The philosophy of truth: I read this stuff so you don’t have to

Not one of us has all the truth, but we have part
Not one of us has all the truth, but we have part

I see a lot of sneering references to the ignorance of an opponent in social media, and in the oh-so-fun comments from readers of controversial articles.

“When did ignorance become a valid position?”

“Just because you deny a fact doesn’t make it untrue.”

It is interesting to note that Americans are very bad at argument in the classical sense; that is persuasion through rhetoric, presentation of supporting evidence and logic. Argument is supposed to bring both parties closer to the truth, and it might do so if they were not both convinced they were perfectly right in the first place and thus their opponent is either stupid or evil.

Hilariously, Americans are very good at playground antics, sticking out their tongues and calling each other “poopy-pants.”

“You libtards are all the same, sucking at the teat of the nanny state.”

“Nanna, nanna, boo-boo”

More ominously, anything vaguely to do with racial issues will produce comments that will fry the ends off your hair follicles.

“You Jews always have been a bunch of hook-nosed, blood-sucking parasites.”

“You goyim monkeys just ride off on your camels now.”(followed by a reference to other things goyim monkeys do with their camels that I won’t mention here.)

A few arguers demand facts, of which they claim that the other party is ignorant. The opponent is lying or deceived. They do not know, or are not speaking The Truth. How do you determine what is truth?

If a scientist says a thing, it is truth. “Science says ….”

If 90% of scientists surveyed agree, wow, that’s super truth.

If the Apostle Paul says a thing, it is truth.

If all the church fathers agree on what Paul meant, that’s a super truth.

If 90% of scientists disagree with 100% of the church fathers? Let the games begin!

The study of Truth is in the domain of philosophy. No one wants a boarding pass on the Ship of Fools, but really how do you know what is true? After thousands of years, the verdict is in:

“…it is far from clear that truth is a definable notion.” Stanford Encylopedia of Philsophy

Here is a typical philosophical discussion of truth. Feel free to skip this paragraph if you wish to continue having a nice day:

“By contrast, the axiomatic approach does not presuppose that truth can be defined. Instead a formal language is expanded by a new primitive predicate for truth, and axioms for that predicate are laid down. This does not preclude the possibility that the truth predicate is definable, although in many cases it can be shown that the truth predicate is undefinable.”

But don’t panic. You believe many things based on probabilities as you see them. You must believe this way or you couldn’t make it through a day. Probably most of the things you believe are true, surely a few of the things you believe are false, because you have changed your mind in the past and there is little reason to think that NOW you know everything.

Thing is, just a little humility is appropriate, yes? just a little less dogmatism? And it would be great if we learned how to argue in such a way that at the end, we were both a little closer to the truth.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s