True or False?

Religious truths are more like the truths of poetry than the truths of physics.

  • http://heartissuesforlds.wordpress.com Todd Wood

    Does this have to be an either/or question? :)

  • a random John

    Do you mean the truths of high school physics or the truths of cutting edge research topics of physics?

  • http://ldstalk.wordpress.com/ Tim

    Who says the truths of physics aren’t poetic?

  • Matt W.

    Which religious truths are we talking about?

    What are the truths of poetry? Do you mean truths like Iambic Pentameter or truths like “that ancient mariner is so right!”?

    What are the truths of physics? Are there no subjective truths in physics? Does Newton’s Truths of Physics equal Einsteins Truths? What about anti-matter, etc?

  • Last Lemming

    Enough with the parsing, people. The spirit of the question is clear enough.

    True.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clark Clark

    Mathematics is the poetry of the gods.

  • Doc

    Religious truth is like both the truth of poetry and the truth of physics. It encompasses all truth into one great whole.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Religious truth is unlike the truths of physics in that it is not based on publicly replicable empirical evidence. It is quite like the truths of poetry in that it draws far more on emotion, tradition, and aesthetics than on rational argument.

  • http://mormoninquiry.typepad.com Dave

    Seems like you need a working definition of truth — and a sketch of how that definition can be applied to fields as different as physics, religion, and literature — before you’ll get much discussion on this topic.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Wow, if we need a working definition of truth, the conversation is certainly in peril. As also are fast and testimony meetings!

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Thanks all for your questions about what I mean by physics, truth, poetry, and religion. In a sense, these questions are at the heart of the post in that how one defines these topics determines to a great extent how one answers the question. There are obviously a number of tensions implied by the question: emotional/rational; subjective/objective; particular/universal; historical/eternal; etc.

    So, I think that you all are asking the right questions, but that these questions were already implicitly asked by the post itself. What I am interested in is your answers to these questions! What is the nature of a truth-claim in the realm of religion?

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com David J

    You all are insane. Isn’t physics the scientific inquiry into religion??? The answer is clearly “false.”

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    TT, at the end of the day, it seems to me that a truth claim in religion is fundamentally emotional, subjective, particular, historical, cultural, partial, and open to revision. That’s my read of Paul’s claim that we see “in a mirror, dimly.”

    In order to be understood nonetheless as a truth claim in a post-Enlightenment world, religious truth claims must put on the clothing of the rational, objective, universal, eternal, non-culturally-conditioned, total, and final. But that’s just window dressing, I think. It’s selling religion to the culture of the last few hundred years, but it’s the sizzle, not the steak.

  • Mark D.

    RT,

    The idea that true statements must be “rational, objective, universal, eternal, ….” predates the Enlightenment by at least two thousand years. Aristotle wrote books on the stuff, and he had at least a couple centuries of predecessors with similar views – to say nothing of Confucian legal scholarship, the medieval scholastics, and many others.

    And what, by the way, could the term “truth” possibly signify if it doesn’t have (or at least strive to have) those properties? Tinkling cymbal, sounding brass.

  • Doc

    What good is the term truth if it only encompasses things physically measurable. You are left with a whole lot of “I dunno” as your truth. Rationality is not the only path to truth, not to diminish it in any way. But in truth, cognitive neuroscience tells us that most of us use reason to confirm our views and suspicions of how we conceptualize the world anyway.

    The truth is we have created for ourselves in our culture merely the illusion that rational and “universal, eternal, non-culturally-conditioned, total, and final” even belong in the same category.

  • Mark D.

    Doc,

    I certainly wouldn’t agree with the physicalists – not in the common sense, anyway. But for purposes of discussion, could you name one positively irrational truth?

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Mark, the idea that true statements can only be rational, objective, universal, and so forth was certainly not dominant before the Enlightenment in the way that it is today. Mystics of various kinds have long recognized truths of other sorts. So have many religious people.

    These days, of course, a lot of philosophers agree with the old mystics and believers that truth comes in many sorts but that human truth is anything but rational, objective, universal, unchanging, free of culture, and so forth. If we have any truth, we only have it because it means something a lot more personal than that.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    RT,
    I agree with you in large part, but I would also point out that the idea that religious truths are NOT rational is also a post-Enlightenment idea.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    TT, you’re right, of course. The Enlightenment certainly forced these dichotomies upon us.

  • Mark D.

    RT,

    Chronology aside, I cannot even begin to imagine what “subjective truth” actually means. Care to give an example?

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Mark D., something like: true within the context of a given individual’s network of symbols, concepts, and experiences.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com SmallAxe

    The idea that true statements must be “rational, objective, universal, eternal, ….” predates the Enlightenment by at least two thousand years. Aristotle wrote books on the stuff, and he had at least a couple centuries of predecessors with similar views – to say nothing of Confucian legal scholarship, the medieval scholastics, and many others.

    And what, by the way, could the term “truth” possibly signify if it doesn’t have (or at least strive to have) those properties? Tinkling cymbal, sounding brass.

    “Truth” and the search for “Truth” is actually not a universal endeavor. I agree with you as far as Aristotle (or even Plato’s “forms”) is concerned; however truth understood propositionally (i.e., that there must be some type of coherence between a “statement”–broadly understood, and “reality”–broadly understood), is for the most part a product of Greek (or “Western”) philosophy. You mention China (well, Confucianism). There is not really a term for “truth” as such in traditional East Asian languages (as little as I know about them). Neither are they concerned with “truth-seeking” in their literature. This isn’t to say that they do not perform compatible tasks, but they do not have (for the most part) an abstract notion of “Truth”, the way that we talk about it.

    I cannot even begin to imagine what “subjective truth” actually means. Care to give an example?

    Pizza is the best tasting food in the world!

    But for purposes of discussion, could you name one positively irrational truth?

    We have to take “rationallity” here expressed as a proposition:
    The light as wave/particle example provided above is one example.

    Thou shalt not kill (assuming that this valid before Moses), and take your only son up to Mt. Moriah and offer him up as a sacrifice (my own wording, and a sorry attempt, I know).

    In the Buddhist sense, “seek after Nirvana as a cure for suffering”, is an “irrational truth”, because ultimately speaking there is no suffering, there is no Nirvana. These are simply conventional truths meant to perform a certain task. These types of “truths” (if you want to call them that) are meant to have performative force (i.e., get someone to do something, or get someone somewhere), rather than making a statement about the nature of reality.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    These types of “truths” (if you want to call them that) are meant to have performative force (i.e., get someone to do something, or get someone somewhere), rather than making a statement about the nature of reality.

    I think it’s worth considering the possibility that many or most of our religious affirmations have this character. Mormon scripture defines “good” as a synonym for “true,” and God himself says in Mormon revelation that he sometimes expresses things in ways that are not descriptive of ultimate reality in order to convince humans to behave in good ways. (See D&C 19.)

  • Matt W.

    Some religious truths to test

    There is a God? True, and true in the objective physical sense. (though not currently proven or falsified, so true only in the theoretical obejective physical sense) (Physics)

    God is good? True, and true in the subjective emotional sense. (poetry)

  • Doc

    Matt,
    An irrational truth is as Small Axe said, light is both a particle and a wave, depending on how you measure it. the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, Electrons are waves until you measure them as a particle then the suddenly are somewhere, i.e. the famous Schroedinger’s cat experiment. The speed of light always remains the same regardless of your movement and velocity, this is probably still making Newton cringe in his grave. Aerodynamically, a Bumblebee should not be able to fly, yet it does. (okay, I’m reaching, I haven’t actually done the calculations and the research, this may be urban legend.)

    There must needs be opposition in all things. I could probably go into a dozen religious paradox’s where two mutually exclusive possibilities are both true.

  • Mark D.

    RT: You defined the “subjective” part, but not the “true” part. That won’t suffice to demonstrate that “subjective truth” has any definite meaning that doesn’t reduce to “believed to be objectively true”.

    SmallAxe: Chinese, Japanese, and Korean have cognate Chinese-derived terms for truth. The main Chinese character for “truth” (真) is pronounced “zhen” in Mandarin, “chin” in Korean, and “shin” in Japanese. This character is no new invention.

    I mentioned Chinese scholarship because scholars in China were making very nice headway in logic over 2400 years ago. It is pretty difficult to study logic without terms for ‘true’ and ‘false’. The contemporary Indian logicians were no slackers either.

    Continuing on, “Pizza is the best tasting food in the world” is not a “subjective truth” because it is either a (questionable) claim of objective truth or it is preference as hyperbole.

    Re: wave/particle duality. There are realistic models that capture both aspects to an extremely high degree of accuracy.

    Re: “Thou shalt not kill” – hardly irrational – simply has well recognized exceptions. An irrational statement or doctrine is something inherently and irresolvably self-contradictory.

    No suffering? That is news to me.

    Matt W: If “God is good” did not mean something objective, we would have no rational basis for distinguishing him from the devil.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Mark D., your representation of what I said isn’t quite right. If you look at my comment, it was different in perhaps subtle but certainly crucial ways from your restatement. This isn’t the place to go into details, but several current threads in epistemology would want to know what you mean by “objectively true” in the first place, since all truth is evaluated within the context of a symbol network and from a point of view.

  • Mark D.

    RT: The problem is, despite all claims to the contrary, the world is overflowing with objective truths, where by objective I mean where arbitrarily independent parties make the same conclusive determination about something mutually accessible to them (i.e. out there in the real world). That is the common sense notion of truth. I don’t think there are many people out there who are going to argue that Australia is a figment of our imagination, for example.

    If someone did, it would be an abuse of the language to claim that Australia’s non-existence was a “subjective truth”. It isn’t true at all. It is just a belief. And that belief is, “It is an objective truth that Australia does not exist”.

    What other option is there? Perhaps “Australia’s non-existence is a precept of my internal mental schema that I claim has no applicability to anyone else beside me, or even to anything out there in the world at large”.

    Why waste one’s breath? No religion can possibly do any sort of missionary work unless they make some sort of objective truth claim, if only the one that there are virtually no objective truth claims. Otherwise everything the they believe is irrelevant to anyone else, including other members.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Mark, Australia only exists because of the prior existence of the Latin word Australis, the Roman legend of the terra australis incognita, the Dutch application of the related term Australische on the discovery of some unknown land mass in the Southern Hemisphere in 1638, the popularization of the term Australia in English by the navigator Matthew Flinders in the 19th century, and the decision of the relevant British Imperial authorities between 1817 and 1824 to use the term. Its existence also relies on the prior existence of the concept of a continent, a world view that sees place as a constant rather than a dynamic variable in an ever-moving universe, and for that matter the cultural tradition of naming large pieces of land. Without all this, Australia wouldn’t exist. That doesn’t mean the rock, dirt, plants, poisonous snakes, and so forth would vanish. They just wouldn’t be a continent with a name and the range of symbolic meanings that constitute Australia. They’d be something else.

    Regarding your claim that missionary work is impossible in the absence of objective truth, of course that isn’t true. As an extreme example, art criticism certainly exists and performs its function, even though there’s no such thing as objectively “good” art.

  • Mark D.

    RT, You are confusing the denotation with the thing denoted. I didn’t question the existence of the term “Australia”, I raised the question of the existence of Australia, i.e. the actual land mass out there in the South Pacific.

    The real world is independent of what we call it. Likewise, any question of objective truth is ultimately independent of the language it is expressed in.

    The very concept of communication is predicated on the existence of objective truth. Even art criticism is an implicit attempt to say “I believe this way about this for this reason, and my beliefs should inform yours. [Otherwise, why waste your time?]“. Worst case, “[It is an objective fact that] I feel this way, and you should care about what I feel”. If there is no implicit reference to objective truth, there is nothing to communicate, except noise and deception.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Mark D., this conversation is obviously going nowhere. So I’ll sign off. As a final point, I’ll remind you — in the hope that this will lead to further thought — that many of the smartest people who’ve thought most seriously about this disagree with you. A good place to start reading might be Wittgenstein and then (because he’s a bit mystifying) good commentaries on Wittgenstein.

  • Howard

    “The very concept of communication is predicated on the existence of objective truth…If there is no implicit reference to objective truth, there is nothing to communicate, except noise and deception.”

    How do you account for revelation?

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com SmallAxe

    Mark B.

    Chinese, Japanese, and Korean have cognate Chinese-derived terms for truth. The main Chinese character for “truth” (真) is pronounced “zhen” in Mandarin, “chin” in Korean, and “shin” in Japanese. This character is no new invention.

    The character真 is no new invention, but understanding it as “truth” is. While in contemporary Chinese zhenli (shinri in Japanese) is used to mean “truth”, in classical China the character zhen refered to something like “certainty” or “sincere” or “original” (as in original nature). Closer to the alternative pronunciation in Japanese—makoto. No classical Chinese dictionary defines the term as “truth” in its original Chinese usage. The oldest Chinese dictionary, the Shuowenjiezi (2nd century CE), glosses it as “a person of high moral worth changes shape and acends to the sky”, refering to Daoist immortals. The character does not appear in any of the 13 Confucian Classics, and none of the “logicians” you refer to use it in this sense. It’s not even a central concept for ANY of the early thinkers—and is RARELY, if ever, used. FWIW, the Chinese term for “logic”, luoji (邏輯), is a transliteration of “logic”; because there is no corresponding Chinese term. This doesn’t mean that they didn’t talk about “true and false”, or have any notion of “right and wrong” or were “irrational” (They have terms such as shifei (是非) which mean something like true and false, but this is quite different than the way we use the term “truth”—more said below). This is to say that they cannot be labeled as “truth-seekers” in the sense the some of us would consider ourselves as such. This is furthermore to say that truth, as you want to define it, as something “out there”, an “object”, and independent of interpretation, which is basically to say “transcendent” (in that it transcends our selves, and is objectifiable—going beyond our own time and space), does not exist in classical China. Read anything by Roger Ames and David Hall (such as Thinking Through Confucius or Thinking From the Han) to see this thesis clearly spelt out.

    Re: “Thou shalt not kill” – hardly irrational – simply has well recognized exceptions. An irrational statement or doctrine is something inherently and irresolvably self-contradictory.

    If you want to push the envelope, I’m happy oblige. Let’s take the Buddhist saying mowaiwufuo fuowaiwumo魔外無佛佛外無魔 (Other than evil [or “demons”, “devil”] there is no Buddha, [and] other than the Buddha there is no evil), used by Siming Zhili 960-1028; or the more common phrase from the openning line of the Heart Sutra (心經): 色不異空 空不異色 色即是空 空即是色 (Form [this world of illusion] is no different than Emptiness [sunyata, i.e., Nirvana] and Emptiness is no different than Form. Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form).

    These are both truth claims that are “inherently and irresolvably self-contradictory”. They are meant to be understood beyond an “objective”, “rationally”, propositional manner.

    No suffering? That is news to me.

    If you think that the “Four Noble Truths” of Buddhism (of which this notion of suffering is one), are actually propositional statements about the reality of the world, then you’re missing the point of Buddhism. And if you think “truths” must be objective and rational, then you’re missing the larger (and entirely “true”) point.

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com Jacob J

    RT,

    As a final point, I’ll remind you — in the hope that this will lead to further thought — that many of the smartest people who’ve thought most seriously about this disagree with you. A good place to start reading might be Wittgenstein and then (because he’s a bit mystifying) good commentaries on Wittgenstein.

    Could this be any more condescending? Seriously.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Could this be any more condescending? Seriously.

    Jacob, let me try! :)

    Pretty much since Ηume and Kant, and certainly since Saussure, no major philosopher has been able to maintain a correspondence theory of truth (that what we perceive and what is actually there can be correlated in any necessary way). One doesn’t even really need to be that smart to know that no one really believes in objective truth anymore, and haven’t for several hundred years. How’s that? ;)

  • Mark D.

    Howard: The fact that the truth of a proposition (like a revelation) is not easily establishable by objective means does not necessarily destroy its claim to objectivity. If it corresponds to reality (in substantial degree), it is true. If not, it is false.

    Is there anyone out there who claims to have received a revelation that does not correspond to reality? Perhaps. I would say though that a revelation that does not correspond to “knowledge of the way things really are” (the D&C 93 definition of truth) is not a revelation.

    Smallaxe: I readily admit an insufficient knowledge of classical Chinese to dispute character usage. I would suggest, however, that “certainty” is about as close a definition for “truth” as one is going to find. And it is a matter of historical fact that (whatever they called it) Mohist philosophers were studying logic (i.e. rules of correct inference) several centuries B.C.

    And of course there are religious traditions that believe in all sorts of irrational and self-contradictory propositions. It doesn’t make them true, it simply makes them beliefs.

    My point is that the use of the term truth in a non-objective sense is meaningless, confusing, and pollutes the language. No one here has provided an argument for why we should confuse the semantics of belief with the semantics of (objective) truth.

    According to Joseph Smith, such confusion was “of the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning” (D&C 93:25). He certainly felt rather strongly about it.

    RT: I am well aware that there is a considerable contingent of post-modern philosophers who deny the very existence of objective truth. There is also a much longer (and radically more dominant) tradition that regards such a claim as the height of foolishness.

    Charles S. Peirce is worth mentioning, along with William James, Bertrand Russell, Alfred Tarski, Karl Popper, virtually the whole contingent of analytic philosophy, nearly the whole body of the natural sciences, engineering, mathematics, and of course (generally speaking) just about everyone else who has to deal with the real world for a living. Anyone who denies the existence of objective truth is (logically speaking) either a solipsist or a liar.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Mark, just a quick point. I think that you are conflating logical claims to “validity” with an epistemology of objectivity. These are two very different things. Analytic philosophy is about logic, not about Truth in a classical sense. I suggest that we deal with these two points separately since you can’t use logic to demonstrate a correspondence theory of truth. E.g., there is nothing illogical about saying that all unicorns have one horn, but this does not mean that there are unicorns.

    Further, I think that you either don’t understand the critiques of objectivity that have been offered in philosophy (and the philosophy of science), or are deliberately characaturing them. Indeed, many of the philosophers that you cite that I am also familiar with don’t claim anything like what you have laid out as a theory of truth, especially the pragmatists. Just because scientists believe they are making objective claims, doesn’t mean that they are. The claim that there are regularly observable phenomena described in the sciences is not incompatible with a denial of objectivity. RT’s example about how all ideas have histories and that our world is constructed upon a series of historical contingencies, and that our language is really the extend of our reality, are perfect examples of this line of argument (Thanks RT!).

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com Jacob J

    TT (#35),

    At least you didn’t give me a reading assignment.

  • smallaxe

    I readily admit an insufficient knowledge of classical Chinese to dispute character usage. I would suggest, however, that “certainty” is about as close a definition for “truth” as one is going to find. And it is a matter of historical fact that (whatever they called it) Mohist philosophers were studying logic (i.e. rules of correct inference) several centuries B.C.

    “Certainty” in the sense of zhen, and “truth” as you are attempting to define it are two rather different things. I’m perfectly fine saying that classical China has a sense of “truth”; but their truth is not “out there”, “an object”, and independant of one’s interpretation, as you are trying to assert it is. If you want to hold to the claim that the only legitmate type of truth is as you’ve defined it, then you must conclude that there is no such search for “truth” in classical China. FWIW, the character zhen occurs only once in the entire Moist canon, and it is used in the sense of “original”.

    “Truth” as you want to see it, only ends up being but one perspective on the issue.

  • Mark D.

    TT,

    Analytical philosophy is not just about logic. The most trivial examination of the works of analytical philosophers will demonstrate that epistemology is a major pre-occupation of analytic philosophy, where epistemology is the study of how we know whether a statement about the outside world is true or false.

    There is of course a great diversity of thought about epistemology among analytic philosophers, but adherents of the only theory that denies that truth has some sort of association with reality (i.e. deflationary theory of truth) are in a small minority.

    Logical pragmatists (James), verificationists (Carnap), falsificationists (Popper), etc. all maintain that there are propositions with discoverable, objective truth values. Any scientist who disagrees is a professional fraud, as is any historian. (What do you mean there are no facts?)

    Are you really going to find me a historian who claims that a proposition such as “the earth is round” is not only not objectively true nor objectively false, but is forever indeterminable? If you do, I should wonder how he ties his shoes in the morning.

  • Mark D.

    Smallaxe: You are reading too much into the position I am defending. If there is a real world, and we can know anything about it, there is necessarily something objective about that knowledge. I am not making any metaphysical claims beyond that.

    The only other option here is solipsism, which is the position that it is impossible to have any knowledge of the outside world.

    As far as Chinese metaphysics goes, that is a nice claim, but I don’t see any argument. However, I certainly agree there were scholars on both sides of the issue going way back. My primary source for that claim is Chad Hansen, “Metaphysics in China”, in Jaegwon Kim, Ernest Sosa et al, A Companion to Metaphysics, Blackwell Companions to Philosophy, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, 1995.

  • SmallAxe

    As far as Chinese metaphysics goes, that is a nice claim, but I don’t see any argument. However, I certainly agree there were scholars on both sides of the issue going way back. My primary source for that claim is Chad Hansen, “Metaphysics in China”, in Jaegwon Kim, Ernest Sosa et al, A Companion to Metaphysics, Blackwell Companions to Philosophy, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, 1995.

    There is no debate on this issue (at least not by any one still living) in the field of Chinese philosophy. No scholar would say that the Chinese were searching after truth or had a concept of truth as you’ve defined it. You’re argument has shifted from claiming that Confucians were doing it, to Moists, and now to being rooted in Hansen, who’s a specialist in Daoism! Ironically, of all the schools of Chinese thought, Daoism is the least compatible with your theory. The reason I keep pursuing this is because you over assume your position to be the universal position, when in reality you’re like Zhuangzi’s frog in the bottom of the well–limited to but one small glimpse of the larger world.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Jacob J., I could certainly have made the comment you object to more patronizing — by grouping myself with the smart people who’ve thought seriously about this issue. I don’t belong in that group; I’ve just read some of the people who do. My comment was based on the evidence in this thread that Mark D. either hasn’t or has adopted distinctly unusual readings of what philosophers have to say on these points. Even so, I didn’t intend condescension. Is there a way that I could have encouraged Mark to take on the most serious advocates of the position he disagrees with that would have been less objectionable? I surely would appreciate advice for future such occasions.

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com Jacob J

    RT,

    If you are in the middle of disagreeing with Mark and you “remind him” that many of the smartest people to think about this issue disagree with him, you are most certainly grouping yourself in with them in that you are claiming the smart people agree with you and not Mark. Obviously you are very smart, I don’t object to you being grouped in with smart people.

    The thing I object to is that after forgoing the opportunity to demonstrate by argument that you are correct, you still feel you are in a position to give a reading assignment, as though the only reason someone could disagree with you on this is that they haven’t read Wittgenstein. If you want Mark to take on the most serious advocates of the position he disagrees with, present their argument showing his position to be untenable.

    From my vantage point, it appears that you and Mark are mostly talking past one another (for example, in your exchange about Australia), but that a genuine disagreement exists which would be interesting to explore. I suspect you could be meaning different things by either “objective” or “truth,” but that is just a suspicion from reading the comments so far.

    The question of whether or not there is objective truth certainly seems to be within the scope of the question posed by TT in the post. TT states in #35 that our perceptions and what is actually there cannot be correlated in any necessary way. Fine. Do we agree that there is something which is “actually there” (i.e. is there an objective reality)? Are you both prepared to argue that there is no correlation whatsoever (bag the requirement for the correlation to be necessary) between our perceptions and what is actually there? If so, how do you account for the tight correlation between various people’s perceptions of what is out there? In the sciences, for example, how do you account for the existence of publicly replicable empirical evidence? If we are limited by epistemology such that we can never point to an “objective truth,” strictly speaking, does that mean that objective truth does not exist?

  • Mark D.

    I think the disagreement here is due to apparent disagreements about the following issues:

    1. A difference in semantics of the term ‘objective’

    2. A difference about whether there is such a thing as degrees of objectivity and truth.

    3. A disagreement about whether an objective sense of truth requires something metaphysically real in the outside world.

    4. A disagreement about whether objective sense of truth is strictly equivalent to maintaining a correspondence theory of truth.

    5. A disgreement about whether an objective sense of truth requires that truth be considered a metaphysically real substance.

    First of all, I do not know any contemporary philosopher that considers “truth” to be a metaphysically real substance. Nor “knowledge”, “proposition”, “statement”, “belief”, and so on.

    C.S. Peirce defined truth as follows: “Truth is that concordance of an abstract statement with the ideal limit towards which endless investigation would tend to bring scientific belief, which concordance the abstract statement may possess by virtue of the confession of its inaccuracy and one-sidedness, and this confession is an essential ingredient of truth.”

    There is nothing metaphysically real about a “concordance” nor about a “correspondence. Note that for Peirce truth comes in degrees – it is not just true or false, but how true, or how false.

    Also truth is related to concordance with an abstract statement. Naive correspondence theories do not work, because generally speaking universals corresponding to arbitrary natural language signs do not exist. But there is nothing about a claim of objectivity that requires a naive correspondence theory.

    Any sophisticated realist will maintain that in order for language to mean anything, linguistic terms must resolve to mental concepts which have an abstract (if typically imprecise) relationship with features of the real world. This sort of metaphysical analysis was pioneered by William of Ockham over seven hundred years ago, was well recognized by Charles S. Peirce, and has become common in analytic philosophy about a half century ago.

    Unfortunately, the typical critiques of linguistic realism that philosophers such as Derrida employ are about seven hundred years out of date because they assume the naive realism of Plato and the binary idealization of language and logic invented by Aristotle. That might be a valid criticism of Russell’s logical atomism, but Ockham’s metaphysics were enormously more subtle than that centuries prior. Peirce’s perhaps not as precise, but he recognized the problem well enough for his system to avoid the trivial critiques of Russell’s system.

    Ultimately the disbelievers in objective truth are generally playing language games. The only thing required for objective truth to be a valid (if abstract) property of a statement, is for the outside world to exist, and for the statement to correctly describe it (to some degree or another) after all the language dependent symbols are resolved to foundational concepts.

    It is when Saussure or Derrida make claims like there is *no* relationship *of any kind* between any concept and reality, that people who deal with the real world for a living can hardly but help expressing unvarnished contempt. I know of no singularly more ridiculous concept in common circulation. Such a belief borders on mental defect.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Jacob J., I don’t think a comment thread on a blog post is the appropriate place to rehash 20th-century philosophy. And what’s at issue here is really pretty superficial rehashing. I think Mark has a very tendentious reading of the linguistic turn in philosophy, as indicated in his most recent comment, and I’m not a particularly helpful interlocutor for resolving that. If Mark rereads the relevant thinkers sympathetically and becomes convinced, that’s a good outcome. I’m not a powerful enough writer to convey their thoughts with similar persuasive power. By contrast, if Mark rereads sympathetically and yet maintains his current position by careful argumentation, he’s probably got something worth publishing on his hands. In either case, I’m bowing out — not because I think I’m better than Mark, but because I know I’m worse than Wittgenstein.

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com Jacob J

    RT,

    Based on TT’s #11 I thought this was thread was expressly meant as a place to hash out those philosophical issues, but I could be wrong. If either you or TT wants to take a stab at any of the questions I asked in #44 I would be interested, just so I could figure out what you really mean when you say there is no objective truth. To be honest, I can’t yet tell if I agree with you or not.

  • Mark D.

    RT: I don’t have any particular problem with the linguistic turn in philosophy. I think William of Ockham deserves credit for initiating the same turn seven centuries ago. The conceptualist school was lost to history not for logical reasons, but rather more for religious ones.

    As far as linguistic realism goes, I don’t think Wittgenstein said anything that would clearly place him on either side of the debate. So I am not sure why you refer to him as some sort of benchmark for linguistic idealism.

    It is quite true that none of us can prove that we have two hands. The real question is: “is it rational to believe that one has two hands”? And there we lose three centuries of European idealists.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Mark D., there’s no clear connection between it being rational to believe that one has two hands and it being real that one has two hands. That’s the disconnect here. Your reading of the Pierce definition of truth is a case in point. The definition has some very interesting features. For one thing, it represents truth as a pure product of human activity, not something that has existence outside of the cultural system of science. In other words, something can meet Pierce’s definition of truth and nonetheless be directly contradicted by another statement that also meets the same definition — all that is required is two communities of scientists whose methods, concepts, and fundamental frameworks are different enough that infinite research effort would lead to divergent conclusions.

    I also very much like the idea of truth as involving the limit of an infinite series of effort. Yet the brief quote above leaves this idea somewhat underexamined. Not all series have well defined limits. Some converge to an answer, while others diverge. Why should we believe that our scientific research is in general the kind of series that converges? For some topics, it may be, but we can’t know in any case until we get much, much closer to infinity — since on every topic our research series is much closer to zero than infinity.

    One characteristic of a convergent series is that, at some point, discrepancies from one entry in the series to the next begin to consistently shrink. Many of our scientific research efforts, by contrast, are still often characterized by large jumps of development and discovery after long periods of relative stasis. This fact is consistent either with the hypothesis that our science is a series that does not converge, or with the hypothesis that the series does converge but we just aren’t far enough out toward infinity. But it remains entirely possible that, following Pierce’s definition, truth is not only human-made and inaccessible (these are definite consequences of the definition) but also nonexistent (if the series does not converge).

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com SmallAxe

    Mark (and Jacob J–I’ll take a quick stab at your question),

    If I’m understanding you correctly, truth is an accurate description of reality (where by accurate you mean “investigatable” in the Percian sense). And by “objective” you mean beyond interpretation (#30: “The real world is independent of what we call it. Likewise, any question of objective truth is ultimately independent of the language it is expressed in.”), although you provide another definition in #28 (“where arbitrarily independent parties make the same conclusive determination about something mutually accessible to them (i.e. out there in the real world))”. This latter definition is more acceptable, except for the implication that truth is something “out there”.

    The problem here is that you can’t talk about “objective truth” unless you refine your first phrase in #28. If you combine truth (a process of interpretation) with “objective” (that which lies beyond interpretation) it makes no sense.

    The important point here, and it relates to the linguistic turn and Jacob J’s question, is that truth is not something found “out there”, but in our process of investigation (although using “in” here makes it sound like truth has some metaphysical reality, so it may not be entirely appropriate). And this process of investigation necessarily includes language. Truth as such is a type of consensus rooted in common observation; and does not (necessarily) have metaphysical force.

    In this light “objective” means something like “to make publicly accountable or accessible”; and in my opinion is tantamount to saying “inter-subjective”. In other words we are not making metaphysical claims about an underlying structure of the universe, but about our obeservations which are accessible and test-able to and by other people due to our common ability to communicate.

    IMO, this position blurrs the subjective-objective distinction because everything is a subjective experience of the individual but also has the possibility to be shared and “objectified” in that sense. In this light, much of the discussion about “truth” being subjective/objective is not worth pursuing because truth is both of these rather than one or the other. Personally, the few times this dicussion is worth having is when people insist on using one category and insist that only one can be correct. For a longer discussion on the “Cartesian Anxiety”–that no objectivity must lead to relativism, see Bernstein’s “Beyond Objectivism and Relativism”. He also goes into the position articulated above (although he does it much better). Coincidentally Bernstein is a pragmatist and gives a much more accurate reading of the pragmatic tradition, including Peirce. He also provides a brief recount of Kuhn’s critique of science as objectivity.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    I don’t have a ton of time over the next few days, but I want to thank Jacob for keeping us on track on the arguments. Small-axe and RT have done a good job of laying out the basic
    outlines of the linguistic turn, and I don’t have the time to engage and explain more fully, so let me just add a few points to their already excellent comments.

    One of the primary problems with this kind of conversation is that when someone says that there is no objective truth, the assumption is that they mean there is only subjective truth (hence, the repeated accusations of solipsism from Mark). Rather, the claim is more nuanced in the sense that the subjective/objective dichotomy itself is being questioned. I think that SA and RT have explained this well, but then again I am familiar with the arguments already.

    I think that Small-axe’s explicit introduction of hermeneutics is an excellent addition to this discussion, since that is the primary question that drives this post in the first place. Perhaps I should rephrase it: “Are the truths of religion arrived at by a hermeneutical approach more similar to poetry or more similar to science?” In this question I do not deny that science can tell us something meaningful about the world. Rather, it presupposes that there is a set of “truths” that can be produced through scientific inquiry. The question that we got hung up on is with Mark’s denial that there can be any “truth” to poetry since such truths are not scientific/without interpretation. The ensuing conversation has attempted to show that even scientific truths are interpretations, which makes them similar in some ways to poetry. However, the question that remains is whether or not there can be multiple truths which may or may not be mutually compatible. While in science this is methodologically impossible (though not in the practice of science), the idea of multiple true interpretations or perspectives in poetry is methodologically required. If we can all agree that all truths are interpretations, the question that remains is whether there can be multiple truths and how the truths of religion are determined methodologically.

    That is all unclear, I am sure, but I have to run!

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com Jacob J

    SmallAxe and TT,

    Both of those explanations make a lot of sense and are very helpful. I think SmallAxe’s discussion of the blurring of the subjective/objective distinction is right on the money. TT, I like your reformulation of the post’s question in #51 a lot better than the original question (probably because I understand what you are asking now) and I will give this some thought. I have to run for the moment, but wanted to say I appreciated both of your responses.

  • Mark D.

    We are going off on a tangent – if someone says “Learn the truth”, he does not mean “Learn the conformance of an abstract set of propositions to reality (or some other standard)”, he almost certainly means “learn the way things really are”.

    “Truth” in sense above is an idealization completely independent of a subject, or any particular proposition, or interpretive context. Like “reality”, it is either objective or it doesn’t exist.

    No one here has suggested a sense of truth that makes any sense as a subjective quantity. Truth in any colloquial sense is objective by definition. Look at the following list from the Random House Unabridged dictionary:

    1. the true or actual state of a matter: He tried to find out the truth.
    2. conformity with fact or reality; verity: the truth of a statement.
    3. a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like: mathematical truths.
    4. the state or character of being true.
    5. actuality or actual existence.
    6. an obvious or accepted fact; truism; platitude.
    7. honesty; integrity; truthfulness.
    8. (often initial capital letter) ideal or fundamental reality apart from and transcending perceived experience: the basic truths of life.
    9. agreement with a standard or original.
    10. accuracy, as of position or adjustment.
    11. Archaic. fidelity or constancy.
    —Idiom12. in truth, in reality; in fact; actually: In truth, moral decay hastened the decline of the Roman Empire.

    There isn’t a single non-archaic sense in that list that isn’t essentially objective. So here I am debating with people who claim that there is no such thing as objective truth, when the dictionary implies there is nothing other. I find that a little strange.

  • Mark D.

    TT (#51),

    You are using “truth” here as a countable noun, i.e. a true statement or proposition. Of course statements are subject to interpretation. There is no debate about that.

    However, as I understand we have been debating “truth” as a mass noun. i.e. debating the existence of “objective truth” rather than the existence of “objective truths”.

    Truth (as a mass-noun) has absolutely nothing to do with language. Truth is not a property of a proposition. A proposition does not have “truth”, a proposition has a “truth value”.

    I submit that the items listed in the encyclopedia under “theories of truth” (correspondence theory, pragmatic theory, deflationary theory, etc.) are not theories of truth at all, but rather theories of truth values.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Mark, I don’t understand your distinctions, nor how they are relevant to the topic. Please explain.

  • Mark D.

    TT: (1) When “truth” is used as a countable noun, it is always as a synonym for a “true statement or proposition”, or “a fact”. For example, one might say: “’1 + 1 = 2′ is a truth of arithmetic”.

    (2) When “truth” is used as a property of a statement or group of statements, it indicates the relational conformance of that statement or group of statements to reality (or some Orwellian convenient substitute). e.g. “The truth of that statement is questionable”.

    (3) When “truth” is used as a stand-alone mass noun, it indicates an abstract idealization of the way things really are. This sense is non-relational. e.g. “That statement is not consistent with the truth”.

    In sense one, a “truth” is a statement. In sense two, “truth” is something a statement has. In sense three “truth” is an idealization with no necessary relationship with any kind of statement.

    Senses one and two are subject to interpretation, and I readily admit both are subjective to that degree (while maintaining that no knowledge is communicated by any kind of statement except to the degree that the interpretive context of the sender and the receiver are commensurable).

    Sense three, however, cannot be subjective because there is no subject. As soon as one adds a subject, one is not talking about “Truth”, but rather about “belief”. Of course an anti-realist does not believe this sense exists.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Mark,
    I find you to be a bit of a moving target. At times you are quoting philosophers, then you are advancing definitions and criteria of truth that seem very simplistic. But so be it. Nevertheless, if I understand you correctly, you don’t think that religions can be “true” since I don’t see how they can possibly meet your criteria. I have no idea how one determines “the way things really are” from the way things aren’t with respect to religion.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Mark, I think the hang-up here is that — in some way — TT, SmallAxe, and I are talking about truth in relation to human beings, while you are talking about truth/reality/whatever independent of us. I think this might be the real distinction here; I don’t find the countable vs. mass distinction all that helpful, since all the versions of truth you list eventually end up being expressed as propositions in any case. TT, SmallAxe, and I are interested in what kinds of truth or reality humans can conceivably have access to, and the human component inevitably entails linguistic and cultural conditionality. You, by contrast, seem to be primarily interested in describing the independent existence of truth and reality even though such a description means that both truth and reality are inaccessible to humans. I think that goal is fine, although in some ways unhelpful. First, since we have no access to the kinds of truth and reality that you discuss, it’s difficult for us to know how apt your potential descriptions might be. Second, even if your descriptions are apt, they are of limited practical value, almost like a handbook for the best ways to cook spaghetti on planets orbiting Alpha Centauri. A pragmatist like Pierce would certainly look askance at an account that no human can, in principle, ever confirm, use, or find otherwise practically applicable.

  • Mark D.

    TT: You are incorrect. The third sense of truth has prevailed for millennia and hasn’t prevented anyone from having faith or believing that their religion teaches fundamentals of the way things really are. Joseph Smith certainly did – see D&C 93:24-25. I don’t need to list thousands of others.

    RT: First problem – you say knowledge of the in truth in the sense of “the way things really are is impossible”. That is solipsism.

    Second problem – you claim that some kinds of “truth” are accessible to humans, but you do not give any sort of definition of what it means to be “true”. Lacking any sort of ideal, it is as if you want to give up on all the hard questions of epistemology, find any convenient assertion, declare it “truth”, and call it a day.

    The thing is, if you do not believe that knowledge (even partial knowledge) of the way things really are is possible, the only consistent option left to you is to proclaim universal ignorance. Truth as some sort of chameleon is so radically inconsistent with the common sense as to be intellectually dishonest.

    I do not deny that epistemology is hard. But at least I think the word means something.

  • Mark D.

    I mean to say, can either of you give an account of how you distinguish the semantics of “I believe the articles of faith are true” from “I believe the articles of faith are strawberry”?

    Forget about why one chooses to have faith, that e.g. God lives, the question is what does “I believe that ‘God lives’ is a true statement” actually mean? How is that different from “I believe that ‘God lives’ is a strawberry statement”?

    Does the meaning have anything to do with the question of whether God actually lives? Or is religion all about imagining God lives?

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    Mark, I’m not claiming that knowledge is impossible; I don’t think anyone in this thread is. What I am claiming is that the kind of knowledge that is possible is conditioned. Scientists now generally acknowledge (or, at any rate, are taught to acknowledge) that empirical observations are inevitably theory-laden. That doesn’t mean they’re fantasy or unreal. It just means that they are constructed through human cultural activity, and that a person with fundamentally different beliefs and cultural preconceptions would construct them differently. This isn’t solipsism in any sense that I’m familiar with; it’s simply an admission that the lenses we use to see the world profoundly shape the image we observe.

    Your true/strawberry comment in #60 seems to me to be a helpful rephrasing of the central question of TT’s original post and the subsequent comment thread. What does it mean to discuss truths about God? Surely it doesn’t mean making statements about God that are consistent with some hypothetical limit of an infinite series of publicly replicable empirical observations. Is the experience of the Spirit empirical? Maybe, but maybe not. Is it public? Absolutely not. Is it replicable? Clearly, it is not; the Spirit may be present in one occasion and absent in another apparently similar situation. So whatever we mean when we say that something is true about God, it is clearly different than what scientists mean when they say something is true about physical mechanics or about cognition.

    I certainly believe that our claims about God differ in kind from pure fantasy. Yet it is inevitably true that a substantial part of our religious devotion does involve acts of imagination. We are asked to imagine ourselves as Adam and Eve; we are asked to imagine bread and water as flesh and blood; we are asked to imagine ourselves standing before the judgment bar of God. So I wouldn’t want to condemn the role of imagination, creativity, and fantasy in devotion. But I do think there’s more. However, my reasons for thinking that are fundamentally non-rational, emotional, and so forth, aren’t they? I mean, the Book of Mormon line about the universe and life and stuff as irrefutable evidence of God doesn’t really do much anymore since there are perfectly acceptable atheistic accounts of the origins of all that now readily available.

  • Mark D.

    RT: Thanks for your excellent comments. I certainly agree that our beliefs are theory laden, and abstract beliefs rather more so than most.

    Likewise, I agree that most statements are at best only approximate descriptions of the way things really are, and that we often do not know how approximate.

    The primary point of dispute that I can see is ‘what does it mean for a statement to be true?’ My point is that ‘the truth’ is an ideal, non-linguistic representation of reality that an honest communicator tries to be consistent with and make his theories consistent with.

    It doesn’t matter that the speaker does not know the truth in immaculate detail. If he knows anything, he knows something about the truth. Fuzzy and approximate knowledge is better than no knowledge at all.

    Truth is not error. Truth is not theory nor approximation. Truth is the goal, the objective, the limit of honest inquiry. That is why I consider calling anything but that ideal “the truth” severely misleading.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Mark,
    It still seems to me that in your explanation, you assert it is impossible for there to be any truth at all among humans. First, you state that there is such a thing as objective truth even though humans can only approximate it: I agree that most statements are at best only approximate descriptions of the way things really are, and that we often do not know how approximate. The implication here seems to be that in fact humans do not know truth at all, only approximations. If you choose to define truth so narrowly as to only be a correspondence to what “actually” is (however that is determined), then I think that you have to admit that there is simply no such thing since it is not possible that humans can experience anything free from interpretation. If, as you assert, Truth is not theory nor approximation, but that all human knowledge is only an approximation, it seems that human knowledge can never know “truth.”

    As such, it seems that this kind of truth doesn’t do anything to explain religious truths. First of all, since there is no unmediated knowledge, “truth” as you define it seems to be pretty useless to human beings. But second, this narrow definition actually seems to exclude religion, or at least most of religion as we practice it. For instance, according to this definition, only one of the four gospels (at best) can be “true” and the others must be lies, only one of the accounts of creation, only one of JS First Vision accounts, and only solution to the problem of evil. It doesn’t seem like this definition of “religious truth” does us any good.

    I want to pick up on the idea that you mentioned earlier when you offered the idea that “God lives” as an objective truth. However, I want to show that this idea only makes sense in a certain cultural context. If this were uttered in a different time or place, it wouldn’t have the same kind of meaning. For instance, the claim itself seems to presuppose that there are people who say that “God is not living.” Further, one has to know which god and what kind of god one is speaking about in order for the statement have be “true.” Honestly, when you say God lives, I have to make all sorts of assumptions about what you mean by that in order for me to assent to its truth. One also has know what it means to say that God “lives.” Is “life” really an attribute of an eternal being? Is this assertion spoken in a Christian context wherein Jesus’s resurrection might be meant? The problem is not resolved by addressing the ambiguities. The problem is that this sort of statement has a culturally specific meaning. The very way that it is said has a history as to how that particular phraseology came to signify something.

    Finally, I just don’t see how your definition of truth does any favors to your view that God lives.

  • Mark D.

    TT,

    On the contrary, I maintain that if one knows anything, he knows something about the truth. And yet I also assert that “the truth” per se is an abstract idealization of a perfect representation of reality, and that perfect knowledge is rarely possible.

    The paradox is illusory. Suppose you ask me what my latitude and longitude are. Off the top of my head, I could only tell you that I know that I am currently within half a degree of 41 degrees north of the equator and 112 degrees west of the Greenwich Meridian.

    The question is, do I know the truth about my current position on the earth? Certainly I do not know the truth about my position to any great accuracy. But I do know something about my actual position, and that knowledge counts as partial knowledge of the truth.

    If we needed further quantification, we could make a binary representation of latitude and longitude, and then I could say that I have about 9 bits of knowledge about my longitude and about 8 bits of knowledge about my latitude, and the other significant bits are unknown to me.

    So I can say that I have perfect knowledge of 17 bits of the binary reprentation of my latitude and longitude and am ignorant of the rest. By such a division, I have partial knowledge of the truth of my position on the earth. Knowledge is not an all or nothing thing. I could easily increase my knowledge by referring to a good map, or using a GPS.

    II. For the purposes of this argument, the truth of the assertion “God lives” is irrelevant. What is relevant is what it means for such an assertion to be true. I assert that people (like me) who believe that God lives, implicitly believe that that there exists such a being as God and that he actually lives.

    I doubt you will find many who claim that the truth of the assertion “God lives” has nothing to do with whether a being such as God actually lives or not.

    Rather nearly everyone will answer that “God lives” is an assertion that God actually does live. In terms of Tarksi’s truth conditions, “snow is white” is true if and only if there is such a thing as snow and it actually is white. It doesn’t matter how much we know about snow, that is what it means to believe that snow is white. Likewise for God.

  • Mark D.

    TT: Of course for the statement to mean anything, there has to be some sort of an agreement on definitions that resolve to foundational concepts. Otherwise it is impossible for anything other than a tautology or a contradiction to have a truth value, or communicate anything for that matter.

    It is probably best to avoid a full blown discussion about epistemology. Needless to say, if one knows anything about reality (we do not always know that we know), he knows it in terms of a conceptual schema that resolves to foundational properties of his own senses (generally conceived). Otherwise it is impossible to have a justified true belief about anything other than one’s own existence. No one knows what salt tastes like until they have tasted something salty.

    So unless one is prepared to argue that knowledge is impossible, please do not assert that mental concepts have no possible association whatsoever with conditions in the outside world.

    And unless one is prepared to argue that communication is impossible, please do not assert that it is impossible for linguistic interpretations to be commensurable (semantically comparable) in any significant degree.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Mark,
    There are clearly a number of claims that you are making with which I disagree and where I think that you are making no sense, but if we can focus this discussion for the moment, that might be helpful.

    If I understand you correctly, you think that the beleif that “God lives” is not of the same epistemological quality as the statement “2+2=4″, but it is of the same ontological quality as the existence of any other object, such as the Wasatch Mountains. Is that correct?

    If so, it seems that you think that religious truths have little epistemological claim to truth since they are only expressions of belief about the ontological reality. Since this reality is inaccessible to all, except in approximation, I am unsure how you are using your own definition of truth to describe these beliefs.

  • smallaxe

    “Truth” in sense above is an idealization completely independent of a subject, or any particular proposition, or interpretive context. Like “reality”, it is either objective or it doesn’t exist.

    Mark, you seem to run from one hole to the next when your position is lost, and that is making it difficult to dialogue with you. You admit later on that interpretation has a subjective dimension, and still want to hold to some purely “objective” truth. Even your constant refrain of D&C 93 does not support your position. “Truth” is not “the way things really are”, but “knowledge” of the past, present, and future. Knowledge cannot but be related to interpretation.

    Now you want to shift the debate to truth as a mass-noun? Since truth (even this type of “truth”, which I would argue is a poor usage of the word, desipte what the dictionary says–which oddly you are now relying on after everything else you’ve proposed has been shot down), must be interpreted, I’m not sure of the value of discussing this mass-noun truth. You’ve now admitted that there are different kinds of truths, some of which are subject to interpretation (actually all are except this mass-noun truth); but want to push the objectivity of this mass-noun truth. IMO, this is little more than an attempt to save an argument that shouldn’t have been made to begin with.

  • Mark D.

    TT: As I said before, the question of how we know what is true, and to what degree, is not relevant to the question of what it means to believe a statement is true (to greater or lesser degree), or what semantics the term “truth” must have to be meaningful.

    Also, you can suggest what my position entails (solipsism, whatever), but please quit telling me what I think. To paraphrase another poster, forgive me if I consider myself the world’s premiere expert on that subject.

    Smallaxe: I was explaining different senses of the term in hopes if clarifying my position. Senses are not kinds. Nothing requires me to consider senses in common use metaphysically accurate. In my opinion the first two are misleading, and only the third accurately represents the ideal.

    The D&C 93 definition differs from my definition (Joseph Smith treated truth like a substance that one could acquire), but it is an explicitly objective definition like mine that radically contradicts the position of anyone who believes that truth is inherently subjective. Of course language is subjective, but language at best only is only a representation of the truth, it is not identical to the same.

    Finally, it is easy to criticize my position when you haven’t lifted a finger to explain yours. I still can’t tell how you distinguish “truth” from “strawberry”.

    I think I have explained myself more than adequately. I am inclined to finish here, unless someone wants to present and defend their definition of truth.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Mark,
    It seems clearer from your last comment that you are not really interested in engaging this conversation, but just spouting whatever happens to come to your mind. My clarifying questions were not meant to tell you what you think, but to try to understand it myself. You’re right that in doing so I made some assumptions about what you believed on the hope that there was some underlying rationality and consistency to what otherwise appears to me to be a senseless jumble of contradictory positions (truth is objective yet inaccessible), irrelevant assertions (this strange “strawberry” comparison), false dichotomies (objective vs. subjective), and a genuine inability to understand your interlocutors arguments (the linguistic turn).

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com SmallAxe

    Finally, it is easy to criticize my position when you haven’t lifted a finger to explain yours. I still can’t tell how you distinguish “truth” from “strawberry”.

    I think I am pretty clear in #50 about my position.

    You want to keep narrowing the issue to something that finally validates your point. Does “something” exist outside of interpretation? sure. Should we call that something or mass of somethings “truth”? I dont’ see why we should other than the fact that your dictionary says we should; which, BTW, contradicts your earlier Percian definition and D&C 93. Is this something “objective”? Sure; but it’s meaningless because we’re humans, experiencing things as humans, and interpreting things as humans. Why should we relegate “truth” to something so narrow and beyond our experience?

    Personally, I think debates about “truth” discussed as an “it” and debated whether “it” is objective or subjective are some of the least productive. I guess I tend to side with Chinese thought in that sense. I do think it is productive however to prove the point that it is not so productive to those who are so entrenched in thinking that it is.

    How do I know anything about a strawberry? Any statement about a strawberry is objectifiable and therefore publicly accessable and observable.

  • Mark D.

    TT: You speculate about the certainty of my personal beliefs. I think that is a red herring. I believe in God, but I haven’t had any personal visits yet. I told you it is not relevant, that epistemology is not relevant to my definition, which relies on only one concept: Realism.

  • Mark D.

    Smallaxe: I apologize for overlooking the response you provided in #50. Here is my response. Keep in mind I am speaking of truth in sense 3, the only one I consider metaphysically accurate, i.e. truth considered objectively.

    1. I have no idea how you read “investigatable” as a synonym for “accurate”. By “accurate”, I mean corresponding with reality, which is the scientific definition of the term. Nothing to do with a process of investigation, per se.

    2. I deny that truth considered objectively has any necessary relation to a process of interpretation. This criticism fails.

    3. However, I affirm that truth considered under Peirce’s definition is compatible with truth considered objectively. The reason for this compatibility is Peirce defines truth with reference to “abstract statement” under “an ideal limit of endless investigation”.

    However, explaining the relation between real and abstract statements is extremely involved and one might say theory laden. That is why I abandoned my attempt to defend a Peircean style definition here.

    4. I think that your definition of truth as a “type of consensus” is completely inadequate unless you qualify it as “an ideal limit of endless investigation” the way Peirce does. Otherwise the truth changes from day to day.

    Scientific theories ideally converge on the truth, through a process of experiment – they are not identical to the truth. That is where all subjective definitions of truth fail, in the sense that they fail to capture the most obvious properties of the concept.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Mark,
    I don’t recall making any statements about the surety of your belief in God, and I agree that it is not relevant. BTW, Realism is an epistemological claim.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com SmallAxe

    1. I have no idea how you read “investigatable” as a synonym for “accurate”. By “accurate”, I mean corresponding with reality, which is the scientific definition of the term. Nothing to do with a process of investigation, per se.

    Investigate is Peirce’s term, not mine; and you introduced it into the conversation.

    2. I deny that truth considered objectively has any necessary relation to a process of interpretation. This criticism fails.

    Except in post #28 where you say: by objective I mean where arbitrarily independent parties make the same conclusive determination about something mutually accessible to them.

    3. However, I affirm that truth considered under Peirce’s definition is compatible with truth considered objectively.

    Except apparently where it involves investigation…

    4. I think that your definition of truth as a “type of consensus” is completely inadequate unless you qualify it as “an ideal limit of endless investigation” the way Peirce does. Otherwise the truth changes from day to day.

    Sure, I’ll agree with Peirce; but I don’t think he agrees with you.

    Are you purposely ignoring the rest of my last post? If this “truth” is by definition beyond interpretation; and as human beings we cannot but interpret, why should we talk about this “style” of truth to begin with? The “styles” of truth that should interest us are those which you’ve already admited, have a subjective dimension and are not objective by definition.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com SmallAxe

    I just realized that in my last paragraph I meant “sense” not “style”.

  • Mark D.

    TT: Philosophical realism is not a claim about epistemology per se, it is an ontological claim that of course is subject to question by epistemological means, just like every other claim.

    Smallaxe: Your response is based on making me an offender for something I said eight days ago. I have since admitted that was an improper definition, and clarified my position multiple times.

    Of course one can interpret the truth, to the degree that he knows it, but like reality, truth does not change in the process.

    The result of any process of interpretation is strictly called theory or belief. Theory and belief may correspond to the truth to greater or lesser degree, but it is hard to take anyone seriously who equates theory with truth.

    That is a position called “subjective idealism” that is probably the most discredited position in contemporary philosophy. Philosopher David Stove has practically made a career out of pointing out how silly it is. The following article by James Franklin is representative:

    James Franklin, “Stove’s Discovery of the Worst Argument in the World”, Philosophy 77 (2002):615-24
    http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/worst.html

  • _Mark D._

    TT: Philosophical realism is not a claim about epistemology per se, it is an ontological claim that of course is subject to question by epistemological means, just like every other claim.

    Smallaxe: Your response is based on making me an offender for something I said eight days ago. I have since admitted that was an improper definition, and clarified my position multiple times.

    Of course one can interpret the truth, to the degree that he knows it, but like reality, truth does not change in the process.

    The result of any process of interpretation is strictly called theory or belief. Theory and belief may correspond to the truth to greater or lesser degree, but it is hard to take anyone seriously who equates theory with truth.

    That is a position called “subjective idealism” that is probably the most discredited position in contemporary philosophy. Philosopher David Stove has practically made a career out of pointing out how silly it is. The following article by James Franklin is representative:

    James Franklin, “Stove’s Discovery of the Worst Argument in the World”, Philosophy 77 (2002):615-24
    http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/worst.html

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Franklin offers a sensationalist caricature of this argument for a popular audience, but his argument is in tension with the last 300 years of philosophy, especially the 20th century. His bold claim that this is the “worst argument” puts him in opposition to every major philosopher of the last 100+ years, and could perhaps explain why no one has heard of him.

  • Mark D.

    TT: The ability for a person of ordinary education to follow an argument is not a conclusive demonstration of its invalidity.

    James Franklin is not a figure of particular note, but on this subject David Stove certainly is. But out of curiosity, who do you count as the major philosophers of the last century? Apparently few if any Anglos or Americans.

    Because if one took a survey of Anglo and American philosophy departments, I suspect that the vast majority would agree that that the counter-arguments Bertrand Russell, G.E. Moore, John Searle, and David Stove among others provide against subjective idealism are conclusive. In British and American philosophy departments subjective idealism has been all but dead for nearly a century now.

    Here is Bertrand Russell, from The Problems of Philosophy (1912:42-43):

    If we say that the things known must be in the mind, we are either un-duly limiting the mind’s power of knowing, or we are uttering a mere tautology. We are uttering a mere tautology if we mean by ‘in the mind’ the same as by ‘before the mind’, i.e. if we mean merely being apprehended by the mind. But if we mean this, we shall have to admit that what, in this sense, is in the mind, may nevertheless be not mental. Thus when we realize the nature of knowledge, Berkeley’s argument is seen to be wrong in substance as well as in form, and his grounds for supposing that ‘idea’-i.e. the objects apprehended-must be mental, are found to have no validity whatever. Hence his grounds in favour of the idealism may be dismissed.

    Smallaxe has declared that his position is that truth is a species of consensus. What do you think truth is?

  • SmallAxe

    Your response is based on making me an offender for something I said eight days ago. I have since admitted that was an improper definition, and clarified my position multiple times.

    My apologies, I must have missed your recant.

    Just to clarify, I’m not interested in developing a theory of truth. I am interested whether claims are true or untrue, but not in dealing with some mass-noun “truth”, which is beyond interpretation. You can have that one all to yourself. So when I say that truth is “a type of consensus rooted in common observation”, I refer here to a “true” statement or proper interpretation, which is objective in the sense that others can investigate the claim and verify its validity. I have no interest in speaking of truth outside these processual grounds. I have no interest in truth as an “it”.

  • http://feastupontheword.org/User:RobertC Robert C.

    I’ve only read the first 60 or so comments, but wanted to say that I’m happy to see these questions being addressed here because I think they have very important implications for how we read scripture (I think I recently ranted here about what it means to “interpret” scripture, rather than just trying to demystify the text in terms of historical and textual background. I’m working through Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament as well as Levinas’s Totatlity and Infinity (arguably the impetus for the linguitic term in French philosophy…), and so all of this is very relevant and interesting to me.

  • Mark D.

    Smallaxe: I believe that position is called “instrumentalism”, and it is certainly a pragmatic one. I can respect a preference to avoid the term “truth”.

    The usage I have a problem with is where the term is used in a manner which is a radical departure from its original meaning, which is “fidelity” or “faithfulness”. And of course “faithfulness” is meaningless unless there is something to be faithful to, in this case “reality” – giving the contemporary sense of “fact” or “veracity”.

    Robert C: I get the impression that the “linguistic turn” has been over-represented in some circles. I do not know anything about the linguistic turn in analytic (re: Anglo-American) philosophy that presupposes an abandonment of contemporary realism.

    It certainly presupposes an abandonment of medieval realism about arbitrary universals. But in that sense, the “linguistic turn” is just repeating the philosophical history of the middle ages. I cannot understand why so many go about trumpeting a change that was in the history books seven centuries ago, as if it was some new thing.

  • http://feastupontheword.org/User:RobertC Robert C.

    Mark D., I think you’re right that the over-representation of “the linguistic turn” in some circles, esp. in the humanities (Continental philosophy esp.), and religion tends to be disproportionately influenced by humanities.

    I think analytic philosophy seems to take this presupposition of “contemporary realism” far too seriously, and in a way that reduces any text that is not written with this presupposition in mind, to something nearly meaningless. I see this approach as very helpful in terms of furthering science, and anything that can be reduced to science, but I don’t think that the meaning of any non-scientific text can be discerned in a scientific way. Of course I’m over-generalizing by using the term science as a placeholder for analytic philosophy, but my brief survey of analytic philosophy hasn’t turned up anything nearly as promising as work that is being done by Continental philosophers, in terms of how to think about scripture or religion. (Sorry if I’m repeating what’s been said above, I only skimmed the comments. Also, I’m in a pretty sour mood this morning, so this isn’t coming out more terse than I would like….)

  • Mark D.

    Robert C.,

    That is unfortunate. Among analytic philosophers I imagine that there are more instrumentalists and pragmatists than any that go out of their way to defend any but the most basic assumptions about realism.

    Speaking of religious truth, the question of how to define any robust sense of ‘good’ in objective (i.e. real) terms is a serious puzzle. If God is not good in some objective sense, then it would seem the only remaining options are the idea that God imposes his sense of good on the world (i.e. the DCT) or the idea that God rules by majority vote. The suggestion that good is essentially subjective is a troubling one. It places our relationship with God potentially on par with the Stockholm syndrome.


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