Wednesday, June 16, 2021

The myth of "The Truth"

 In conversation the concept of "The Truth" often comes up but when people use it they seem to mean that there is one "Truth" that everyone is searching for but that has not/has/never will be found depending on to whom one is talking.  I think that this view is misleading because true or false only exists in relation to a proposition and since there are many propositions the answers of which are either true or false or unclear if one doesn't want to be digital about answers; there can't be one over-arching answer to all propositions.

There is another sense in which people seem to use "The Truth" such as when searching for the absolute answer to a particular question.  As discussed previously in Roland's Flock even if an absolute answer to a proposition does exist and we even happen know what that answer is we are still left in the position that there is no way for us to know that we know the absolute answer.  Bottom line is that even if there are absolute answers to propositions,  something that I happen to believe to be true, we can't know that we have them even when we do have them so from our limited point view, all answers have to or at least should be regarded as "provisional" rather then "absolute".

Hence, I think, the concept of "The Truth" as the one absolute answer to everything is a myth unless, of course, that answer is "42".

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Believe me, I'm an Expert!

In the definitions that follow I have picked the definitions from the Merriam-Webster that most closely describe the sense in which I understand and use them in the discussion that follows.  In addition, wherever I refer to knowledge in the discourse I am referring to "provisional" rather than "absolute" knowledge which leaves open the possibility that what we as individuals or collectives take to be knowledge may, in fact, be incorrect and not be knowledge at all let alone "absolute" knowledge.  I have discussed the topic of "absolute" knowledge in the post and why, even if it does exist, we are unable to know whether any given proposition is "absolute".  It may be, but we can't be absolutely certain of it which leads to my use of "provisional" knowledge as knowledge that we think or believe to be true but that could ultimately turn out not to be.

Intuition - "the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference"
Imagination - "the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality"
Reason - " a sufficient ground of explanation or of logical defense"
Experience - "the fact or state of having been affected by or gained knowledge through direct observation or participation"

Having now put these four up in opposition to each other, I am of the opinion that these four basic avenues of arriving at knowledge are not as independent as one may think and, I think, that this makes sense since we as human beings are intuitive AND imaginative AND have the power of reason AND we experience so I think that it is hardly a surprise that each can inform or affect the others.  They are all useful for arriving at knowledge but all of them can be mistaken or malfunction so the the question is, given our not so trustworthy senses, how do we arrive at knowledge.  My view is that one can use any of them but the more support one gets from each mechanism, the more trustworthy the knowledge.

Intuition, although not infallible, is a heuristic for knowledge, a sort of fuzzy assessment of imagination, experience or reason where one "just feels" like something is right or wrong before one can consciously reason or experience whether a proposition is correct or not. For instance is someone was to tell me that 9*Pi is 18 I instinctively know that that just sounds incorrect before I can by reason by using a calculator to calculate the answer and then compare with 18.

Imagination at first seems like a poor avenue to knowledge but I like to think that since it allows us to imagine things that have no basis in reality as well as being able to imagine things that turn out to be real, imagination enables us to be able to explore beyond our physical capabilitites.  Some of that exploration can turn out to be true and can then be regarded as knowledge even though the route that we used started with the imagination.

The above faculties seem to be how we, as human beings, arrive at provisional knowledge on a subjective personal level meaning that it is our own intuition, imagination, reason or experience that we count as knowledge.  The question is whether it is possible to generalise our personal subjective knowledge to being considered to be objective knowledge.  This is where I think that the disciplines of Philosopy and Science come in; they enable us to assess our personal subjective knowledge as to whether it can make the leap to being acknowledged by others as objective knowledge independent of one's self.  So I see Philosophy and Science as a sort of winnowing process whereby personal subjective intuition, imagination, reason and experiences are compared and justified against others' intuition, imagination, reason and experience with the goal of determining what knowledge is real or imaginary, true as opposed to false as well as the boundaries within which the knowledge is valid and beyond which the knowledge is invalid.

Philosophy  - "a search for a general understanding of values and reality by chiefly speculative rather than observational means" which I take to mean that Philosphy is "reason" based rather than experience or intuition based.
Science - "knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method" which I take to mean knowledge gained as a result of both evidence and reason.

There is a further fourth avenue by which we gain knowledge which is by Authority of another person or collective simply because we believe, for our own reasons, that particular person or collective.  Authority is nothing more than believing someone or some collective's account of their Intuition, Imagination, Reason or Experience and as such it would always start out as being, at best, second hand knowledge.  This may become first hand knowledge if one took the time to follow chains of reasoning and personally experienced the actual evidence behind the purported knowledge but that isn't what most of us are capable of or have the time to do.  We are more likely to appeal to "Hume said ...", "The Koran says ..." or "Science says ..." but just because an appeal to Authority is made it does or should not automatically discount the validity of the Authority's knowledge.  Knowledge should be able to stand independently of the Authority providing it.

Authority - "the source from which the citation is drawn" or "an individual cited or appealed to as an expert"

I am of the opinion that, as much as we may not like it, Authority is our primary mechanisms for gaining knowledge and this, I think, is a good thing.  Appeals to Authority is a shortcut to a wealth of knowledge that we ourselves would not have access to were it not for our ability to believe another person or collective's account of their knowledge.  This is not to say that we should believe any people or collective's account of their knowledge just because they have made it available to us to consume.  When our Intuition, Imagination, Reason and Experience are aligned with the received knowledge we readily accept it which, of course, leads some to the issue of only exposing one's self to knowledge from others that one already accepts.  Another issues comes in when received knowledge isn't aligned with our Intuition, Imagination, Reason and Experience and then one starts to wonder whether we ourselves may be mistaken or whether the received knowledge is mistaken.  This, for me, is the point at which we individually should apply the tools of Philosophy and/or Science to be able to determine for ourselves whether the knowledge received from an Authority is to be believed or not.

Of the seven avenues to knowledge I have listed all share at least one property, that of not being infallible and therefore open to revision as better or more accurate knowledge comes along and this is where I think these avenues differ from say, religion, as a avenue to knowledge.  Religions may interpet their foundational texts differently through the ages but they aren't in the habit of re-writing sections of them as their contents become outdated or are found to be factually incorrect or internally contradictory.

P.S In case anyone is in any doubt, the title is very much tongue in cheek!