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Truth and Consequences

Via Brad Plumer, watch The New Criterion's Roger Kimball wrestle with the problem of truth and trip all over himself.

The post is really an embarrassment that fails to connect with reality (i.e., be true) on so many levels that it's hard to know where to begin. His apparent belief that philosophers since Nietszche (or maybe William James) have given up on talking about how to understand truth is just flat-out wrong, as would be eminently clear to anyone who's ever taken a course in contemporary metaphysics or who has any sort of familiarity with the work on the subject. Taski? Verificationism? Never mind. And of course the philosophers he thinks are merely "dismissing" the problem are doing no such thing. Kimball may not approve of, say, Richard Rorty or Donald Davidson but they're certainly writing on the subject. And look at this bizarre portrayal of Nietszche's views:

Today, many educated people are deeply impressed by thinkers like Friedrich Nietzsche, who defined truth as "a moveable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms," and concluded that to tell the truth was merely "to lie according to a well-established convention."

It is pretty easy to show that Nietzsche's brash formulation is incoherent. One cannot, after all, make sense of a "lie" without presupposing a standard of truthfulness in the light of which a lie can be recognized as a lie. But Nietzsche's fundamental appeal, I believe, is emotional, not intellectual. People are impressed less by Nietzsche's arguments than by his daring adversarial stance.
Well, someone here is paying more attention to the "daring adversarial stance" than to the arguments. Even out of context, it's perfectly clear that the use of the term "lie" here is a piece of provocative rhetoric, and not the essence of the position. He's saying that the truth of a proposition is only a meaningful concept relative to some broader conventions. This isn't some leftwing plot, it's clearly right. Consider the classic example of Einstein's thesis that "energy equals mass times the speed of light squared."

This is only true on an Einsteinian understanding of what energy, mass, and the speed of light are. Or, alternatively, whether or not its true depends on what we mean by "energy," "mass," etc. On a pre-Einsteinian understanding, this isn't a true proposition of physics, it's some kind of nonsense. The speed of light would no more be a constant you could plug into a formula than would be "the speed of Volkswagens" or some such thing. What's true or false here is the whole theory, which involves understanding its component terms in a non-Newtonian way. Then there's this:

The 17th-century philosopher Gottfried Leibniz distinguished usefully between "truths of reason" and "truths of fact." This distinction underscores the difference between contingent matters of fact--things that simply happen to be one way or another, e.g., "The sun is shining"--and things that are necessarily true, e.g., "all bachelors are unmarried" or "X cannot be both true and not true at the same time and in the same respect."
Quine? Kripke? Nevermind. Or:
The question of truth is like the license plates in the state of Missouri, which brag about being the "Show me state." How can you justify your judgment if someone asks you? There have been plenty of answers to this question. But the multiplicity of answers shows that we are dealing with a multiplicity of questions. Picking the correct strategy depends on the kind of truth claim being advanced.
Why should the multiplicity of answers show that "we are dealing with a multiplicity of questions"? Who knows? By now, we do, in fact, seem to be confusing some rather separate issues. One relates to how we might justify truth claims. Another asks what truth is -- what sort of property distinguishes true statements from false ones. Kimball's feeling that the problem with the correspondence theory of truth is that it "just doesn't go far enough" seems to stem from confusing these issues. Obviously, if I say "snow is white" and you ask "why do you say that?" I'm not going to be able to reply "because my statement corresponds with reality." I'm going to have to say something about snow like, "look around at all this snow -- it's white!" Perhaps you'll say, "the pile of snow on your curb sure looks black to me." And I'll say, "well, it was white and it's been contaminated by car exhaust and other pollutants." And so forth. The issue of what truth is doesn't enter into this sort of conversation. That's not a problem with the correspondence theory -- any theory of truth would be equally irrelevant. That just isn't how you justify claims.

But Kimball's assumption that the correspondence theory, though inadequate, is banally true, also seems problematic:

When we utter a true proposition--"2 + 2 = 4," say, or "Snow is white"--we can see that there is a correspondence between our judgment and the state of affairs it names.
But what in heaven's name is "2 + 2 = 4" supposed to correspond to? A statement about the color of snow might be thought to correspond to the color of snowflake-tokens but numbers don't work like that. You can't inspect two 2-tokens and see that they add up to a 4-token. Or consider truth in fiction. "Hamlet was indecisive" is true, but not because it corresponds to the behavior of a person named "Hamlet." There are stories to be told about this, but they're rather more complicated than anything Kimball has to offer.

And earlier here he was messing up the philosophy of science in a manner so egregious as to beggar belief.

January 26, 2005 | Permalink

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Yesterday Matt Yglesias scolded Roger Kimball for boldly mischaracterizing the trajectory of contemporary philosophy vis-à-vis the epistemology of truth. The nut of Yglesias's complaint is that Kimball snips from conjectures to fuel large, body-of-work... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 27, 2005 11:07:33 AM

Comments

my knowledge of philosophy?

zero.

my knowledge of roger kimball?

sufficient to be highly confident that everything that Matthew says is true....

Posted by: howard | Jan 26, 2005 2:09:11 PM

"2+2=4" is true in a particular set of numbers in base 10. Given a set of precisely defined rules (axioms of number theory) it is true. The other example "snow is white" is far, far worse. After all, certainly not all snow is white! Snow by the side of a plowed road is never white. Snow that was recently pee'd in isn't white either. Both of these examples show a rather egregious lack of understanding of both "x is true" as a statement, and the philosophical question at hand.
However, I'm not sure that your Einstein example is a good one. Certainly, the statement requires the the standard physics definitions of energy, mass, and the speed of light (in a vacuum!), but those appear, as I understand it, to be immutable definitions (i.e. there is no other useful way to define them. The equation was no less true before Einstein, or else stars would have magically appeared in the sky just after his paper was published. The fact that we don't know something to be true is not, at least in the physical sciences, a good proxy for it not being true.

Posted by: Paul Orwin | Jan 26, 2005 2:11:59 PM

But what in heaven's name is "2 + 2 = 4" supposed to correspond to?

That is a question that is quite problematic. Depending on your philosophy of mathematics, it could correspond to many things. However, the ontology agnostic view is that 2+2=4 is true because we can prove it, as it follows as a logical consequence of a series of axioms. What this means for a correspondence theory of truth is that "2+2=4" is true iff 2+2=4. 2+2=4 because we can prove it, here is the proof, the set of axioms it is based off of, etc.

Posted by: Trickster Paean | Jan 26, 2005 2:29:39 PM

Paul Orwin:

Precisely defined rules (as an axiomatized numbers theory) are inadequate to completely define the true propositions it may generate.

Godel, Heisenberg, and Hume have left us profoundly unsure of our truths.

Does a dog "know" some truths? Or do all truths involve language? And what is the use of language? Philosophers have given up trying to axiomatize numbers theory thanks to Godel; and that's after conceding the need for set theory to supplement logic (which seems more intuitively "true" than set theory) to create an (incomplete) axiomatized number theory to begin with.

The hope for a consistent philosophy of less rigorous truths is hopeless. Epistemology becomes psychology as Quine argues. So the psychologist, William James, came closest: what works. Sorry it's inadequate.

Posted by: epistemology | Jan 26, 2005 2:34:27 PM

To say that a mathematical statement is true given certain axioms rather begs the question -- after all, given that snow is black, "snow is black" is true, and not just in DC. There have, as I understand, been attempts to argue that mathematical truths are in fact statements about the structure of the concrete world (crudely, 2+2=4 is in fact a statement about sets of apples or whatever), though this runs into some serious trouble at the outer edges of mathematics. My father is an expert on such questions -- I don't know if Matt took his course, but if so he can no doubt explain all this far better than I.

There's also, of course, the issue of the rules whereby one derives statements from axioms. If every idiot, right or left, who starts spouting off about truth and relativism could be forced just to read "Two Dogmas of Empiricism," the world would be a much better, and quieter, place.

Posted by: Jotham Parsons | Jan 26, 2005 2:37:06 PM

I don't claim to be a philosopher or a number theorist (merely an interested amateur), but I don't think Godel or Heisenberg have made us question our truths (I've never read Hume, to my presumed shame!). Godel told us one thing, and one thing only. For a given set of axioms that define a logical system, you will have some propositions that you cannot decide (i.e. you will not be able to determine if they are true or false within the system). The power of this is manifest in logic and mathematics, but it does not change the truth or falsity of "2+2=4", which is true in the number system that we commonly use, with all of the above symbols properly defined. Heisenberg is altogether different, and completely unrelated to issues of true and false. Heisenberg Uncertainty refers to the quantum nature of matter, not the truth or falsity of logical statements.

In response to Jotham, I don't think it begs the question at all. For example, the given mathematical logic system can be defined with simple rules on the operators (+,-,*,/) and the defining terms equal and not equal. The numerals themselves are defined based on fairly simple rules, and the proposition "2+2=4" can be evaluated fairly within this rubric. This is not equivalent, imho, to "given that all snow is black, this snow is black". As far as the issue of platonic idealism (is that the right term? as I recall, it was basically the question of whether math exists as a reality separate from the physical universe; I read about it in a Penrose book, so I could be off base), it seems immaterial. For example, if we used a base 3 math (digits 0,1,2) we get that 2+2=11. So the ways we define the numbers can easily be changed (although it is a bit strange to talk about).

Posted by: Paul Orwin | Jan 26, 2005 2:52:07 PM

My knowledge of the philosophy of math is entirely second-hand. That said, in response to Paul, I don't think (my snarky comment aside) that we're disagreeing substantively. Philosophers of math seem to agree as a baseline that the truth-value of mathematical propositions is determined by a choice of axioms and operators. There are tricky aspects to this, Godelian completeness being one of them, but ultimately that's just what mathematics is. However, many philosophers of math seem to think that mathematical truths are true in some stronger, less arbitrary sense. In part, this is based on mere intuition (most practicing mathematicians will admit, after a drink or two, to being hard-core Platonists), in part it's because of the empirical usefulness of mathematics in describing the physical world, in part it's due to the correspondance between the rules of mathematical reasoning and rules we successfully use to coordinate the rest of our beliefs (dialectic in Aristotle's sense), and partly it's for internal mathematical reasons I don't even begin to comprehend. This of course comes back to Matt's point that there are multiple, and potentially confused, questions we ask when we ask about truth.

Posted by: Jotham Parsons | Jan 26, 2005 3:23:21 PM

I think you are right, Jotham, that we don't disagree (limitations of the medium and such, blah blah blah). I agree with Matt's point that the original guy (whoever he is!) doesn't know what he's talking about. I think math is special in this regard, because the answer to this question of the "baseline truth-value of mathematical propositions" is more or less completely esoteric (although the ramifications of Godelian incompleteness certainly are not!). In other words, I can use differential equations to model physical phenomena regardless of whether they speak to some higher mathematical truth or not, because they work. The empirical usefulness is what matters, even when discussing fairly abstruse mathematical concepts like the 4-color theorem, the Goldbach conjecture, etc. This should be distinguished from empirically verifiable statements about physical objects. For example, the chemical composition of water does not change if I rename the elements "Orwinium" and "Imcoolium" as long as there are 2 of the one that has one proton and one electron (whatever I decide to name those!) for every one that has 8 protons and 8 electrons. Again, this is why I think the Einstein example that Matt used doesn't really work. Things that are physically true about the universe (E=m*c^2, e.g.) are true regardless of whether we understand them.

Posted by: Paul Orwin | Jan 26, 2005 3:39:44 PM

I thought Goedel had that extra "e". Did I embarrass myself over at Holbo's? More than usual?

Stanford posted a new article this week:

Internalist vs. Externalist Conceptions of Epistemic Justification

I got about halfway thru it. Maybe I'll get smarter someday.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jan 26, 2005 4:19:44 PM

The question that interests me is why Roger Kimball thought the piece worth writing. If he's not smart enough to figure out that he's not saying anything that makes sense, he is probably at least well-informed enough to know that whatever it is he thinks he's talking about has been done to death and that he isn't contributing anything that can't be gotten better elsewhere.
So why bother?

Posted by: C.J.Colucci | Jan 26, 2005 4:45:55 PM

"Goedel" gets an e in the middle if you can't do an umlaut over the o.

Posted by: SqueakyRat | Jan 26, 2005 4:49:21 PM

Paul Orwin:

The problem with mathematical truths is that they are NOT reducible to logical truths, even before taking into account Godel, but rather one must use logic, and the less intuitively obvious set theory. Thus mathematical truths are on shakier ground that truths of logic. Godel's indictment aside.

The real problem, of course, is that logical truths are unprovable. As Hume decisively demonstrated, induction is an assumption. Scientists have a faith as surely as the religious do; the difference being Occam's razor: science makes fewer assumptions than religion.

And Heisenberg DOES have something to say about truth: since Matt's post was about truth in general, not just logical or mathematical truths, it IS of interest that we cannot, even in theory, know a particle's position and momentum perfectly.

The truths of logic are unprovable by human reason.
The truths of math cannot be derived from logic alone, but need the even less certain set theory.
No consistent axiom system can cover mathematics completely.
And even granting the assumptions needed for logic and math, we cannot precisely measure our world anyway.

Posted by: epistemology | Jan 26, 2005 4:52:13 PM

"Stanford posted a new article this week:

Internalist vs. Externalist Conceptions of Epistemic Justification

I got about halfway thru it. Maybe I'll get smarter someday."

I used to do that stuff when I was a philosophy grad student at Arizona. Take it from me, you've got better things to do.

Posted by: live | Jan 26, 2005 5:25:40 PM

I suspect we are talking past one another, "epistemology", but I will try one more time.
Heisenberg has nothing to do with the question at hand. It is a statement about the fundamental nature of the quantum world, and as such, has nothing to do with "truth". It is, in fact, a statement of truth. The "measurement problem" in physics, as I understand it (not a physicist!), is an outgrowth of this, but not the same as it. The statement about the position and momentum of a subatomic particle says precisely nothing about our knowledge, say, of the presence or absence of a building (this is known as "collapse of the wavefunction").

I'm sorry, but I've read your first paragraph several times, and I simply don't understand what you are talking about. Mathematical proofs only hold up under the given set of axioms and assumptions. If you try to apply them outside of those, you are wasting your time. I thought that was crystal clear. This does not put them on "shakier ground", it is simply the statement of what they are. If you make a claim about the nature of reality, based on mathematics, you are making a claim about the validity of a "model". The empirically verified claim "e=mc^2" does not rely on the definitions of the various terms, but rather on the fact that when you annihilate matter, you release an amount of energy that is equivalent to the amount of mass multiplied by the speed of light in a vacuum squared. Many megatons of nuclear explosive power have verified that quite well (along with, well, everything in the universe). You can philosophize all you want about truth and value and whatever, but you end up flying in the face of reality.

BTW, what is this scientific "faith" you seem to think exists. I can think of only one thing that could arguably fit this description: All events that occur in the universe are explained by some set of immutable laws. That's it. Everything else flows from that, as far as I can tell (the fact that we don't know it all yet speaks to the complexity of the question).

Posted by: Paul Orwin | Jan 26, 2005 5:46:44 PM

Paul Orwin:

What puts mathematics on shakier ground than logic, is that logic is insufficient for math; set theory, less intuitively obvious, is necessary to construct our mathematics.

But logic itself is not provable. Induction is a matter of faith, unprovable. And a faith in immutable laws is not the only assumption of science. The existence of reality apart is in dispute. This could all be a dream. Or a god could have put these ideas in our heads.

You may dismiss this all as philosophizing, but it has frustrated some of the greatest minds in history. They would be interested to know you have it all worked out.

Induction is a matter of faith. E=mc*c has not been "proved" empirically. We have a strong belief that it is true, but do you really think our level of certainty is the same as 2+2=4? If not, what's the difference?

Posted by: epistemology | Jan 26, 2005 5:56:28 PM

For all those interested in logic and mathematical theory, I recommend Goedel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter.

In Science and Sanity by Alfred Korzybski, he discusses the English language, and how we need to change it. The language we use now, with its emphasis on true/false statements, causes semantic disturbances that causes semantic confusion which causes people to fight. The phrase "snow is white" and "snow is black" are both invalid because snow is neither. You perceive it as white/black, but it isn't white/black. It isn't enough to acknowledge the problem in the phrase "snow is white", we have to change the way we think.

Posted by: Rambuncle | Jan 26, 2005 6:56:15 PM

Great post. I don't know if this relates to philosophy or not but what does "Arma Virumque" mean, and why does it seem to be written by a bunch of total wankers?

Posted by: Julie | Jan 26, 2005 7:01:13 PM

The empirical usefulness is what matters, even when discussing fairly abstruse mathematical concepts like the 4-color theorem, the Goldbach conjecture, etc.

I'm not sure I agree about "empirical usefulness" being what matters; there are plenty of beautiful and surprising results that aren't particularly relevant to anything except answering the damn question; the Collatz problem will probably yield a neat result, but I'm not at all sure the solution will be applicable to anything but the Collatz problem. Could be, though. Math is surprising.

I assume Paul knows this, but for anyone who doesn't, the four color theorem is an interesting case, as it lead to some real division among mathematicians (and philosophers of math) about what it meant to prove a theorem; Appel and Haken's proof relied on a huge chunk of mainframe processor time to verify all the discrete cases. (Although their results have been improved on since, I still believe the number of 4-color critical graphs is too high to check by hand.)

Posted by: Steve | Jan 26, 2005 7:22:49 PM

Well, someone here is paying more attention to the "daring adversarial stance" than to the arguments. Even out of context, it's perfectly clear that the use of the term "lie" here is a piece of provocative rhetoric, and not the essence of the position. He's saying that the truth of a proposition is only a meaningful concept relative to some broader conventions. This isn't some leftwing plot, it's clearly right. Consider the classic example of Einstein's thesis that "energy equals mass times the speed of light squared."

This is only true on an Einsteinian understanding of what energy, mass, and the speed of light are. Or, alternatively, whether or not its true depends on what we mean by "energy," "mass," etc. On a pre-Einsteinian understanding, this isn't a true proposition of physics, it's some kind of nonsense. The speed of light would no more be a constant you could plug into a formula than would be "the speed of Volkswagens" or some such thing. What's true or false here is the whole theory, which involves understanding its component terms in a non-Newtonian way.

I think you may want to do some more reading on Nietzsche Matt. Most interpreters seem to agree that Nietzsche's views on truth, for better or for worse, are at least interesting and controversial. But you read him as asserting something rather trivial and standard. You may also want to read Hilary Putnam's old stuff on conventionalism. I believe you have succumbed to a common confusion between trivial semantic conventionalism, to which no one could possibly object, and more philosophically provocative varieties of conventionalism and relativism.

Let's take a completely banal form of correspondence theory for sentence truth. The truth of a sentence would seem to depend on two things: (i)what the sentence means or says, and (ii) how things stand in the actual world.

So if I assertively utter the sentence "Matt is in the office", the truth value of my utterance depends in part on the semantic facts that "Matt" refers to you, Matt Yglesias, and "office" refers to offices - rather than, say, orifices.

But it clearly doesn't depend only on semantic facts of this kind. It also depends on where you happen to be. The semantic facts make it the case that "Matt is in the office" says that Matt is in the office. But whether the sentence is true or false, then, also depends on where you are.

Because prevailing semantic conventions determine what, in a given context, a sentence says, then it is true in a rather trivial sense that whether a sentence is true or false depends, in part, on a set of conventions.

It may also be the case, as you suggest with your Einstein example, that the meanings of theoretical terms are fixed, or at least constrained, by the role they play within the theory of which they are part.

Now, you claim that terms like "mass" and "energy", at least as used in the professional discourse of physicists, mean something different in Einsteinian post-SR usage than they did in in the discourse of earlier pre-Einsteinian physics. Of course. Semantic conventions and theoretical constraints serve to fix the meanings of these terms in Einstein's lingo, and he uses these terms (and their German cognates) a way that differs from his predecessors. And in that trivial sense, the truth or falsity of the sentence "Energy is equal to mass times the speed of light" depends on a set of semantic conventions and/or a theoretical framework. But few defenders of good, old-fashioned correspondence views of truth would deny this. If this is all there were to Nietzsche's view of truth, it would hardly have achieved the controversial status it has.

Nietzsche, I take it, is in the more properly speaking relativistic tradition going back at least to Protagoras, a family of theories according to which conventions, or theoretical frameworks, or conceptual frameworks, or other suchlike artifacts of human activity, don't just do part of the work in making it the case that some sentence is true or false, as they do in correspondence theories, but do all the work.

Personally, I should admit, I always thought that so long as Nietzsche stuck to pronouncements on value, emotion, moral psychology, the history of moral thought, etc. he had a lot of very interesting and worthwhile things to say, but that his discussions of the more abstract and theoretical areas of philosophy are inept and sophomoric.

Posted by: Dan Kervick | Jan 26, 2005 7:45:05 PM

But logic itself is not provable. Induction is a matter of faith, unprovable. And a faith in immutable laws is not the only assumption of science. The existence of reality apart is in dispute. This could all be a dream. Or a god could have put these ideas in our heads.
At this point, you have left the realm of the useful. Yes, I'm sure that this has frustrated many great minds. That is not the same thing as being productive or useful to do. I don't know how you can claim that induction is a matter of faith (I assume you mean mathematical induction here). It is a fairly standard method of proving things within a system . As far as E=mc^2 not being proved, I don't think that's what I said. If I left that impression, I apologize. The best way to state it, I think, is roughly as follows. This equation accurately depicts the relationship in nature between Energy and mass, and suggests that they are two forms of the same thing. It can never be "proven" mathematically, because it doesn't follow from the axiomatic rules of any number or logic system. Rather, it apparently accurately describes a relationship in nature. Someday, it is possible that someone will come up with a more accurate description (although I am skeptical, this is what the "Grand Unified Theory" stuff is about, more or less). The natural sciences, unlike mathematics, don't admit to "proof" of the logical type, and they require us to assume that certain things (like " the universe exists and can be observed") are true. If you consider this to be "faith" then I think your definition is a bit much.

As far as Steve's comment, I didn't mean that those things aren't important, but rather that the standing of mathematics as something worth studying doesn't depend on the question of whether we can philosophically justify studying it (i.e. representational vs. platonic symbols). Certainly there are mathematical proofs that are beautiful (I'm fond of the proof that SQRT(2) is irrational, myself) but this is far from the point. I just don't like this "what is really real?" stuff. When we get to "it could all be a dream", that's where I hang it up. Back to the lab, where I'll be "experimenting" all the while wondering if this is all some weird, twisted dream.

Posted by: Paul Orwin | Jan 26, 2005 9:45:35 PM

Truth is what we define it to be.

The scientists' empirical method of close observation and honest and insightful reporting seems to be the most fruitful pragmatic definition of truth, in the practical sense.

In reality, truth is the method of the Enlightenment. It began with the congregation of people interested in the various scientific fields gathering and reporting their careful observations and interpretations thereof openly to one another. Science, and truth, are methods; and descriptions of the truth involve descriptions of the methods of determining the truth.

And those methods involve: observation, description, and debate. Repeat. It has left us convinced that our sway over (to say mastery of, after the terrible tsunami would be foolishness) nature is related to the words we write. Amazing.

The philosophical underpinning of the scientific method, the accumulation of truth, since the time of Hume, has been an ineluctable skepticism that renders all truth less than certain. Having admitted our uncertainty seems to have freed our reason to be much more fruitful when applied to our careful observations.

There is no truth. God is dead. Truth and certainty are dead. We've known this for 300 years. These have been the most fruitful 300 years, intellectually, in the history of the known universe. Epistemology has been properly consigned by Quine to psychology: understanding the neurobiology of the interaction of our sense receptors with the workings of our brains to put out the motor response (speech is a motor activity of course) that we observe.

Consigned? What a field of study! We know so little, we still uselessly blabber on about free will and consciousness.

Posted by: epistemology | Jan 26, 2005 10:17:35 PM

Paul Orwin:

We are arguing truth, not practicality. You fail to appreciate Hume's lasting destruction of certainty. While mathematical truths are more certain than ones derived by observation, and less than logical truths, NONE are certain.

If you think scientist must "assume" the universe exists to operate, exactly why don't logicians need to exist in your assumed universe to do their thing? And if they do, then mathematical truths (and more shockingly, logical truths) are just as dependent on assumptions; as indeed they are.

As for Grand Unified Theories: we should show a little modesty after that disastrous mischaracterization of the "obvious" truth that the sun makes a transit around the earth each day. Until gravity is incorporated into quantum electrodynamics, we can't be very certain of our truths. Either we know everything, or we know nothing for sure. We know nothing.

And if you think I have "left the realm of the useful", then you must think that of every religious person, which is the vast majority of people on the planet. If a god existed, then he could make you believe in logic when it wasn't true. So most people believe in the possibility that all we see is a ruse, a trick by an intelligence vastly past ours. Maybe for the wrong reasons, but most agree with me and Hume and Quine and Matt (wink).

Finally I'll appeal to your manifest respect for authority, Mr. Orwin, and plead with you to reconsider a position that is contradicted by the experts in the philosophy of science that have guided the technical achievements that have so impressed you.

Now It's time for dinner, so I'll put us to bed with a ditty from Ogden Nash (my apologies to his family and fans if my memory mangles it):

Gently my eyelids close,
I'd rather be good than clever;
And I'd rathe have all my facts wrong,
Than have no facts whatever.

Posted by: epistemology | Jan 26, 2005 10:44:06 PM

And if you think I have "left the realm of the useful", then you must think that of every religious person, which is the vast majority of people on the planet. If a god existed, then he could make you believe in logic when it wasn't true. So most people believe in the possibility that all we see is a ruse, a trick by an intelligence vastly past ours. Maybe for the wrong reasons, but most agree with me and Hume and Quine and Matt (wink).
Well, I think you might just be catching on! Another well respected writer/poet once wrote of "all sound and fury, signifying nothing." I think that this qualifies! Cheers.

Posted by: Paul Orwin | Jan 26, 2005 11:45:48 PM

I don't see how Kimball was 'messing up' the philosophy of science. But then I'm a scientist, and not a philosopher. Speaking of Feyerabend, I'm reminded I haven't listend to Warrren Zevon enough lately.

Posted by: norman normal | Jan 26, 2005 11:51:51 PM

Paul Orwin:

A convert! You've given up defending certainty. All is "sound and fury", BS, as they used to say.

You aren't me. Nor anyone else. We are all mental constructs for you: closer to a chair than to you. Only you are you. Maybe you have a blind faith in science, I do, but even science says that there is no consciousness but yours that you have ever experienced. You have built up this construct, that the animals into whose eyes you look, are the same as you. I agree, this delusion has me in its firm grasp too. But the only real truth is your own experience. Which seems to have no beginning, and has NEVER ended. Your mortality is an assumption. You have no proof. There can be no evidence, since the only direct evidence occurs when you are, by definition, incapable of experiencing it; ie, dead. And lest you dismiss this again as a quibble, I would argue that people often BEHAVE as if they don't think they can be the one to die. And they are right. As soon as they are dead, the statement loses its meaning, for lack of a subject, as we understand it. When we are dead the consciousness and identity we associate with a person (as an existing entity as opposed to a memory of the history of said person) ceases to exist, so the person ceases to exist. There can be no true statement of something that doesn't exist. And, as opposed to people outside of my skin that seem most like me of all animals, I have never died.

Solipsism is more intuitively clear, from a younger age, than any logic.
There is no truth.
There is no god.
There is only solipsism.
The rest we grant while it pleases us.

Posted by: epistemology | Jan 27, 2005 12:28:18 AM

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