File spoon-archives/phillitcrit.archive/phillitcrit_1998/phillitcrit.9811, message 3

Subject: Re: PLC: [H-BLOOM] Western Canon University 
Date: Wed, 11 Nov 1998 11:29:08 -0500

More on Truth.
My comments are prefaced by "cdm"

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

cdm:  I do not know how to define a language game but then I'm not a
rhetorician.  On the other hand, it is possible to have things which are
true without having a cosmological sense of the Truth.  There are facts.
The earth does turn (or the sun does rise); it is raining
and there is a finite amount of oil and gas.   There is no ethical content
in any of these things; there is no Truth only a material reality.  The
problem for those of us who are willing to accept this is to structure an
ethics on shifting ground.

cdm:  Now.  We create Truths.  We develop a God that tells us how to behave.
We create notions of individuality and freedom that tell us how not to
behave.  _We_ human beings invest ideas with their grandness.  They simply
do not exist beyond us, except insofar as we imagine them to do so.

However, in practice we must forget that the meaning of Truth is arbitrary
or it loses its efficacy.  Sometimes it loses its efficacy anyway.
Thucydides writes a long book about the effects of words losing their
meaning.  Somewhere, perhaps in _Untimely Meditations_,
Nietzsche talks about the movement of history in terms of remembering and
forgetting.  There are times when the definitions are working and we can
afford to forget completely.  Then there are times when working out of
history cannot be contained within the definitions (Nazi Germany is a
favorite example of contemporaries, but not of Nietzsche, of course) and the
definitions have to be changed.  Hence, the nature of the Truth undergoes a
change.  The change is codified through the work of philosophers and
linguists as well as in the arena  of practical politics and then we can
forget again for awhile.

>> 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
>> talking about the "real" truth.

cdm:  What is the measurement of "real?"  I hate to bring it up again, but
once you posit a "real" truth then you have to grant the existence of a
transcendent authority and we're into the question of God again.

>That DM continues the discussion about truth
>> demonstrates, unarguably, that a language game can be played that does
>> 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.)

cdm:  Yes, well so do I.  I would suggest that most everyday life is lived
"without explicit recognition of the presuppositions, conditions and
rules...." On the other hand, list writing is not a thoughtless activity and
I maintain that I have a perspective on the holders of "truth" that they
themselves cannot see.  In other words, I allow the possibility that the
Truth which is held dear is not true but conventional.  This demotion does
not make that "truth" any less dear; only less majestic.

cdm:  Now.  I suspect that anyone who holds to "Truth" will find that I am,
at best, mistaken or unenlightened or perhaps, on a less forgiving day,
thoughtless or stupid.  So be it.  This is a disagreement on a fundamental
level and I don't see how it can be reconciled.  The best one can hope for
is the recognition that this disagreement exists and deal with the
implications of it when a specific instance creates a confrontation.  This
is a happy occurence in the academic landscape because it gives us something
to talk about.  It is not so happy in the political field where some
agreement is more than likely required.

cdm:  We're back to the problem of constructing ethics in a space where
Truth is devalued.

>> Can you give me a true statement that a physicist might have that I
>> call  a) what current information supports, or b) a matter of
>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.

cdm:  I'm lost here.  What does this mean?

>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.

cdm:  not believing in what?  The material reality of the pregnancy?  That
a bit like not believing that being hit by a bus won't hurt you.  Even the
quantum physicists accept that mechanical physics adequately explains most
of the world as we know it.  There is a quantity of certainty in the world;
but there is not complete or absolute certainty.   We can posit the form but
it is an imaginary thing, the product of human mind, not of a transcendent

cdm:  More to the  point, it seems to me that the existence of the still
point in the universe is precisely the question.  There either IS one or we
decide to define one.  If we choose one, then we choose to believe in the
transcendent authority.  If we choose the other, then we are stuck with the
human mind as the author of its own ethical controls.

>difficult to act for the intentionality of belief. What would the content
>of a belief be?

cdm:  a definition of the still point in the universe?  God, Natural Law,

>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.

cdm:  Here we seem to be touching the relationship of truth to knowledge.
Mechanical physics ruled the boundaries of scientific knowledge for
centuries.  The political world operated on those rules too insofar as it
believed that science was the method for achieving true knowledge and
political ideas were generated using applications of science.  The
evidence of the truth of mechanical science was manufactured in a way
through this application of what was believed to be true.  If evidence is
the indication, but the evidence is a product of the truth, then aren't we
running around in circles?  quantum physics has not destroyed the truth of
mechanics but expanded it.  The political world is now trying to figure out
the implications of uncertainty in that field that was supposed to provide
knowledge - certain knowledge.

>> 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.

cdm:  It won the director's award at the [run by Robert Redford, in Utah]
film festival.  As George says, it is stunning.  It is also painful to

>> 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
>> 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?

cdm:  It is the premise of the film.  It is interesting not necessarily
because it is true but because mathmaticians believe it and math is the
language of science and science is our means to the truth.   The film is
interesting because it foregrounds the assumption about patterns in the
universe and deals with some of the implications of such an assumption.

who wrote the following paragraph(s)?

>> I've had a great deal of trouble with the concept of respecting ideas
>> 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
>> 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.

cdm:  Hmm, interesting.  When I say "respect" I don't mean tolerate.  I mean
I will undertake to determine the terms and conditions upon which human
beings base their decisions.  That is, I respect the possibility that they
think at least as well as I do and even use this capacity as often and as
effectively as I do.  In other words, I approach an "other" from a position
of humility rather than arrogance.  This does not mean that I grant the
rightness of "white supremacy" or of any other heinous act that humans can
manage to inflict on themselves and the world around them.  It is unlikely
that an argument which deteriorates into "you're wrong!"  "Am not!"  "Are
so!"  doesn't get very far.  It is far more persuasive to use the opponents
terms against him and you can't do that if you don't know how he uses them.
In order to understand, you have to be willing to forego judgement long
enough to understand.  That however, does not mean that you forego judgement
all together.

I do not understand why it is patronizing to assume that other people have
worked out a system of ideas and practices as we have.  It seems, rather,
that the patronization comes from the assumption that our favor is something
worthy to be desired by them, and critically bestowed by us.

I've just moved to a foreign country.  I went to see the doctor - a
south-Asian Indian educated in Britain.  He's a garrulous type and wanted a
chat about "being American."  Ok. I can do that.  What he really wanted was
to front his opinion on the matter.  He thinks that Americans are energetic,
ambitous, good-hearted and naive.  This last stems from the inability of the
average american to understand why the rest of the world doesn't want to be
like the U.S.  I have to agree with him.

geez this is long.   enough


>All best wishes,
>     --- from list ---

     --- from list ---


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