Thursday, January 23, 2014


Good article, and I was in agreement up to this point: "[Truth] is that which you experience, deeply, and cannot forget."

That is almost the exact opposite of the meaning of the word "truth." "Truth" is an interesting word in that it, depending on the sense, is either extremely trivial or nearly impossible to define. There is the abstract, formal notion of truth, or The Truth, as in the ultimate ground of being. Let's sample a few definitions of the former and see how they line up to the definition in n + 1:

Voltaire: Humanly speaking, let us define truth, while waiting for a better definition, as -- "a statement of the facts as they are." (Philosophical Dictionary)

Wolfram MathWorld ("true"): A statement which is rigorously known to be correct. A statement which is not true is called false, although certain statements can be proved to be rigorously undecidable within the confines of a given set of assumptions and definitions.

Gottlob Frege (Logic (1897) - in Posthumous Writings):

When entering upon the study of a science, we need to have some idea, if only a provisional one, of its nature. We want to have in sight a goal to strive towards; we want some point to aim at that will guide our steps in the right direction. The word "true" can be used to indicate such a goal for logic, just as can "good" for ethics and "beautiful" for aesthetics. Of course all the sciences have truth as their goal, but logic is concerned with the predicate "true" in a quite special way, namely in a way analogous to that in which physics has to do with the predicates "heavy" and "warm" or chemistry with the predicates "acid" and "alkaline". There is, however, the difference that these sciences have to take into account other properties besides these we have mentioned, and that there is no one property by which their nature is so completely characterized as logic is by the word "true". (...)

Now it would be futile to employ a definition in order to make it clearer what is to be understood by "true". If, for example, we wished to say "an idea is true if it agrees with reality" nothing would have been achieved, since in order to apply this definition we should have to decide whether some idea or other did agree with reality. Thus we should have to presuppose the very thing that is being defined. The same would hold of any definition of the form "A is true if and only if it has such-and-such properties or stands in such-and-such a relation to such-and-such a thing". In each case in hand it would always come back to the question whether it is true that A has suchand-such properties, or stands in such-and-such a relation to such-and-such a thing. Truth is obviously something so primitive and simple that it is not possible to reduce it to anything still simpler. Consequently we have no alternative but to bring out the peculiarity of our predicate by comparing it with others. What, in the first place, distinguishes it from all other predicates is that predicating it is always included in predicating anything whatever.

The point is that whatever is true is that which remains so regardless of one's feelings toward or perception of it. If it is true, it is so precisely because it is not dependent upon feeling or memory.

Science as lifestyle.

A father grapples with his daughter losing faith in the "scientific view of life" ...

Science is the process of testing mathematical models using repeatable experiments. It is not a "view of life" or Weltanschauung. Even if you believe that science is the best way of knowing about the world/life, that is itself not a scientific belief. (It cannot be subjected to mathematical modeling and repeatable experiments.) It is a philosophical belief. (He could also be talking about the lifestyle of a professional scientist, but that doesn't seem as likely.)

Whether or not it is true is not really my concern here. (I don't believe that it is, but I do respect it and admit it makes a lot of sense when viewed from a certain angle.) My point is that many of our most vocal proponents of "science," in the pages of publications like the Guardian and the New York Times, fundamentally do not understand what science is. What they are actually advocating when they use the word is a larger set of beliefs, of which science proper is a subset, but which also includes such philosophical positions as naturalism, materialism, and empiricism.

Why are they apparently so hesitant to admit that they have a "philosophical view of life" rather than "scientific view of life?" I cannot read their minds, but I would hazard a guess that it is because science has more cultural cache than philosophy does. Science makes iPhones and solves world hunger. Philosophy is popularly understood as the domain of vaguely anarchist pot-smoking undergraduates or dead, white males like Plato. Science also involves mathematics, and if you know math that means you're a pretty smart dude.

The whole "knowing math" thing tends to trip some people up though.