Truth & Other Fictions

Sunday, December 27, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

We've titled this week's show "Truth – and Other Fictions."  Now that’s a provocative title, since truth is usually opposed to fiction.  So why don’t we break it down and start with truth.  

Some people think Aristotle basically had it right when he said, "To say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true".  I take it he meant that, for example, if I say this apple is red, what I say is true if this apple actually has the property of being red.  If I say this apple is not red, what I say is true if this apple does not have the property of being red.  What more is there to say?

Well, that’s all about what’s said or spoken.  But what about unspoken truths?  For instance, did a dinosaur sleep on this spot 60 million years ago?  That and a zillion others things like it would be true or false even if no one were ever around to talk about it.

This is starting to sound like Truth with a capital ‘T’ -- truth as a thing rather than as a mere property of assertions.  There’s everything that happens in the world, and then, hovering over all of that in some strange way, there is the Truth.  But do we need Truth with a capital ‘T’?  What’s wrong with Aristotle’s focus on truth as a property that beliefs and assertions can have?

We may not need truth with a capital ‘T’, but surely we do need more than apples and colors in the world.  We need more than individual objects and their simple properties.  There are laws of nature … and truths about morality, and God, and numbers.  All kinds of stuff.  And Aristotle doesn’t tell us what it means for all those truths to be true.

Maybe that’s no big problem.  That’s why philosophers these days talk more about facts.  If I say such and such, then what I say is true if there is a fact that's such and such.  I’ll revise the definition.  Assertions and beliefs are true if they correspond to the facts.  But now in addition to objects having properties, you’ve got a whole world of facts -- whatever those might be.  And that's way more complicated than Aristotle’s original idea.

So what if we forget about facts?  Here’s the simple point I think Aristotle was making: It’s true that the apple is red if the apple is red.  It’s true that E=mc2 if E=mc2.  To say that something is true, is just to say that thing.  That may not sound terribly informative, but that's why people call it the deflationary theory.  Truth is just a compliment we pay to sentences we are prepared to assert.

Simple as that sounds, though, as a theory it doesn’t work.  In fact, it leads to contradictions, something the Greeks worried about too.  Let’s say I say, “My statement is not true”.  Now, on the deflationist's formula, it’s true that my statement is not true if my statement is not true.  But if my statement is NOT true, it can’t also be true!  So we get the Liar’s Paradox.  We could try to ignore that problem and just avoiding saying stupid things like “My statement is not true,” but then it seems we're just pretending that we have a good theory of truth.  It's almost as though there’s really no such thing as truth -- it’s just a fiction we find useful at times.

Which brings us full circle to the title of the show -- Truth and Other Fictions.  The big question, then, is whether there really is something called The Truth?  Or is the idea of truth itself a fiction, something we just make up because it’s convenient?  

 

Comments (20)


Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

There is something called

There is something called truth, that often gets twisted beyond recognition, because it is (as Al Gore once said): inconvenient. As a result, the idea of truth often gets beaten down, beaten up, or dismissed with a nod and a wink. I am pretty sure there are SOME THINGS that are true, in spite of alternative motives, spin doctors, and insipid pundits. There is no need to list true things: they speak for themselves and require no validation. They are, metaphorically, within the realm of a noted US Supreme Court Justice' comment regarding pornography, roughly paraphrased as: I don't know the definition of pornography, but I know it when I see it. Truer words were never spoken. And that is the truth. I look forward to comments on this topic. Those ought to nicely dovetail with some recent topics and show a microcosm of modern intellectualism. We shall see.

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, March 28, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

"My statement is not true."

"My statement is not true."
The classification of such verbal constructs baffled logicians for a couple of millennia. True if false, and false if true, such constructs tended to be classed as meaningless. In the 1950s, G Spencer Brown, a student of Bertrand Russell, finally solved the problem; or. to be more precise, he pointed out that the problem had already been solved centuries earlier by mathematicians.
Consider the equation, x(x) + 1 = 0
Then, x = -1/(x)
If x = +1, then +1 = -1
If x = -1, then -1 = +1
Thus, x is positive if it is negative and negative if positive just as the problematic statement is true if false and false if true. In addition , the statement and mathematical equation are self referential. They are of the same form.
When mathematicians first encountered such equations they realized that their classification of numbers as positive, negative, or zero was inadequate. They added an additional class called "imaginary" numbers to overcome the problem. So, too, suggested G Spencer Brown, logicians needed an additional class, which he called "imaginary," in addition to true, false, and meaningless. (It is said that Bertrand Russell was delighted to have lived long enough to see the problem solved.)
A delightful topic. I, too, look forward to the comments.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, March 29, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

TRUTH

TRUTH
IS
Truth is life without uncertain difference.
Truth is the foundation of all equations.
Truth is more simple than thought.
Truth is the light of a new dawn.
Truth is equal, united and free.
Truth is Grand Unification.
Truth is absolute certainty.
Truth is hidden by theory.
Truth is blinded by faith.
Truth is what we seek.
Truth is measureless.
Truth is the solution.
Truth is self-evident.
Truth is everything.
Truth is the cure.
Truth is infinite.
Truth is good.
Truth is right.
Truth is just.
Truth is One.
Truth is All.
Truth is
=

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, March 31, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

Something called truth exists

Something called truth exists. Some things are true, others, false. That individuals, groups or movements will distort truth for their own gain is as old as homo sapiens' ability to manipulate the reality is has created. The circle is being completed by the fact of fiction(s) becoming truth(s). And so, while some truths are immutable, others are subject to change, under numerous conditions. This has been called situational ethics, or in politics: waffling or flip-flopping. There is truth, then, and there is fiction. How these are construed is the big question.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

Sunrise and sunset are

Sunrise and sunset are convenient fictions. Although everyone understands that it is the rotation of the Earth and not the movement of the Sun that is causing these phenomena, who watches a sunrise or sunset and does not imagine that it is the Sun that is moving? Might this serve as a model for the many fictions that we use?
Myths, rationalizations, and even occasional lies can make life more pleasant provided that they cause no harm. But, there are times when truth and reality must be allowed to intrude. For example, almost everyone has heard the caution to wait an hour after eating before going swimming. Unfortunately the caution has led to a popular belief (perpetuated by parents and even teachers) that swimming on an empty stomach is the safest policy. In fact, the caution was intended to encourage people to have at least a substantial snack and then to wait at least an hour to let the digestive process flood the bloodstream with the protective factors that prevent cramping before entering the water to swim.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

Current Events:

Current Events:
Just returned from Borneo. I've been studying a tribe whose primitive knowledge is astounding. They know how to get the most benefit from available resources. For example, and not surprisingly, they are masters of botanical medicine and many of the naturopathic remedies we have been hearing about for the last half-century. They have developed ant-farming to a fine art---for reasons that will remain undisclosed. I have to admit one personal interest: they have a cure for hemorrhoids---that too, shall remain undisclosed.
You, gentle readers, may deduce, induce, or reduce the veracity of this story. My personal integrity does not mind scrutiny. This blog post is, after all, about truth---and other fictions...

Fred Griswold's picture

Fred Griswold

Wednesday, April 3, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

Here's a way to approach the

Here's a way to approach the liar's (or Epimenedes) paradox that Arvoasitis brings up. It really says two things, that it's true and that it's not true. Since it's saying two things, maybe it would be better to divide it up into two statements:
The next sentence is true.
The previous sentence is false.
Then you get to decide the truth of each of these statements independently. You could decide 1) that the first statement is true and the second statement is false; or 2) that the first statement is false and the second statement is true. If you take either of these two alternatives, the paradox vanishes.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, April 5, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

The Sun does rise and move

The Sun does rise and move across the sky and set,
And if ever it doesn't it won't matter what you eat before swimming.
If you are still searching for truth, study Nature.
Thoreau wrote: How indispensable to a correct study of Nature is a perception of her true meaning. The fact will One day flower out into a truth. The season will mature and fructify what the understanding has cultivated. Mere accumulators of fact---collectors of materials for the master workmen---are like those plants growing in dark forests, which "put forth only leaves instead of blossoms."
The flower that grows
Nature's truth is immeasurable,
Her Unity, our Oneness, the single absolute.
=

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, April 5, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

Mr. Ahles, bless his meta

Mr. Ahles, bless his meta-physical soul, always brings us down to Earth and the simplicity of oneness. And, regardless of how we may espouse the expansion of complexity, we should pause and consider those things that make us happiest vs. those that do not. I wonder when it was that we first doubted truth and, moreover, why? There must have been at least one tipping point. I do not think it was Hiroshima. So, if there was some such epiphany, then---how long did it take for us to fashion the truth-as-fiction notion? Or, has it always been with us---ever since we became smart enough to lie? Tell me a story. I have heard many...

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, April 5, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

Truth (with a capital T) is

Truth (with a capital T) is the entire body of possible statements that are true. It doesn't exist as a platonic form, but it's still true! And red, for example, has a specific definition (from wikipedia) as light with the wavelength between 620-740 nanometers. Another example: If "only God is good" and "I am good" are true, then I am God is also true. Which might be another way of saying if "God is love" and "I love myself", then I God myself. Self-apotheosis! I think Philosophy Talk is fun.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, April 7, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

Unless I am missing the point

Unless I am missing the point in several of the blogs, I think that there is a great deal of faulty reasoning in the blogs on the current topic.
"This statement is false," seems to belong to a dimension other than true, false, or meaningless however one manipulates it.
"This statement is true," seems to me to be meaningless because simply saying that something is true does not make it so.
"This statement is meaningless," seems to me to be true.
Even though the professional logicians may not agree with my view, clearly there seem to be problems with the analysis of all simple self-referential statements.
Not so obvious, is the problem with the verb "is" and other variations of "to be." As George Santayana remarked ( in Scepticism and Animal Faith), "Whenever I use the word "is," except in sheer tautology, I deeply misuse it; and when I discover my error, the world seems to fall asunder . . .."
P.S. I first raised the issue of the liar's (or Epimenides) paradox n the hope that it could be set aside without further adieu.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, April 8, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

Great question Paul!

Great question Paul!
Where did fiction start and truth end?
Who let the dogs out?
I think it all started with the uncertainty of a question that led to more uncertainty of thought. Some of those thoughts became uncertain answers, which led to sharing One's uncertain thoughts. Some of those shared uncertainties became stories passed on from people to people, generation to generation. And those same uncertain answers and stories became theories and others became faiths. Those theories and faiths led to the uncertainties of science and the uncertainties of religion. And those uncertain dogmas with all of its followers question today, what is certainty, what is the truth?
Today many and most are buried under a blanket of uncertainty, passed on from the uncertainties of old. To find the truth again one must simply remove what is not. Enlightenment is simply this Way!
Truth is more certain than a question,
And much more simple than thought.
=
MJA

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, April 8, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

Good show, Jesse! Cogito,

Good show, Jesse! Cogito, ergo grok. If you are young enough not to have read R.A. Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, please take the time to do so. It was, for me, a special story at a confusing time. And, IMHO, it remains timeless.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, April 9, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

Thanks, Michael. There was

Thanks, Michael. There was more than one question, though. It does not matter. Allow me to say this: your poetry is sensitive, if redundant. Your prose, when you let it out, is intelligent and philosophically provocative. We both like the blog---here's hoping our ideas/notions/opinions are adding something to the discussion.

Guest's picture

Guest

Thursday, April 18, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

Truth is somewhat relative.

Truth is somewhat relative. This evening, while watching Entertainment Tonight's coverage of the Boston terrorism, ABC News broke into the broadcast with REAL coverage of new developments in the ensuing manhunt. This crisis will end soon, if it has not already ended. For the record, it is not my understanding that Entertainment Tonight is a news program. Apparently, that program's creators believe that it is such. We have more than enough programming devoted to news coverage and we are subjected to plenty of it. ET ought to stick with what it does best: the sordid, maudlin, self-indulgent lives of entertainers. I wonder if anyone else thinks this way? Yes, truth is relative. Yet also necessary. Within the confines of context.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, June 29, 2013 -- 5:00 PM

Is truth really exists or not

Is truth really exists or not? Both of them.
To me truth is the average point our individual perceptions of nature that isn't proofed false yet. We might be proud of Einstein's view of Relativity that enlightens to the outworldly sensation of knowing more the universe upon a human's view. The next day we might see a scientist who revives Newton's Mechanism.
It exists as it represents the Nature, while it doesn't as it has an expiration date.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, December 27, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

I'll begin comment by listing

I'll begin comment by listing some things that I believe (at this moment) to be true. Some may take exception to one or more of the following sobriquets. That is, after all, the essence of philosophical thought and discussion. Not everyone sees what everyone else sees, neither individually nor collectively. We argue; disassemble; revise; collaborate and occasionally reach consensual plateaus which are, more or less, true with some alterations. And so, here we go:
1) Complexity is nuclear, feeding upon itself. It is reward and punishment; blessing and curse.
2) Simplicity supports serenity.
3) Every good friend becomes a bad influence when we come to believe all he (generic) says.
Discussion of S1: It is argued that ever increasing complexity is the way of the Universe. This argument is supported by Physics and Mathematics, as best as I am able to understand those worthwhile disciplines. In this sense, then, complexity is a facet of that quantity we refer to as truth. On a different, less scientific plane, complexity is embraced as a true facet of everyday human affairs because we have made it so. We have increasingly complicated our day-to-day living patterns, in order to keep up with whomever it may be that we wish to keep up with, for a myriad of reasons. We do these physical and emotional gymnastics, willingly, keeping up appearances for various personal satisfactions and/or socio-economic gains, without need of either Physics or Math. And, thus, complexity is a true state of being in both instances.
Discussion of S2: Through much of recorded time and within several metaphysical and theological ways of approaching a state of oneness with the all, simplicity has been held up as a key to the attainment of an enlightened mind and spirit. Stopping the world; quieting one's internal dialog and other such techniques are utilized to reach serenity and a clearness of being that is unreachable without utter detachment. Anecdotally, those who are able to do so are capable of otherwise impossible feats and/or capacities. And so, at some level of separate reality, simplicity is a true path leading to a desired altered state of being. I have only approached such a state of being once. It was hard work---and, damned scary. In a different facet of the same world, however, simplicity will simply not get the job done. One does not ride simplicity to the moon. Or to Mars.
Discussion of S3: Many of us have good friends who will tell us the truth about most anything if that truth-telling does not embarrass or inconvenience them. Of result in financial ruin. But, regardless of long-standing friendship, we must remain vigilant and skeptically pragmatic. If we fall ill and are diagnosed as terminal, our friends and family are squeamish about bearing the bad news. Our doctor(s) may be no better. The Sword of Damocles is a daunting presence that no one wishes to countenance head on.
Therefore, as we have previously witnessed in the comments above, truth is a deceptive notion, subject to revision and situationally slippery. I suppose that is why liars continue to thrive and truth sayers are considered naive.
To your health,
Neuman.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Monday, December 28, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

Truth is the intuition of an

Truth is the intuition of an immediate relation between experience and reason. There is no such immediacy. But the intuition comes from an unaccountably extensive reduction of experience by reason and of reason by experience. The colloquial sense of truth comes of a disinclination to credit that reductive drama. It is hardly ineffable, but it is simply too extensive to account for, and so we slur over it with clumsy short-cuts, and expect agreement where we have no right to it. We also cannot believe that the full extent of reductive effort we each engage in alone can possibly be matched in others, and so we preach nonsensical senses of "truth" rather than engage in the kind of endless dialogue that might actually reveal who we are together in that limitless enjoining of experience in reason and reason in experience, neither of which is complete in itself. There is nothing in the universe so extensive as thought. Because it is there, and only there, that the limitless reductive rigor breaks through the hermetic seal between reason and experience and through which reductive reason changes every term of experience and reductive experience changes every term of reason, and, together, is the most extensive term of time, because nothing is more encompassing than that change. Truth changes everything. But this intuition, which we each achieve only alone, cannot be expressed amongst us except as a truncated expectation of agreement, when, in fact and in reason, it is a reductive term of differing, not consent or agreement or "coherence". And so "truth" becomes dogma where unity consistency and uniformity is resorted to as a deferral of the rigor that is too extensive to share, or even to bring to conclusion. Philosophy is not about reaching conclusions, it is about discovering that most extensive rigor that we cannot share in such simple terms as the conventional sense of "truth".

MJA's picture

MJA

Tuesday, December 29, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

Beneath all knowledge is

Beneath all knowledge is innocence, Truth is found here. = 

sageorge's picture

sageorge

Wednesday, December 30, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

Is there really any

Is there really any difficulty here?  Surely people can say or write or believe things that are wrong, mistaken, false.  In a logical system like arithmetic and math, if I say and believe ?1 + 0 = 1,? then as the original essay states it implies that I believe ? ?1 + 0 = 1? is true?, and evidently I?m correct about that, based on the definitions of unity, zero, addition etc.  But if I say and believe ?1 + 0 = 0? I am wrong; what I?m saying is demonstrably false, i.e. untrue, the negation of true.  In the realm of beliefs and statements that are ?contingent? rather than logically necessary, i.e. beliefs about things that could have been otherwise, it?s the same thing: if I say I?m sitting here typing this out now, what I?m saying has a strong claim to being true, aside from hyperbolic Cartesian-style doubt.   If I say I?m sending it from my home on Mars, it?s false.  One could always say that any belief or statement put into words or math is subject to important unresolved questions about how words and math symbols can have meaning at all.  Fair enough, but we in this forum are after all communicating with seeming success using words and symbols, so hopefully we can carry on while philosophers work on clarifying how meaning and reference work.   Maybe the perceived difficulty is how we can be sure a given belief is true, but that is a separate issue from whether the meaning of ?true? and ?false? is problematic.  ?Truth with a capital T? as something distinct from the lower-case version is another matter ? as far as I can see it adds nothing, so by all means let?s dispense with it! 
- Steve George

 
 
 

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