex, jazz, and aimlessly wandering across the globe, but of course in saying so they would be contradicting themselves by saying that the book says nothing yet "advocates" something--curious indeed. So we will assume that On the Road "says" something--i.e. something other than what is literally stated in its component words. What this something is, is of course not very simple. Answer the question, what is the theme of On the Road? This question will of course lead to different, perhaps conflicting answers. Whose answer is correct? Perhaps someone will say that the novel says p and another will say that not-p. Who is going to say definitively whether p or not-p is correct? Need there be an answer? In the interpretation of a text might it not be helpful to know that on one hand the text says p but on the other hand says not-p? Perhaps such knowledge leads to even more knowledge about what the text is saying. Note here that if our p's are propositions, we run into trouble since propositions are posited as entities such that p is true iff not-p is false. This indicates that propositions are inadequate to discuss the complexities of what a text is saying and hence the truth of a text.
Of course, in order to make this response to the objection much more valid I would need to perform a much more complex analysis of text interpretation; however, I do not (as yet) have the necessary training for such an analysis. Nevertheless, the example is clear.
Plantinga believes that possible worlds exist. Indeed, I am inclined to agree. They exist in as much as the lines, planes, cubes, primes, sets, ordered pairs, real numbers, and a whole host of other mathematical notions exist for the mathematician: formally--i.e. on paper, and nowhere else. To dispel confusion Plantinga distinguishes between existence and actuality: possible worlds exist because, he says, states of affairs exist and possible worlds are nothing other than states of affairs, but the world in which we live is actual. We are actual, but there are other possible selves which exist in possible worlds. I do not, therefore, merely criticise necessity because I think it absurd to say that propositions and states of affairs exist (or possible worlds). Indeed they do. However, I think that the sorts of existence at issue are different. Propositions exist in a way far different than the way a human being exists, for example, but yet we use propositions to study the world in which humans live, breathe, eat, and generally muddle through existence.
This is my criticism of propositions and states of affairs (and consequently necessity, although this becomes of less significance as the analysis goes forward). The nature of the existence of propositions is so different from the nature of the existence of the world of real people and real issues that it is a fraud (whatever that means) to use such notions to analyze the "real" world in terms of those entities.
Hence my goal is social rather than logical: the world in which we live cannot be adequately characterized by propositions or states of affairs. Indeed, contra the early Wittgenstien, the world is not all that is the case (Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus). This too is my goal in criticizing the conventional conception of truth as concieved in the West (we will get to this eventually).
I should say to the reader who is wary of my suspicions of propositions and truth that I am not just trying to make trouble--stir up the masses, so to speak. Rather, my ultimate aim is to achieve positive results--i.e. I wish to be edifying and not merely destructive. Speaking metaphorically I want to remove the factory (the mechanical notion of proposition) in order to plant a garden. Whether I will be successful, I do not know. That is for the reader to judge.
At the moment, I am far from reaching my goal: I have only begun to raise some suspicions about propositions. This will be a gradual process, perhaps not even to be completed in the space of this blog but in the real world of everyday life.
Let us continue to consider propositions. These things are spaceless, timeless entities which are either true or false (and never any other value). Yet somehow we humans are able to grasp these entities in order to express them in language. The German who says "Der Schnee ist weiss" grasps the same entity as the Englishman who says "Snow is white." These entities are curious phenomena indeed. It would seem that to believe in them requires as much faith (if not more) as to believe in God (or gods if one prefers). Perhaps an overstatement, but surely some of the same problems arise. For example, how does an entity which exists in a realm "beyond" that of the physical world interact, or "know" about the physical world? In the case of God (or gods), of course, we may say that this is by virtue of the entity having some sort of property of omniscience or omnipresence. However, how are we to solve the issue with propositions, assuming they are not like gods or some such silly thing? How does a proposition, e.g., as the one expressed by "snow is white" know about snow, or whiteness, or the the one who utters it?
Now, it might be possible to modify the conception of proposition to give it more respect and to avoid the above problem. We might consider propositions to be not entities in some timeless, spaceless, ethereal realm, but as being like mathematical objects--i.e. they are merely the construct of a theory. (We have already indicated this idea.) In this case, for example, a proposition is defined (naively) as what is common between "snow is white" and "der Schnee ist weiss." Hence we have the following objection against my claims.
Objection. It works quite well for science (which indeed talks about the real world albeit a small part) to use mathematics to study the world of atoms, electrons, quarks, and all other things, so why is it not proper to use the notion of proposition to study the rest of the world?
Reply. The quick answer is that propositions are not adequate to discuss certain aspects of life crucial to the philosopher or generally anyone genuinely trying to muddle through life, and not just some academic who wants to cronstruct an elegant systematic philosophy or theology in order to live comfortably as a slightly eccentric profesor. These things are inadequate to muddle through life. I have already indicated this reply before.
In particular the category of human experience is one such area of the world untouched by the theory of propositions. Why so? Consider our thought processes. For the most part our actions and beliefs are the results of internal deliberation about our experiences, past and present, not the result of "if p, then q; p, therefore q" or some such pattern of logic. This may occur but by and large it does not in our every day deliberation.
Objection. Upon reflection, however, it may be possible to put our experience into the pattern of modus ponens or reductio ad absurdum or some other logical pattern. And in this way we are dealing with the propositional content of our thoughts. Hence, propositions do give us insight into our everyday experiences. For example, a person might be in a room getting ready to go out. The person looks out the window and sees that it is raining and thinks "I should bring my umbrella." Even though this does not contain the use of modus ponens (MP) explicitly, we can, with justification model the person's thought processes thusly. When the person looked out the window, she saw that "It is raining" is a true proposition, and she knows that "If it is raining, then it is good to bring an umbrella." So by MP she concludes that "It is good to bring an umbrella."
Reply. Indeed this is how we are taught to evaluate arguments in an introductory course in philosophy or logic. However, while such a procedure is intuitively correct, it is an artificial process. The person looking out the window does not even think about any logical deduction rule such as MP when deciding to take an umbrella. It must be admitted that this is an artificial process. Of course the effects of using this artificial process are not manifest in the above simple example. The situation is very simple and we are ready to conceede that such an analysis is correct, but consider a more complex case in which a person suddenly says to himself "I believe in God" or "It is wrong for me to waste money on myself as I do." These cases surely might be analyzed in a similar fashion to the story about the umbrella, but here I think that there are virtually unlimited number of analyses and I would be hard pressed to decide which one is correct. In this case, propositions (and all their associated logic) give us no help in deciding whether or not the persons "conclusion" is "correct."
I am still unsatisfied with my responses to these objections. I shall consider it again, in my next entry, I'm tired of typing.
I suppose I ought to begin to tell this story about truth I've been talking about. I can only hope that it will end up somewhere with positive results. I do not want to be merely a negative party pooper or something like that.
In the first entry of this thing I indicated that the story begins with my study of modal logic. So this is where we shall begin. I do not want to give too much detail about the actual systems of modal logic I studied because that would be tedious and probably pointless. However, I do need to explain some of the more philosophical aspects about a particular type of modality--the alethic modalities of possibility and necessity. In particular I will speak about necessity, for this is the heart of the matter.
So we say "necessarily, p" when it is the case that 'p' must be true. Philosophers like Alvin Plantinga are ready with the example of mathematical statements such as "seven is prime" wich are just such "propositions," they say, that are not capable of being false "in any possible world." Hence we say that "necessarily, seven is prime" is true. Another case is "all bachelors are unmarried men." They say that it is the case that "necessarily, all bachelors are unmarried men" because the "proposition expressed" by "all bachelors are unmarried men" must be true, or its denial "some bachelors are not unmarried men" is "self-contradictory"--whatever that means.
If you ask why "all bachelors are unmarried men" must be true, Plantinga will respond by saying that it is due to the meanings of the terms "bachelor" and "unmarried man." The set of bachelors is contained in the set of unmarried men, and to say otherwise implies a special meaning of one of those terms (See Plantinga's Nature of Necessity for all of this.)
If you say that the contingency of the meanings of the words "bachelor," "unmarried," and "man" make the proposition contingent (because these words mean what they do by mere human convention) Plantinga will reply that you are confusing the sentence with the proposition. The state of affairs that S expresses p is contingent has nothing to do with the contingency or necessity of p. It is true that it is not necessary that S expresses p, but this does not mean that p is not necessary.
This brings us to the heart of my criticism of the notion of "necessity" as Plantinga discusses it. The notion of necessity relies on an entity called the proposition. Strictly speaking, sentences are never necessary because their meanings are contingent (by convention), but the propositions they express exist in some ethereal realm separate from space and time, and they are the bearers of being necessary or contingent.
In order to make sense of a proposition being true necessarily, Plantinga revives the Leibnizian notion of possible worlds. He makes the notion respectable to 20th century philosophy by defining in precise terms what a "possible" world is. He begins with the notion of a state of affairs. For example, "being in love", "being white", "being an American in the year 2004 in the town of Hillsboro, Kansas" to name a few. Roughly, a state of affairs is of the form "being P" where P is some property.
We require a couple more notions prior to defining a possible world: inclusion and preclusion. A state of affairs S1 includes a state of affairs S2 iff (if and only if) it is the case that if S1 obtains, then S2 obtains as well. A state of affairs S1 precludes a state of affairs S2 iff it is the case that if S1 obtains then S2 does not obtain. For example, "being an American in the year 2004 in the town of Hillsboro, Kansas" includes "being in Hillsboro, Kansas" but precludes "being in Budapest, Hungary."
Now we are ready for the grand definition. A possible world w is a state of affairs such that for every state of affairs S, exactly one of the following holds: (1) w includes S or (2) w precludes S. In short, a possible world is a maximal state of affairs.
Now we must say that p is necessary iff it is the case that p is true in every possible world. (Note: p is true in a world w iff w includes the state of affairs that is logically equivalent to p.)
This is all very elegant of course, but it does no help for the overall validity of the notion of necessity because it once again posits an entity: the state of affairs, which is not much different--metaphysically--than the proposition.
So far I have only explained some of the background of our subject, and I haven't even really began to touch the heart of the matters about truth in general. At the present my criticism is that propositions are entities which are purely metaphysical at best. They are mathematical creations, and I think that their explanatory power is severely limited in the face of the "real" world. They work very nicely for a mathematical description of the world but they do very little to help in addressing real issues of philosophy--e.g. the meaning of human existence. The story shall continue.
In thinking about how I will execute the task I have set before myself (i.e. that of exploring the notion of truth) there are some questions which are essential for me to answer at some point. These are:
(Q1) What is the conventional conception of truth?
(Q2) What is wrong with that conception?
(Q3) What is right about that conception?
(Q4) What "better" conception of truth am I offering?
(Q5) How is it possible to reconcile a socially bound notion of truth with belief in some sort of absolute being (e.g. God) which is thought to have established certain immutable truths (e.g. those of 'right' and 'wrong')? Is it possible?
(Q6) Are there (as a consequence of Q5) multiple equally valid conceptions of truth? If so, how is this possible?
Surely there are many more questions, but these seem (right now) to be the most important ones for me to consider.
I should add to my initial comments (of the last entry) that I intend to significantly elaborate on what it is exactly that I question about the conventional notion of truth. Untill this has been done, there is really nothing on which to comment for any of the readers of this blog. Currently my schedule does not allow me to sit at a computer for long enough to even begin elaborating my ideas; however, this will change (I hope) once I'm back in the States in June.
Let me also emphasize that when I do begin to ellaborate on my ideas, I will essentially be telling a story. I intend that the above description of my blog ("...attempting to tell the story about how...") should be taken quite literally. I will not be developing a systematic theory during the course of this blog. Rather I will be trying to communicate a sort of plotline in which the characters are not people but are thoughts, ideas, inspirations, and so forth. As a reader of this "story" of "characters" your understanding of them will develop just as your understanding of a character would develop while reading for the first time some novel.
Over the past year I have been thinking a lot about the nature of truth. It all began with an independent study in modal logic I took in the spring semester of 2003 at Tabor. At this point I won't go into the details of how I got from "there" to this blog. However, suffice to say that somewhere along the way I became suspicious of the whole notion of necessary truth (e.g. the idea that a proposition such as '7 is a prime number' is not only true but is necessarily so: it must be true). This was only the beginning. Now I have come to the point where I question the whole notion of truth as it is conventionally conceived. What my questions are and what answers can be given to them is at the heart of the purpose of this blog.
Let me preface any further discussion with the statement that I realize there are certain tricky issues to be dealt with when we start to question the idea of truth. For example, the existence of something we might call God. It seems straightforward that if one questions the idea of truth, then one is thereby questioning the idea of God--i.e. one is questioning the existence of God. At this point, however, I contend that this is not the case, even though it seems to be 'straightforward.' This is only one example.
Since this is a blog and therefore is a rather informal way of developing philosophical ideas, I do not intend to be entirely systematic in my approach. This implies a certain element of incompleteness to my ideas as they are described here. But the purpose of this blog is not to definitively answer my questions about truth, but to raise some issues in an environment which is more public than, e.g., my own mind or in my journal (the two places that the ideas to be discussed here have already been considered for some time). This is my purpose; this is my hope.
To conclude the first post of this blog and hence to initiate a philosophical journey of sorts, let me say that the ideas expressed here are not intended to be original. If any of them are, then I hope they will accomplish something good. However, most likely these ideas have been anticipated somewhere by someone either in the present or in the past. In that case, I do not care. This is because of the corollary purpose of this blog: to be an exploration. If ideas are not original but are arrived at through one's independent meditation or reflection, then the ideas are just as valuable. True learning does not happen by knowing what others have said or written, but by truly "owning" the ideas one encounters--i.e. coming to the ideas on one's own steam, so to speak. This is the secondary purpose of this blog: to be an intellectual exploration.