File spoon-archives/phillitcrit.archive/phillitcrit_1998/phillitcrit.9811, message 1

Date: Sun, 1 Nov 1998 21:41:08 -0330 (NST)
Subject: Re: PLC: [H-BLOOM] Western Canon University ( The  Online  Renaissance

George -- Again, deep apologies for taking so long to get back to you on
this post. This is my final term before my sabbatical, and I'm up to my
eyes with stuff. But today I have some breathing room. Looking forward to
what you and the others have to say in response. (I may have to continue
this from England after Christmas, but it may not come to that.I think my 
work on "that other List" is coming to a successful close, so I should
have even more time.) My comments below appear with a "W".

On Sat, 17 Oct 1998, George Trail wrote:

> >On Tue, 14 Apr 1998, Walter Okshevsky wrote:
> >>
> >> On Tue, 17 Mar 1998, deaun moulton wrote:
> >>
> >> > I do not believe that there is an eternal truth - or a
> >> > God, for that matter, though I understand and respect that belief.
> >>
> >> The former part of your statement is only of psychological interest. Our
> >> beliefs have no necessary relevance to truth. All the language-games we
> >> play presuppose the concept of truth as an absolute one. Meaning is
> >> relative; truth isn't and can't be. (I don't like talking much about God.
> >> I think St. Mathew had the right idea.)
> All language games do not presuppose the concept of truth _as you define it_,

W: Could you give an example of a language game that excluded the
expression "It is the case that ..."?

> Your statement is defensible only by saying, that if I wish to talk about
> truth as relative, or as a concept invented to serve a need, that I am not
> talking about the "real" truth.

W: Yes, that's about right. The meaning of truth has a specific function
or meaning within our language games. One's needs and the empirical or
epistemological thesis of relativism isn't part of that meaning/function.

 My respose has to be that what you say is
> so only by definition, much as if I said  that if my grandmother had four
> wheels she would be a truck, given that my definition of truck is any
> object with four wheels. 

How you or a particular tribe defines a concept is an empirical matter. It
has sociological and/or psychological interest. The meanings of concepts
are determined by their roles within language games. Yes, it is people who
play them, but the possibility of being mistaken is always there. A kid I
play chess with moves his rook diagonally. Won't change.

That DM continues the discussion about truth
> demonstrates, unarguably, that a language game can be played that does not
> contain your presuppositions.

W:I think that what this shows is that an activity can be pursued without
explicit recognition of the presuppositons, conditions, and rules 
constitutive of that activity. (I speak a few languages that way.)

> >> > > But isn't there a difference  between asking whether a statement is true
> >> > > and whether it is relevant for some P? I suppose physicists have all
> >>sorts
> >> > > of true statements hanging around which nobody can figure out a use for
> >> > > yet. Also, some statements are true but irrelevant to some context of
> >> > > discussion or analysis.
> Can you give me a true statement that a physicist might have that I cannot
> call  a) what current information supports, or b) a matter of defininition?

W: Don't you end up epistemologizing truth with that question? Questions
regarding the nature of truth are different from questions as to how
(best) to go about procuring the truth.

> Here's a true  statement, for instance. "The sun only rises metaphorically,
> motion being relative to the point of observation which is itself in
> motion." Your argument says "So there must be a still point, or we couldn't
> know that." But the answer is that there is no need to presuppose a still
> point, in precisely the same way that there is no need to assume "truth" as
> an absolute.

W: Truth is absolute. It's like being pregnant and not like believing. But
such absoluteness holds originally in what we could call "the logical
space of reason". Whether there is a "still point" in the empirical
univers, I don't know. I'm prepared to believe almost anything from the
physicists these days.

> >> > Aren't some "p" more significant than others?  Some so significant as to
> >> > serve as pure cases (as pure as they get, anyway?).  The point I was
> >> > trying to make is that when the sun ceases to come up then fundamental
> >> > questions of philosophy will cease too.  Truth is one of those questions.
> >> > "Truth"  requires human beings to conceive of it.  When there are no
> >> > people, there will be no truth.
W: This was very poorly put. What I was trying to say was that truth is
only a possibility for human beings (agents engaged in courses of
means/ends actions) as rational agents. Only a rational agent can
conceptualize such things as "reason," "truth," "knowledge." The early
Heidegger lays this out pretty well.

> DM's metaphor is precisely apt. The sun _has_ ceased to come up. There
> ain't no use for metaphysics,
> >>
> a thing will
> >> > survive the agents of demonstration can only be a belief.

W: I'd sort of agree given an appropriate sense of "us." We can't do
without metaphysics, but it "uses" us just as much as the converse."

> >> I lose you in your second sentence. What is the difference between
> >> "demonstrated" and "proven"? The third sentence seems to contradict what
> >> you say above regarding the necessity of human being for the possibility
> >> of truth and other human concerns. If what you say there is true, what
> >> point is there in "belief"? (Note that the claim that truth will be no
> >> more when people are no more is, if true, absolute and eternal, and will
> >> be so even when we are no more. Nicht wahr?)
> Nein. The statement is tautological. It is as if I said, "It is true that
> five minutes from now I will have been standing here five minutes ago."
> And the reply must be  "Only by definition." Belief" is necessary because
> we begin to reason from undemonstrables, reason itself being empty. We must
> reason about something, and there is nothing about which to reason except
> belief. If you find something prior to belief, then I would argue that that
> which is prior must in that case be the belief..

W: On the latter point: That's a hard one. Sounds like a Rorty/McDowell
debate. The problem with the account of beliefs you present, is that it's
difficult to act for the intentionality of belief. What would the content
of a belief be?  "Other beliefs" seems to beg the question. 

> >> > > > "Truth" is more formal - defined if you will- and is political
> >> >
> >> > > I'm not sure what it means to say that truth is "defined." Truth can be
> >> > > established, determined, discovered.
> Then why is it, in the history of human endeavor, no one has ever come up
> with any?
> Again, tell me one thing that is true that is not so tautologically or so
> on the basis of current evidence.

W: Evidence is an indicator of truth. Any statement that is true is
established via "current evidence." But it could also be established via
"past, currently-deemed-to-be-mistaken" evidence. Consensus has no
necessary relationship to the truth. 

> >> Different forms of understanding go about arguing for the truth of their
> >> respective claims and judgments is different ways. Scientists are
> >> concerned primarily with empirical truth, philosophers with normative and
> >> conceptual truth. Priests, I don't think are in the truth business. They
> >> are, minimally, spiritual therapists, and, at their best, guardians of
> >> social justice.
> WO, have you seen _Pi_? Rent it and come back to the discussion. It is
> philosophically stunning.

W: Who's in it and who directed it? Blockbusters around here are stafffed
by former librarians. 

> If there _is_ order in the universe, there must needs be a pattern in Pi,
> worked our far enough. Banks of computers have not found it, having worked
> it out to powers for which we have to invent words they are so large.
W: I don't know if that conditional is true. But if there were a pattern,
wouldn't it exist independently of needs and definitions?

> This seems
> >> > to me to disallow the notion that one can see the point, that is
> >> > understand it, and still disagree.  The former kind of conversation
> >> > authorizes a kind of domination...s/he who persuades rules.  While the
> >> > latter kind of conversation allows for respect and choice.  These are
> >> > types of authority and judgement which is are fundamental concerns
> >> > of politics.
> I've had a great deal of trouble with the concept of respecting ideas that
> are wrong. For instance,  I  cannot say, "Wow, I know you are a white
> supremacist, and I respect that, but......"  And the idea that truth is
> absolute and eternal is wrong. Indeed, regardless of the Pope, it is
> self-contradictory. Like elephants all the way down. I can still like a
> person who so thinks, but I cannot " respect"  their opinions on the
> matter.  I can even understand such a person. But so also can I understand
> a Klanswoman, the Pope, and Mother Theresa.

I agree with you on that one. But I would use the term "tolerate" and
this, under certain conditions. It is patronizing, as Taylor rightly
suggests, to accept a-priori that all cultures and tribes deserve equal
respect from us.

All best wishes,


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