Discussion in 'The Backstage' started by Biddlin, Nov 15, 2020.
Or expedience - no way of telling.
Which is why I asked for the definitions people are using. If we are to have a discussion we must understand one another. Your statement suggests it is a pointless word as it lacks sufficient specifity and therefore function. As such there is no point to the discussion.
I sort of agree, but often useful insight can come out of such discussions. My main problem with the words truth or true is that whenever I hear them I grit my teeth because I'm almost certain an equivocation fallacy is going to be treading on its heels.
The issue in most of these types of of discussions is that "social" and "ethical" are not separated from the more (not fully so) hard sciences. True about the existence of air is different than the social rules and behavior.
And it is exactly that equivocation between two uses of the word that causes the problem. And most of the time the person doing the talking has no idea what they are doing, and still won't get it when you explain.
It seemed such a simple question to my simple mind.
It used seem so to me before and undergraduate focus in epistemology. Philosophy messes up everything.
Epistemology is such a can of worms. Much easier to say than actually work out
In my mind, "truth" would require that certain facts to be in evidence that can be verified by measurement or objective demonstration. "Truthfulness" can be a bit more subjective and relies on one's understanding of the facts. In that sense "truthfulness" would require the person to be intent on employing their best understanding of the facts in evidence, and to be open to modification of their understanding if new facts present themselves. "Truthfulness" therefore could be also "wrong" but open to change over time. "Truth" as such may be knowable, but may not in fact be fully known by an observer at a given time while the observer still desires to be truthful.
Both are important in my view, but when an observer no longer remains open to modifying their views in the face of new evidence their claims to "truthfulness" are lost to "willful ignorance" and their views become little more than uneducated opinion at best.
This is why you never find the word truth in science. Everything is up for grabs as new evidence emerges and any scientist claiming truth would be held up to ridicule. There are facts, but those are things we observe and which science tries to explain.
I would agree with that as well. Science is about establishing matters of fact under controlled conditions. The facts can therefore be somewhat malleable depending on what control conditions and methodologies are selected by the scientist. A "true" answer depends on the question, and the selection of known facts that are available or chosen. As such any concept of a single "true" answer is of limited use in science. The best you can do is establish your conditions, parameters, and methods, prove repeatability, and then state that a given result is "true" under the specified conditions and methodology selected.
The only caveat I would add is that when making a matter of empirical observation, there can sometimes be a simple true answer. For example the shape of the planet is established beyond a reasonable doubt (in an observable 3-dimensional universe) by careful observation from a number of perspectives as well as numerous indirect methods. The observable results then can become predictable from any perspective. To state that the earth is flat would be "false". To state that the earth is overall spherical in shape with minor imperfections would be "true". To state that viewing the surface of a large sphere from an extremely close position will cause the visible portion of the surface to appear flat to the limited observer would also be both logically predictable and empirically verifiable.
So while the concept of "truth" is of limited use in the scientific method, it does remain an aspirational goal of scientific investigation that is to some extent achievable.
The shape of a planet would not fall into the true/false area. It is simply an observable fact. Truth/falseness would come into speculation about what causes it to be that shape. And of course, in that area truth is never claimed. The highest accolade given by science is Theory. If only more walks of life were so modest.
You are correct that the shape of the planet is not a "true or false" question, but to state that it is generally spherical would be a true statement that would be verifiable under all available conditions and observations. To state that it was shaped like a pyramid would be verifiable as "false" using the same methodology. The point being that an answer to an abstract empirical question (such as "what is the shape of the planet?") can be established as "true" or "false" based on scientific principals. "Truth" as such is concept that I would argue is the goal of scientific inquiry, but is not a direct result of the process. I think we would agree on that. It is the quality of establishing common principals for the purposes of communication between rational beings. Statements that are "true" would be verifiable from one person to the next using the scientific method, statements that are "false" would not.
But here's the problem. For many years it was true that the atmosphere contained phlogiston, which was the essence of heat. Everyone could observe it and verify the truth of it. But it wasn't a fact and it took better science to work out the transfer of energy. This is why despite lay people talking about truth, it has no place in science.
I would be curious how you would describe the statement "The earth is shaped like a pyramid" without using the qualitative words "true" or "false"? I think the crux of the issue is where one thinks the "truth" resides. The "Truth" does not reside in the universe, it resides in the mind. A scientist must be willing to re-evaluate what they consider true based on the state of their discipline and understanding of the universe rather than assume the truth is immutable or somehow embodied in the universe they are trying to understand. Science starts with the precept that the universe is "knowable", and sets out to establish an accurate understanding of that universe. If the universe is not "knowable", there is no point in trying to understand it, and certainly no reason to measure or describe anything at all.
A scientist should be able to immediately discard as false the statement that "the Earth is generally spherical in shape" if they are faced with incontrovertible proof to the contrary without pain or loss. The fact that it was previously considered "true" should not impede the progress of scientific knowledge. Conversely that fact should not prevent one from establishing principals that can be considered "true" for the purposes of communication and logic. In this example however, "truth" resides in the evidence supporting the description of the reality not the planet itself. All the evidence supports the spherical planet theory, and all apparent contradictory "evidence" can be resolved by logical analysis of the entire body of knowledge. Therefor the statement "The Earth is generally spherical in shape" can be in my estimation to be "true".
In the case of "Phlogiston", I would say with the benefit of hindsight that is was probably a mistake to presume the existence of "something" based on incomplete evidence to the affirmative, but I am also willing to say that as a scientist it would be incumbent on me to consider that a hypothesis or theory COULD be correct or incorrect until proven one way or the other with a preponderance of evidence. It is impossible to prove something doesn't exist based solely on it's apparent absence, but if something does exist (no matter how hard it is to find) it should be possible to compile evidence. The hard part is eliminating all alternative explanations for that evidence. If other alternative explanations exist then it would be a mistake to claim objective "truth" . When a theory or hypothesis becomes widely accepted with a questionable but persuasive preponderance of evidence, it will become more difficult to convince the community otherwise, but with adequate proof it should always be possible.
We can revere the concept of "truth", but we have to remember that it is ultimately a human construct, but one that can be of great benefit in organized thinking and communication. In science it should be based on understanding and preponderance of evidence. There would simply be no point in describing the circumference of the earth without first accepting as "true" that the earth might be round, or even existed in the first place. Ultimately all evidence should either support the hypothesis or the accepted "truth" or inevitably lead to the reexamination of one's precepts.
And here I thought I was asking a question about values and character.
Like when someone attributes a vice or bullshit to someone else, it's often something that that individual is himself doing.
Questions are seldom about what the questioner intended.
The pyramid statement is true to an extent. Topologically the earth and a pyramid are identical. But on the topic of knowability - that is impossible to assess. But to go to the point of reasoning that if you can't know everything there is no point studying anything, well that could be a textbook example of a false dichotomy. The fact is that we know an awful lot about the universe, and we are learning more every day, a great deal of which is showing errors in our previous thinking. We needn't concern ourselves with what, or how much we currently don't know. Just give us time.
The problem of the shape of the earth has consequences. We've all known for a hundred years that the highest mountain on earth is Everest - established fact, right? No. It is the highest point relative to the nearest sea level. But we now know that sea level is a lousy reference point - it changes all the time, even locally. A far better measure which we can now make with amazing accuracy is what point is furthest from earth's centre. That feels like a much more satisfactory measure from every point of view. Using that method, Everest comes in at No. 12. All the highest stuff is in the Andes.
I disagree with your suggestion that scientists should assume that something could be correct or incorrect until the evidence is in for either. Falsifiable evidence for a proposition is the only acceptable evidence. Until that point there is no opinion. Remember that philosophy does not concern itself with questions, only propositions.
I feel like we are getting farther apart on this one,..
I will own that some of my statements above were not as clear as i would have liked, but hey, thousands of philosophers throughout history have spent a life time of study trying to analyze and present concepts such as truth and beauty in a coherent, logical,and consistent manner who have still not met with universal acceptance. And here I thought I was going bang it out before dinner time!
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