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What is truth (split from post poll)

reason

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Toonia,

I believe our disagreement can be reduced to three problematic premises; first the premise that knowledge must be verified by observation; second, that true statements must be precise; and third, that a statement cannot be true unless it is also known. To thoroughly refute each of these premises is no simple task, so I have to ask that you bear with me while we examine each.

From the position that all knowledge must be verified by observation there follow some interesting conclusions:

(1) It is impossible for me to know whether the statement "Toonia is feeling calm," is true or false. I can only verify statements such as "Toonia has a slow heart rate," "Toonia has low levels of cortisol in her bloodstream," or "Toonia is slouched in her chair." I cannot verify the statement "Toonia is feeling calm," because Toonia's subjective experience is unverifiable to all but Toonia herself.​

Therefore, only Toonia can really know whether the statement "Toonia is feeling calm" is true, such a statement is only subjectively verifiable.

(2) The kind of statements which can be inter-subjectively known are those of science, such as the statement "the electromagnetic waves arriving from the direction of the sky and interacting with the photosensitive proteins in my retina, have a wavelength between 440 and 490 nanometres." This statement can be verified by both of us.​

Therefore, the statement in (2) can be known by Toonia and anyone else, or may be called objectively verifiable.

That difficulties may arise with such a pressuposition that knowledge must be verified by observation can be easily shown. For example, we can make the following deductions:

(3) The kind of statements commonly found in science, such as "every object in the universe attracts every other object of the universe with a force proportional to the objects' mass and distance" (i.e. universal quantifiers) are unverifiable, and therefore, unknowable​

In fact, every scientific law is unverifiable, since a law is a prohibition of a particular set of occurences, but since we can never scour the entire universe to verify the law, such laws cannot, according the presupposition that knowledge is verified by observation, be considered knowledge.

(4) The future cannot be known or predicted, since statements about what has not yet occured cannot be verified, and thus cannot be considered knowledge.​

This problem, in conjunction with (4) places us in a position where only the past and that which has been observed so far can be known.

(5) The statement "memory is a collection of previously verified experience," cannot be verified by experience, and so cannot be known to anyone.​

This places us in the sorry position that memory cannot be verified as a source of past verifications, and cannot be considered knowledge.

(6) It is impossible for me to know whether the statement "Toonia has subjective experience," is true or false. I can only verify statements such as "Toonia has a slow heart rate," "Toonia has low levels of cortisol in her bloodstream," or "Toonia is slouched in her chair." I cannot know that Toonia has any subjective experience at all.​

So far this principle leads us to the conclusion that the past is unknowable, the future is unknowable, science is impossible and that other minds are unknowable. If this was not enough to demonstrate the poverty of such a principle, then the following may perhaps suffice.

(7) The statement "there is a reality beyond our sensory perceptions," is univerifiable, since all verification of the external world consists of sensory perceptions, we can never know there is anything but those sensory perceptions.​

(edit: I forgot here to also mention that ethical knowledge suffers the same fate)

These problems would seem enough, but lurking behind all this is a deeper error; the presuppostion that observation is an epistemic authority, or that observation can in some way justify our statements. That we can only really know something if we can justifiably know it, and to that end we must justify our premises with reference to an authority, such as sense observation, The Bible, clear and distinct ideas, subjective experience, etc. Indeed, it can be easily shown that any such principle leads to an infinite regress, and even if we could somehow stem that regress, would be a ciruclar argument.

For example, let us take the proposition "R" and try to justify it. You'll notice that to justify "R" we must be able to derive "R" from a justifier, so we invoke "Q" as our justifier:

If Q then R

However, this may seem to justify "R", but now "Q" and "If Q then R" are unjustified. Now it is evident that "R" is not really justified at all if "Q" and "If Q then R" are unjustifed, so we may invoke "P":

If P then (If Q then R)

But this obviously does not solve our problem, since "P" and "If P then (If Q then R)" are unjustified, then it follows that neither are "If Q then R," "Q" or "R." In fact, even should we somehow stem this regress, perhaps by dogmatic assertion ("P is true and that's just the end of it!"), the argument would still be circular. This is because if "If Q then R," "Q" and "R" are to be deduced (i.e. deducted) from P, then P already asserts them to be true. The argument is circular!

(edit: It can also be shown that the requirement of justification (or verification, confirmation, good reasons etc.), is itself unjustifiable, not only any proposed justifiers.)

This brings me on to the premise that I cannot assert statements to be true unless they are also known to be true. Firstly, if a statement is true then it is true irrespective of whether we have satsified some supposed epistemic authority; secondly, if such epistmic standards lead to inconsistency, as argued above, then the very demand should be dropped. This leads me on to pointing out that true belief, not justifiably true belief should be our goal. Indeed in practical matters the two are indistinguishable.

I will get to approximate truth and precise truth later, now I need a break.
 

Siúil a Rúin

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...This brings me on to the premise that I cannot assert statements to be true unless they are also known to be true. Firstly, if a statement is true then it is true irrespective of whether we have satsified some supposed epistemic authority; secondly, if such epistmic standards lead to inconsistency, as argued above, then the very demand should be dropped. This leads me on to pointing out that true belief, not justifiably true belief should be our goal. Indeed in practical matters the two are indistinguishable.
Interesting post. I believe you just pointed out the source of my skepticism as a mindset. What is true belief vs. justifiably true belief? I see the problems with the assumptions of observation, but what would it be replaced with? Logic? But isn't that also observed? Does observation imply the concrete world alone or would it include measuring the consistency of theoretical systems as well? I was assuming it including both.

Here's an attempt to refine and reorganize. I agree that on some level everything is unknowable if you look deep enough. Knowledge is approximate regardless of how it is arrived at. Even measuring a state of calm based on blood pressure is knowable only as an approximation since blood pressure changes minutely with each heartbeat unique to the individual.

There appear to be two separate processes in the discovering/conveying of truths.

The first process is based on observation and investigation. Even if physical laws cannot be observed in every case, they can be supposed based on the patterns present in current observations. There is a systematic process by which further observations can occur. It could well be that all observation is an approximation and incomplete, on some level unknowable. We are limited to our senses and little minds. This is a true source of my skepticism as a way of approaching information. It is as though there are not absolute truths, but truths that are likely enough through observation and measurement that doubt becomes negligible.

The second process starts from the vantage point of experience, of knowing that experience fully, since it is defined by however it presents itself. (I'm not referring to knowing oneself, but merely experience) We start with the conclusion and work to convey that truth. Since it can only be observed by self, it is not possible to fully convey the truth, and so the best we can achieve through words, expressions, metaphor, and artistic language, is an approximation of that truth.

I have been using the term objective to describe the process of investigation through observation and measurement, and the term subjective to describe the process of experience conveyed through expression. It may well be a misleading use of these terms, but there is a distinction worth recognizing. I will emphasize these as processes using approximation and neither can likely ever fully achieve its intent.
 

TaylorS

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Objective truth exists, but we can't know such truths as they actually are because we can't know things-in-themselves, we can only understand approximations of such truths (that is, the true nature of the Cosmos) and we use Science to make such approximation.
 

RaptorWizard

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RaptorWizard's responce to SolitaryWalker's What is truth (split from post poll) thread:

SolitaryWalker says we impose our perceptions on the world, that we see illusions similar enough to one another that we each see relatively the same physical objects. He also postulates the world may hold codes for its design that could be symbolized with languages like mathematics, and although I side with him in his general codifications theory, I believe mathematics is too definitive and absolute in its measures to embrace the endless possibilities present in the world. He also defines truth as our perceptions aligning with the outside universe, which would imply the mind transcends truth, the mind possibly having a higher reality to it that perhaps could flow outwardly and become truth. This would, in a sense, make some truth subjective, as its creation may have sprung from our own visions and dreams, unlike SolitaryWalker says. He believes to the contrary, since he holds reality is just there and incompletely translated into an imperfect understanding, whereas I have faith that, should our wills reach the right heights in power, that we could at a much higher level of alteration create the very essence of our lives and what we experience as reality. For me the world holds infinite promise for us.

:wizfreak:
 
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