Category Archives: Epistemology

“The Truth Is Out There”

The use of the word “true” doesn’t correspond to reality and phenomenal occasions words are to share space with it, but exactly and only occasions where “warranted” and “well justified” do, such that there’s no difference in use or meaning having exchanged the words completely. There may be an “out there” truth, but “its” discovery is entailed in justification, which makes “it” quite irrelevant. Deliberating that “Truth is out there” or that “Truth is correspondence” is a demonstration of the irrelevancy of both statements. If it’s not clear by now why that is, notice that both statements must be justified; and the case against truth-as-justification fails.

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Does “Why” Exist?

I never understood our Western mistake of reifying words in descriptive sentences; truth, knowledge, moral, logic, math, consciousness, subconsciousness, mind, free will. Why on earth do we here, think of free will as something which exists, a property, rather than a way of talking about choice-making? Or, that minds are not a way of talking about brains, just as one has a “change of heart?” Why must there be something it is to be true in order for a proposition to be called true? Are we in possession of “true belief” or are we merely very certain and for objectively good reasons? Why must we be so inclined to think morality is attached to behaviors, to judgments, and those, completely independent of language and culture; there is something which exists called “moral” and it is simply and quite literally an existing or non existent attribute of behaviors and judgments.

It seems enough to have brains that make stochastic decisions discreet from micro antecedent, causal, physical states; enough to call a proposition “true”, a judgment, a behavior “moral” when we can justify either, given that justification for doing so rather than merely claiming something to be either is what earn propositions, judgments, behaviors such terms anyway; enough to say we are aware of some choices before us, aware of some experiences we are having, but not all … and so on.

Western philosophy became enamored with pinheads and the count of dancing angels and society followed suit; yet only the latter complains of the uselessness of the former.

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El Pecado Mayor

If theories are salient in trying to capture our intuitions about how things are, then we should expect that what folks find compelling about sound arguments about the truth of the existence of deity is entirely intuition since by definition, neither the sound arguments for or against, in themselves, differ in arriving at their necessary conclusions; otherwise, a deadlock. An atheist is not a theist until his impressions change. A theist is not an atheist until his change also. Argumentation in “The Great Debate” plays an odd role then, which usually only turns out to mirror moral justification instead of epistemological justification. That is, the ability to condemn others for being wrong while feeling alright about doing so. It’s the liberty to cast the first stone.

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On Knowing …

If knowledge is fallible and we’ve defined knowledge as entailing truths alone, then we can only coherently mean that truth isn’t absolute and that we never know when truth has obtained. That is, just in case truth to you is some sort of discoverable property or attribute of a proposition. But in the case that truth is merely a way of saying our justificatory standards have been passed, then truth is justification and truth is social; our standards are determined together, making things objective as a result. And which is the case? What does it mean to discover the truth but to satisfy some threshold of acceptability, i.e. justification? There isn’t a difference that makes a difference between either idea; in other words, that truth is an attribute or that truth is a label. The consequence for knowledge then is that at least logically speaking, things like evidence, reason, method and practice, language don’t entail truth. These ultimately are practical and psychological. Knowledge is left to best be described as “beliefs we are objectively confident in”. “Objective confidence” and “justified” are interchangable terms which suggest for one reason or other, confidence has been attained in some reflective way. I’m not sure there’s more going on than this. I can’t after all justify confidence in any other conclusion, even if some other way of thinking about knowledge had my confidence.

Just a thought.

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Correspondence, Simplified

In Metaphysics, Aristotle described that “To say that that which is, is not, and that which is not, is, is a falsehood; therefore, to say that which is, is, and that which is not, is not, is true”. But this makes something apparently presumptuous; namely, that one doesn’t determine when to declare a sentence true but instead, that one comes to recognize a property of a sentence, and that being that of truth. We should interpret Aristotle in a new way without such presumption. That’s simply that when a person declares something true or false, he believes what he’s saying is the actual state of affairs.

If one persists in wanting Aristotle to be offering a theory of truth, there’s not one here to be presented except tautology. For, how does one come to believe what is true? He will have been persuaded either from experience, perception, or by reasoning. And though some sentences are beliefs uttered about the world without justification at all yet are warranted (“I exist”, “There are other minds”, “There is a hand”), the only way one can genuinely make a case for correspondence is through justifying “This sentence is true about the world.” In that case, one must produce evidence not only that sentences can correspond to reality rather than merely suggesting “This sentence does better at describing what I think about the world than others may,” but that some sentences actually do correspond in some non deflationary or more-than-just-a-practical way.

If there is no mechanism by which a sentence about the world can be said to link to the world in some genuine rather than artificial way, or if one merely proposes such a mechanism exists, then it is only tautology and of no value in the least to assert such a claim in the first place.

If one says, “Here are the reasons why P corresponds,” then one isn’t employing a theory of correspondence but of justification and justification alone is then what makes any proposition “true”; and “true” then once again, deflates into “assertable”, “warranted”.

It is enough to say that some sentences do a better job for us than others in how we’re thinking and talking about the world; not that “truth” in correspondence doesn’t entail reifying confidence and so-naming it, or that “accuracy” in comparing sentences to reality doesn’t also entail “ding an sich”, remanding any need for justificatory practices at all.

To say what is that is and what isn’t that isn’t simply means one isn’t lying, not that one has at all accounted in any way for some definition of what people mean by “true” given their use of the term.

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When Truth, Not Because Of

To say there is a sentence that is descriptive of the world doesn’t require that the description is correspondent with states of affairs. It suffices to simply say that we are, for various reasons, speaking in some useful way about them. Of course there are reasons we are speaking the way we are. We’re consequences of place — of culture, geography, history, and so on — and of human psychology. And in addition, reality is ultimately what our descriptions must apply to.

To say something is true isn’t ever done in any legitimate sense by appealing to some mind-independent reality so-named “truth” or by suggesting there’s some mysterious linking function that the world uses to alter our sentences about it. We come to a belief because we’re persuaded what we’re thinking about reality is the case. This however, requires no such linkage; just a mind with an idea and some way to vindicate holding onto it as somehow useful. To say some sentences and some ideas are true independent of our thinking so is to say nothing at all. We realize this because we know simply believing something is the case doesn’t make it the case, saying a correspondence exists doesn’t make it so, saying it may or may not be true doesn’t make it the case either. It is warrant that makes it so. Actually, there is no “making it so” but simply “makes it assertable”.

There is no difference between “it is true” and “it is warranted”. No difference between correspondence and utility. There’s no sense to saying we are doing anything but assessing a sentence’s usefulness when we call it “true”. It’s the stamp of approval that “it is warranted” after all. After all, there is no descriptive sentence called true where there’s little value in having a description or where there are better descriptions available. Having better descriptions, it should be noted, belies the utilitarian nature of truth-telling. That is, seven descriptions may all describe some state of affairs perfectly well. In the end, one of those may however be best, but is that because of functional utilitarianism, or that somehow the world has begun speaking for itself rather than we for it?

In all cases, we fuss about justification, about warrant and the hopes that a sentence corresponds in some ontological sense, in some mind-independent way is an irrelevant one. Of what use is correspondence, or the idea of some truth “out there”, when the only occasion we assert truth is exactly and only when we have warrant to do so? Descriptions are more or less useful, not more or less accurate, given that accuracy entails knowing the bulls-eye and the distance from it the arrow has flown. Knowing the bulls-eye removes any need to hurl arrows, it should go without saying. All of this entails to what we know and what we know are beliefs we’re confident of and nothing more; made confident only by either psychology or through our justification practices, not appeals to Truth or correspondence.

We assert because we have warrant and unless warrant is another word for “true”, then truth is by all rights nothing we appeal to in order to assert our claims to what we think we know.

Truth is an event. It is when a sentence is warranted. It is what we call a sentence, because warrant for it exists, not because truth does; not because there’s something more to a description than fitness.

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On Correspondence …

If anyone asks “What is truth?” and the answer is “That which corresponds to reality”, “truth” and “that which” aren’t and can’t be reality itself. It’s then only at best “ideas about” or “sentences about” reality. Of course this entails truth as mind-dependent rather than strictly “out there” as some property of reality. This naturally exposes that ideas and sentences about reality are subjective because we’re producing them, and, that these ideas and sentences are still objective, given they must relate to reality somehow. So, this brings us to “correspondence” and the idea that “corresponds” can only mean “descriptive of”. In that case, A or B (two different descriptions of reality) may or may not “correspond to reality”. The questions are then which best describes and which is more justified to take on.

Since the epistemological task is to say whether, or how A or B is assertable, justification is synonymous with truth, not correspondence.

That is to say, there is no property of A or B that we rely on to suggest correspondence. So at least in our asserting either using those two terms (truth, correspondence), the truth and correspondence of A or B only obtain via justification. Both A and B may seek to describe reality, however, only one may end up being a better description, or the best description. Saying then that A corresponds, or that B corresponds, is to say nothing about correspondence. It’s that A is better at being descriptive than B; or vice versa. Whether warrant for A or B is “one seems to do a better job than the other” or whether A or B is a rational conclusion, or whether A or B is concluded from some reliable methodology or is evidential, these are all about which has warrant, justification.

The only imaginable response to “That which corresponds to reality”, it at least seems to me, is the dialectic translation: “A descriptive idea about reality that warrants assertability”.

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On Street Epistemology …

There’s a difference between the Socratic method — as described as continually questioning a person’s reason for belief in some proposition, P — and participatory pedagogy. The former is patronizing and disingenuous as it has an interlocutor who won’t be up-front with why they are asking the questions to begin with. It’s not because of any genuine interest in an answer or an openness to having those answers change minds. The later is invested in teacher and student, as both hope that in having the goal of learning, both may have something to gain from each other.

Street Epistemology, or SE as folks generally shorten it to, takes on the feel of a child continually asking “why”. Eventually, everyone will hit a wall in offering up explanations. For the most part, I think the honest move is to take “epistemology” out of any description of what is going on at all.

If one cared for Epistemology, one would likely eventually note that truth is not objective in the sense that “it” is mind-independent, but that when we use the word “true” what we mean is “there are good reasons any reasonable person would agree with this claim”. In fact, Street “Epistemology” is exactly getting at “good reasons” rather than “just reasons” and it doesn’t at all rely on any idea of warrant from a mind-independent “truth”. Truth is both “objective” and “relative” instead. It is relative to reasons, to circumstance and conditions, to “place”, humanity and history. That any “perfectly rational person” (an actual standard in Epistemology proper) would agree to some P given reasons R demonstrates the polysemy of “objective”; hence truth is relative and objective.

The important part is this — if the goal of SE is Boghossian — there can be no evidence for the supernatural by definition, therefore no disposition about the existence of deity is evidence-based. Moreover, logic doesn’t entail truth and is simply a formal description of how folks think; so, good reasoning about the question of the existence of God doesn’t warrant thinking there are or are not gods. The Engelian notion that Philosophy embraces (that all ideas are rooted in reality), that of “place”, entails that inferences about the existence of deity are actually “entitlements” and not artificial; dispositions that only have impressions from experience leading to the various inferences one could form about the question.

That’s not to say that cases for and against the existence of deity cannot be made or that good reasoning about one’s disposition shouldn’t be had. It is to say that lacking articulable reasons for one’s belief isn’t a mark against that belief being warranted. Simply, it’s just that reason alone, and that there can be no evidence, leaves these two features of justification outside of relevance as to why a disposition exists and the role experience plays in its warrant; Boghossian fails here. SE is asking for justification without realizing that warrant is what matters and not all warrant is through justification (i.e. reasoning about evidences).

Warrant for theism and atheism doesn’t obtain through evidence. Either are much more about practicalities. This is why i see SE as a failed enterprise, if Epistemology is the chief concern … ultimately, the theist and atheist are left with only reasons that make sense to themselves, but make sense because of, and only because of, personal experience and impression; not because one has run across a set of questions that left uncertainty in their wake.

Whittling a person down to having no articulable reasons for a belief, or even to conflicting reasons and in some cases, even incoherence only demonstrates that Foundationalism lacks warrant, which seems the predicate epistemology of most Street Epistemologists.

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Doubtless, Faithless

When you express doubt to some believers, they respond by saying you just have to have faith.

Some believers are certain of their faith; not that they are faithful with a particular set of rituals, but that “Jesus, not Janus” is the case.

Often, it’s the very same believer expressing both ideas.

When doubt exists, certainty cannot; that’s axiomatic.

This is when we have to realize that every question before us is one where we can have countless attitudes about. This sort of person isn’t being incoherent. They simply have fine distinctions that are hard maybe for even themselves to see. For this believer, his witness to doubters will be far more honest in seeing that faith in this context isn’t about having justified beliefs. Faith here is a choice against justified doubt. That’s also axiomatic.

A doubtful believer certain that his faith is warranted is one who should admit doubters have every reason to doubt, but that the reason faith is warranted is because risking into the unknown can be validated, can be vindicated here and now; faith is vulnerability to being wrong for all the best reasons.

Instead, the often dishonest reaction to doubt isn’t this sort of faith. It’s claiming to know what others are simply too blind to see. It is supressing one’s own genuine doubt for a refusal to being vulnerable to being anything less than perfectly right in every questionable matter that this faith could apply to.

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The Leap Of Knowledge

Gina stood remembering the first time she had made the jump. She had no idea what would happen. Could she do it? Just as then, she had confidence she could. The distance seemed reasonable, she was strong, she knew she could hold on to the bar on the other side if she could just reach it. But, the fall wouldn’t be so easy if she couldn’t.

She remembered everything about that day as a little girl on the playground and that jungle gym. She remembered making it. She remembered too that after that first jump, she never worried again; she jumped from one side and back all day because she knew she could do it, she had done it before.

Gina isn’t eight anymore, she’s twenty eight and a P. E. teacher at that same school. Could she do it? She used to know. She doesn’t know anymore. Everyone had gone home for the day, so she climbed up, smiled, then lept.

What is knowledge? Is it simply “confidence from good reasons”? What is faith? Is it simply “confidence for good reasons”?

If “acting with confidence” describes both knowledge and faith, then the only difference is motivation; “because of good reasons” and “for good reasons” respectively.

“I know that P because of good reasons.”

“I have faith that P for good reasons.”

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