Truth, What It Is

If anyone is interested in philosophy, then this may be a worthwhile read.  I know, for many this may just be common knowledge.   I am putting up a blog that I have created from scratch, no cookie-cutter Wix for me, that will hone in on concepts that I believe all critical thinkers should know.  This may be included.  It has a liberal bias of course, but that is because liberals have the science more often than not correct, oh, and they seem to care a little more about things.  The first part is truth in brief, while the latter part deals with it in depth.  A discussion on truth matters because conservatives, religious fanatics, and pundits label liberals relativists.

A Brief Overview of Truth

Truth is an important topic. In fact, without a notion of truth, which is what conforms to reality, we would not be able to function very well. It is also important to the world of politics since everyone believes they are right. Is truth relative as in “what is true for you may not be true for me”, or are truths absolute as in everywhere and always true and independent of what we believe? It depends upon what type of truths we are considering. I, however, reject the notion of absolute objective truth because even facts about nature are dependent upon our understanding. This makes every fact relative to at the very least our minds. After all, without our conceptual systems (how we categorize and understand our reality) nature would just be stuff that does stuff with stuff. But if I, for example, claim that a cup is on the table, then the cup’s existence is absolute. The claim, however, that the cup is on the table, as expressed in language, is always relative to our understanding. That is, in order to understand it, we must have the same language and concepts. This does not mean that everything is open to interpretation or is relative. Things instead can be objectively true within a framework. This means that we must settle on relative objective truths. [If you still don’t get it, then read the in-depth discussion.]

Truth is a kind of illusory rule-following, the purpose of which has long been forgotten; it’s a “mobile army of metaphors” that become “enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically” by people in charge.

Was Nietzsche Right?

If something is a matter of fact, then there is some consensus on how to determine its truth. Does the senate have 100 seats? Does demand increase when prices decrease all else equal? These issues can be settled, and these facts obviously do not care what we believe. Facts can be established by definition or by observing a phenomena, and we can determine the truth of a fact by either observation or reasoning. Opinions, by contrast, are subjective because they are based on our preferences. Is a dog a good pet? There is no way to settle the issue and only the person making the claim has access to the things that make it true. We should not, however, claim that objective truth is more important than subjective truth since it depends upon the situation.

Nietzsche is referring to mostly definitional facts that we create. These truths are often called intersubjective by postmodernists because the definitions are based on people’s perception which go on to form a consensus. As much as postmodernism gets wrong since they do not believe any truth should be given priority over another truth, they are correct in that all truth is relative to a framework. Our language and concepts, for example, form a unique framework in how to view the world. As far as science is concerned, I reject the postmodernist’s claims that it is but one of many narratives. There is a reality that is independent of us, and we can know this reality. In fact, we would not be able to survive if our concepts were not a reflection of reality’s important attributes.

We Prove Morals True

What is important for the world of politics are beliefs, values, and morals. These types of truths are difficult to prove. They are important, however, because they can shape our reality just as much as the facts of nature do. Since we operate as if our beliefs are true, then they can be thought of as facts. Morals are not facts about the natural world that we observe of course. For example, the claim that abortion is immoral becomes a fact to the believer. They then try to show how it is immoral by way of argument. All moral systems believe that morality is about human wellbeing, so we could argue that morality is absolute. But it depends on who gets to define it. If we frame abortion as a baby instead of as a cluster of cells, then conservatives are correct when they claim abortion is immoral. Conversely, liberals are also correct that abortion is moral because destroying cells is not killing a person. It is framing differences that cause truth to seem like it is up for grabs. When it comes to certain kinds of truths, Nietzsche may be correct.

For those who demand an in depth treatment of truth, namely on objectivism and absolutism.  

I. Are We Absolutely Sure?

The political and religious right hate the word relativism. I suspect that they would score low on personality assessments that test for openness to experience but high for a need for order, structure, and closure. Because not liking relativism suggests a difficulty in dealing with nuance. The world is complex and things depend on other things. What can we say for certain is absolute—that is, what is always and everywhere true (universal) and not dependent upon things to make it true (unconditional)? Not much unless we restrict what counts as making the fact conditional. Is one and one always and everywhere two? This seems to be the case. We made up mathematics, so this should not be surprising. Does the fact that we have to understand the fact count as the fact being dependent on something else? It all depends. All triangles have three sides. I concede that this is an absolute objective fact. But, again, are we being too restrictive in what counts as a relation to the fact since we cannot have a conversation without understanding the fact in the first place?

What about the idea that relativism refutes itself because if it is not absolutely true, then how can everything be relative? The statement is not meant to be self-referential. Language is a tool to communicate ideas and that is what the statement does. This is where things get tricky. Take the true proposition that “the cup is on the table.” This is known as a true truth bearer. The claim, which is itself true, is referring to (or bearing) a truth. What the claim refers to, not the claim itself, is an absolute fact because its existence is independent of our minds and is always and everywhere true. But the linguistic claim itself cannot be absolute because it depends upon our understanding. And some cultures, for example, may not have a concept for cup. For the statement one and one is two, if we believe that math is neither an objective nor transcedent part of the universe, which cognitive science shows easily, then it is only a universal fact because of humans. Although math may reveal objective features of the universe, it itself is not an objective feature of the world.

The words absolute and objective are often used interchangeably. If we define absolute as independent of only the mind (unconditional) and everywhere and always (universal) true, then our analysis becomes easier. Objectivism, which is a model on how to perceive the world, makes an ontological split between “objects,” which are “out there,” and subjectivity, which is “in here”. Objectivity translates to “things themselves”. It is when we fit the world to words as it “actuallly” is, minimizing subjectivity (bias). When scientists say that we can know the objective world, they only mean it in the sense that there is a world independent of our subjectivity. With science’s advanced instrumentation, we would have to agree that we can characterize reality in many ways. They cannot say though that their version of reality will be universal in all possible worlds.

Objects, however, do not come with descriptions in themselves; we must make descriptions with our conceptual systems. As we will find out, our conceptual systems (how we categorize and understand) shapes the world in unique ways. Since we are involved in the conceptualization of reality, then the concepts of objectivity and subjectivity begin to lose their boundaries. The best we can say is that science is observing a stable reality both in its form and function. We know this to be the case because we have indpendent people with different equipment measuring the same reality up against a common standard. If the results converge, then we know we are measuring some type of stable reality. This is because using different equipment minimizes the possibility that one is introducing a biased interpretation. Reality though is still dependent upon our understanding, which means we cannot have absolute truth. Realty’s existence is absolute but its description and conceptualization are not.

II. Objectivism As A Model

The problem with scientific realism is that it takes two intertwined and inseparable dimensions of all experience—the awareness of the experiencing organism and the stable entities and structures it encounters—and erects them as separate and distinct entities called subjects and objects. What “external” realism misses is that, as embodied, imaginative creatures, we never were separated or divorced from reality in the first place. What has always made science possible is our embodiment, not our transcendence of it, and our imagination, not our avoidance of it.  George Lakoff  

Truths are either verifiable by observation or reason. Postmodernists, who subscribe to subjectivism, claim that objectivity is an intersubjective consensus of shared truths amongst people. Truth does seem to take on the role of being a consensus because of conformity. But observational truths are grounded in reality because we were designed to sucsessfully interact with our enviornment. Our brains, via perceptual and motor systems, categorize the world by forming certain kinds of categories, such as color, basic-level, spatial-relation, and aspectual (event-structuring) concepts. When we form basic-level categories, such as identifying an object, we use mental-imagery, motor movement, and gestalt perception to conceptualize them. Once we categorize reality, we then form various prototypes, instances of the category, which allows us to do “some sort of inferential or imaginative task relative to a category.” This forms the basis of reasoning, which involves inference, entailment, and metaphor.

We understand concepts by how we interact with the world. Objectivists, however, define concepts by their inherit properties and apply necessary and sufficienet conditions in accordance with set theory. For basic-level and spatial-relation concepts, which would be objects in space, objectivism’s account of reality converges with ours. We will soon find out though that it gives false predictions and is restrictive. Objectivism, for example, would tell us that green is an inherit property of the green grass. But physics tells us that green is not inheritly “in the grass” since it is reflected and interpreted by our brains as being green. There is no reason to reject a first-person ontology. A person’s phenomenological experience is every bit as valid as the neural level (color cones). Objectivism, however, has no way of dealing with conflicing levels of truth. It is supposed to represent a single level-indepedent or neutral perspective. Disciplines necessarily conceptualize phenomena differently. In fact, there are three levels within cognitive science: phenomenolgoical, cognitive unconsious, and neural. Each level is real because they predict how real phenomena behaves.

Although objectivism is adhered to for science, with the exception of color, it is a myth nevertheless. It is a myth because it is a narrative that tells us how to understand reality. It runs into problems because its theory of truth is supposed to be indepedent of human understanding. Since meaning is depedent upon understanding, meaning, say of a sentence, cannot exist in itself. Objectivism believes it can give a theory of truth in itself, where the theory of meaning will be based on it as well. The key to understanding truth, however, is that it is a phenomena. Truth is when things make sense to us, relative to our conceptual systems, and happens when we successfuly interact with the world. To objectivim, truth is a matter of fitting words to the world. This approach leaves a chasm where meaning is either found glued to the world itself or in the words themselves. But meaning cannot be in the world itself. It cannot be in the words either because of formalism’s influence on linguistics, which says that language is the manipulation of meaningless symbols or words by formal rules. This leaves objectivism with trying to fill in the gaps with the correspondence theory of truth, but it gives false predictions on language and understanding.

PC, A Waste of Time?

I have so much I would like to write about but have not had the time lately.  I appreciate those who take the time to read and comment because that is how I learn.  This research article got my attention, so I must post it.  For those doubters that political correctness and raising consciousnesses to our biases do not change anything, perhaps a study conducted over 14 years may.

Many conservatives believe that racism does not exist.  It is nothing more than a conspiracy—a way for liberal politicians to exploit our mistaken beliefs.  But implicit and explicit biases, which this study measured in 7.1 million tests, are a real thing.  When we automatically make judgments without being aware of it, say old is bad and young is good, then this is implicit.  By contrast, when we consciously and deliberately make negative judgments toward others, these are explicit biases.  Researchers have devised clever tests that can reliably distinguish between the two.  If we read the abstract below, we will see that biases in almost every category decreased with the exception of “age, disability, and body-weight attitudes.”

I am always appalled when I learn that a co-worker believes that there is no such thing as bias and racism.  There has been a concerted effort by the political right to spread this propaganda for decades now.   This goes back to the 1970s when anti-PC propaganda often originated from think tanks, such as the Cato Institute.  Many myths about political correctness have been born as a result.  I will post these myths in the next post.

I do not know how much the study hypothesizes that changes in attitudes come from the concerted efforts of political correctness in our culture versus other causes.  But where else would it come from other than our culture raising awareness?  I suppose we can reason that equality is just and then start equal treatment ourselves.  In any event, here is the abstract from the article.  I do not have access to it, so I have not read it yet and cannot attest to its significance.  If we like to appeal to authority, Steven Pinker, like him or hate him, did post this as evidence as well on Twitter.  I will soon get my hands on a copy of it and report back.

Research Article’s Abstract

Using more than 7.1 million implicit and explicit attitude tests drawn from U.S. participants to the Project Implicit website, we examined long-term trends across 14 years (2007–2020). Despite tumultuous sociopolitical events, trends from 2017 to 2020 persisted largely as forecasted from past data (2007–2016). Since 2007, all explicit attitudes decreased in bias between 22% (age attitudes) and 98% (race attitudes). Implicit sexuality, race, and skin-tone attitudes also continued to decrease in bias, by 65%, 26%, and 25%, respectively. Implicit age, disability, and body-weight attitudes, however, continued to show little to no long-term change. Patterns of change and stability were generally consistent across demographic groups (e.g., men and women), indicating widespread, macrolevel change. Ultimately, the data magnify evidence that (some) implicit attitudes reveal persistent, long-term change toward neutrality. The data also newly reveal the potential for short-term influence from sociopolitical events that temporarily disrupt progress toward neutrality, although attitudes eventually return to long-term homeostasis in trends.

Charlesworth, T. E. S., & Banaji, M. R. (2022). Patterns of Implicit and Explicit Attitudes: IV. Change and Stability From 2007 to 2020. Psychological Science, 33(9), 1347–1371.