Truth is most often used to mean being in accord with fact or reality, or fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal.
Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness or understanding of someone or something, such as facts, information, descriptions, or skills, which is acquired through experience or education by perceiving, discovering, or learning.
Knowledge can refer to a theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. It can be implicit (as with practical skill or expertise) or explicit (as with the theoretical understanding of a subject); it can be more or less formal or systematic. In philosophy, the study of knowledge is called epistemology; the philosopher Plato famously defined knowledge as "justified true belief", though "well-justified true belief" is more complete as it accounts for the Gettier problems. However, several definitions of knowledge and theories to explain it exist. (Wikipedia)
First-order knowledge is knowledge about reality, and second-order knowledge is knowledge about knowledge itself. For example, the knowledge that a biologist has about the anatomy and physiology of living organisms is the knowledge of the first order, but the knowledge that a philosopher has about biology as a field of natural science and in relation to the physical sciences on which it may depend is the knowledge of the second order.
Philosophy as a branch of knowledge involves both first- and second- order knowledge.
(Source: The 4 Dimensions of Philosophy by Mortimer J. Adler, 1993, pp 13-14)
Truth will be a general one and not a special fact. (CP1-150) - In Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Vol.1, BOOK I. GENERAL HISTORICAL ORIENTATION, CHAPTER 3 NOTES ON SCIENTIFIC PHILOSOPHY, §5. FALLIBILISM, CONTINUITY, AND EVOLUTION. (CP1 141-175) → Truth is concerned with a universal (general or abstract) idea and fact is about a particular (special or sensible) thing or event.
Fallibilism is the doctrine that there is no absolute certainty in knowledge. - In Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Vol.7 (CP7-108, footnote 24) → There is no absolute truth.
There is no Correspondence Theory of Truth, only Correspondence Theory of Fact.
When Mortimer J. Adler said that “Truth consists in the agreement between what we think and what is in the world, what is real”, he was actually talking about factual things or events.
When Bertrand Russell spoke of ‘Correspondence’ in his book “The Problem of Philosophy” in 1912 (15th printing, 1966), he was talking about ‘Correspondence of sense-data and physical objects (pp 22, 24, 31, 33, 34, and 37) and ‘Correspondence of belief and fact” (p121):
There must be objects independent of our own sense-data. (Chater 2: Existence of Matter, p21)
Thus every principle of simplicity urges us to adopt the natural view, that there really are objects other than ourselves and our sense-data which have an existence not dependent upon our perceiving them. (p24)
Our instinctive belief (is) that there are objects corresponding to our sense-data. (p24)
The sense-data in the dream do not appear to have corresponded with such physical objects as we should naturally infer from our sense-data. (p22)
Even if physical objects do have an independent existence, they must differ very widely from sense-data, and can have a
(It) leads us to adopt the view – which has on the whole been commonest among philosophers – that truth consists in some form of correspondence between belief and fact. It is, however, by no means an easy matter to discover a form of correspondence to which there are no irrefutable objections. By this – and partly by the feeling that, if truth consists in a correspondence of thought with something outside thought, thought can never know when truth has been attained – many philosophers have been led to try to find some definition of truth which shall not consist in relation something wholly outside belief. The most important attempt at a definition of this sort is the theory that truth consists in coherence.It is said that the mark of falsehood is failure to cohere in the body of our beliefs, and that it is the essence of a truth to form part of the complete rounded system which is The Truth. (Chapter 7: Truth and Falsehood, pp 121-122)
The sixth of William James's lectures on pragmatism is concerned wholly with the notion of truth. He begins by assenting to the dictionary definition that "truth" means "the agreement" of our ideas with "reality." But, as he justly observes, this definition does not take us very far, unless we know what we mean by "agreement" and what we mean by "reality" The pragmatist holds that different sorts of "agreement " and different sorts of "reality" are concerned in different cases. The popular notion that a true idea must copy its reality holds good, he says, of sensible things, but goes wrong as soon as we come to abstractions. The idea of the elasticity of a spring, for example, cannot, according to him, be a copy of a reality — presumably on the ground that an elasticity is not an actually existing thing. The question is, then, what sort of agreement with reality is possible in such cases? "The great assumption of the intellectualists," he says, "is that truth means essentially an inert static relation." An intellectualist, by the way, is any one who is not a pragmatist. He proceeds : —
"Pragmatism, on the other hand, asks its usual question. ‘Grant an idea or belief to be true,' it says, 'what concrete difference will its being true make in any one's actual life? How will the truth be realised? What experiences will be different from those which would obtain if the belief were false? What, in short, is the truth's cash-value in experiential terms?'
"The moment pragmatism asks this question it. sees the answer : True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot. . . .
"The truth of an idea is not a stagnant property inherent in it. Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events. Its verity is in fact an event, a process : the process namely of its verifying itself, its veri-fication. Its validity is the process of its valid-ation."
Recurring to the definition of "truth" as "agreement with reality," James sums up by distinguishing three kinds of reality; (i) concrete facts, (2) "abstract kinds of things and relations perceived intuitively between them," (3) truths already in our possession. "Agreement" he defines as follows : —
"To 'agree' in the widest sense with a reality can only mean to be guided either straight up to it or into its surroundings , or to be put into such working touch with it as to handle either it or something connected with it better than if we disagreed” (p. 212).
Two further quotations will complete the material required for understanding James's account of truth.
" ’The true’, to put it very briefly, is only the expedient in the way of our thinking, just as ' the right ' is only the expedient in the way of our behaving. Expedient in almost any fashion ; and expedient in the long run and on the whole of course" (p. 222).
"Our account of truth is an account of truths in the plural, of processes of leading, realised in rebus, and having only this quality in common, that they pay " (p. 218).
Plato and Aristotle say that the opinions we hold are true when they assert that that which is, is, or that that which is not, is not; and that our opinions are false when they assert that that which is, is not, or that that which is not, is.
Defining truth is easy; knowing whether a particular statement is true is much harder; and pursuing the truth is most difficult of all.
How can we tell whether a statement is true or false? To this question there are three main types of answer:
1. The first insists that some statements are self-evidently true, such as, “The whole is greater than the part.” Such statements reveal their truth to us directly by the fact that we find it impossible to think the opposite of them. When we understand what a whole is and what a part is, we cannot think that a part is greater than the whole to which it belongs. That is how we know immediately the truth of the statement that the whole is greater than any of its parts.
2. Another type of answer says that the truth of statements can be tested by our experience or observations.
3. The third type of answer has to do with statements that are neither self-evidently true nor capable of being checked by direct appeal to observed facts. It may be a question of a person’s character, what type of product is most desirable for certain purposes, or whether the favorite will win the next race. Here it is permissible to count noses and to find the consensus of a group of people or of the experts. That an opinion is held by a majority can be taken as a sign that it has some probability of being true. But the fact that it expressed the consensus of the group does not make it the right answer to the question, “What is truth?”
What is truth?
Truth consists in the agreement between what we think and what is in the world, what is real.
How about the works of art?
Poetic truth is of a totally different kind. Poetic truth lies most in its significance rather than in its factual accuracy.
What distinction between objective truth and subjective truth?
Objective truth is truth that is independent of individual differences, differences in circumstance, time and place. What is objectively true is always true and true for all men everywhere at all times.
What is the difference between truth and reality?
Truth is a property of our thought and reality is what measures that property.
“True” and “false” are adjectives that apply to the acts of our mind — our judgments, our opinions, our thoughts or our statements. Reality is what those thoughts, opinions or statements are about. And when the statements, thoughts or opinions we have agree with reality as tested by the pragmatic consequences of acting on our judgments, then reality, which is independent of our minds, and is what it is regardless of what we think about it, sometimes supports our action when we think truly — and lets us go on — and when we think falsely it blocks us, frustrates us, and often does us in.
“If a given statement is ever objectively true, it is true forever and immutably true.” What does that mean?
This an example. For centuries, most men and even most scientists thought that the earth was the center of the solar system. That the sun, the moon and the planets revolved around a stationary earth. That was Ptolemy’s astronomy, and the Greek astronomy — Aristotle’s astronomy. And Copernicus came up with the opposite view — the so-called heliocentric view — that in our solar system, not in the universe at large, the sun is the center and the moon and the planets including the earth revolve in orbits around the sun. It then took some time to prove the correctness of the Copernican theory. It took the time until we got to the Foucault pendulum, which really registers the motion of the earth. Now, that didn’t suddenly become true — it always was true. For all the centuries when men thought otherwise it was true that the earth revolved around the sun even though it took until the 17th and 18th centuries for us to come to know that to be true and generally acknowledge it. The truth is always the same when we know it — when we have it. The fact that men change their minds, that what scientists and other men think is true at a time when it is wrong, doesn’t make it true.
What determines whether a statement is true or false?
ADLER: As in this case, the evidence, the evidence of the Foucault pendulum absolutely shows the rotation of the earth.
Can there be false knowledge?
No, there can’t be. There can be true and false opinions; but knowledge, by its very nature, carries the connotation of truth. So when the ancients said the world is flat, it was not knowledge at all, it was false opinion.
Why do we prefer the opinions to which we are attached on emotional, not rational, grounds?
Well, it’s simply that our emotional attachments are strong. We like to attach ourselves to opinions that favor our feelings, that favor our desire, that favor our temperamental inclinations.
So opinion is stronger than truth?
Yes, in many cases, opinion is stronger than truth. In fact, stronger than even ordinary opinions are deep-set prejudices, much stronger. For example, even when we know that all men are created equal, and all men are by nature equal, we retain our prejudice that some men are inferior to others.
Why is truth so often the victim?
Because men in general are not given to using their minds as instruments for rational assessment of what is true and false. Most men just simply are persons who harbor opinions, cherish opinions, and don’t submit them to tests or investigation.
The pursuit of truth is a continual process of correcting errors, enlarging inadequate grasps of the truth. There we two ways, by the way, in which the pursuit of truth is carried on. On the one hand, an error is corrected, a falsehood is rejected and is replaced by a truer statement; truer, not absolutely true or finally true, because every statement except for the self-evident ones are in the realm of doubt and are subject to enlargement and correction by better evidence and better reasoning in the future.
In matters of religion, there is no way to decide which is true and which is not?
About all matters of faith, articles of religious faith are beyond argument. If there were any way, if there were any way at all to offer evidence or reasons in support of one faith or another, it wouldn’t be faith. Faith is that which goes beyond the evidence of things seen.
So, in the final analysis, who determines truth?
There is no answer to that question; no one determines truth. Truth is always a matter of the arbitrament of men arguing with one another. No one determines — the truth is determined — the truth of opinions is determined by reality; when two men disagree about what they think is true, that must be submitted to argument, to evidence, to observation, to reason.
So the pursuit of truth is not a destination; it’s a process?
Precisely. And one that will go on to the end of time. It never will stop. If we live the 100 million years the planet will endure, that we will accumulate more and more truth, correct more and more error, enlarge our grasp of the truth. But we will always fall short, we’ll always fall short of the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Mistaken view: Philosophy (speculative or theoretical philosophy) was mere opinion.
Correct view: Philosophy is genuine knowledge and, like the empirical sciences, can be knowledge of reality.
All men, Aristotle said, by nature desire to know. There are but few who do not regard knowledge as desirable, as a good to be prized, and a good without limit — the more, the better.
It is generally understood that those who have knowledge about anything are in the possession of the truth about it. Individuals may at times be incorrect in their claim that they do have knowledge, but if they do, then they have some hold on the truth. The phrase “false knowledge” is a contradiction in terms; “true knowledge” is manifestly redundant. Opinions can be true or false, as knowledge cannot be. When individuals claim to have knowledge about something that turns out not to be knowledge at all because it is false, what they mistook for knowledge was only opinion.
Closely connected with this distinction between knowledge and opinion are two other distinctions. One is the distinction between the things about which we can have certitude — beyond any shadow of a doubt — and things about which some doubt remains. We may be persuaded by them beyond a reasonable doubt, but that does not take them entirely out of the realm of doubt. Some doubt lingers.
The other distinction is that between the corrigible and mutable and the incorrigible and immutable. When we have certitude about anything, we have a hold on truth that is both incorrigible and immutable. When anything remains in doubt, to even the slightest degree, it is both mutable and corrigible. We should recognize that we may change our minds about it and correct whatever was wrong.
By these criteria for distinguishing between knowledge and opinion, how much knowledge do any of us have? Most of us would admit that we have precious little. Most of us are aware that in the history of science even the most revered formulations have been subject to change and correction.
The solution, it seems to me, lies in recognizing the sense in which the word “knowledge” signifies something that is quite distinct from anything that can be called an opinion, and the sense in which a certain type of opinion can also quite properly be called knowledge. That would leave another type of opinion, quite distinct from knowledge, which should properly be called mere opinion.
Examples of knowledge in this extreme sense of the term are a small number of self-evident truths. A self-evident truth is one that states something the opposite of which it is impossible to think. It can also be called a necessary truth because its opposite is impossible.
That a finite whole is greater than any of its component parts and that each part of a finite whole is less than the whole are self-evident, necessary truths.
Sometimes definitions enter into our grasp of self-evident truths. We define a triangle as a three-sided plane figure. We define a diagonal as a line drawn between nonadjacent angles in a regular plane polygon. We know that, being three-sided, a triangle has no nonadjacent angles. Therefore, we know with certitude that it is necessarily true that there can be no diagonals in triangles, as there can be in squares, pentagons, and the like.
Whether they know it or not, those who say that we have precious little knowledge that has such certitude may not realize that the little knowledge we have of this kind consists of a handful of self-evident or necessary truths like those just noted.
Is everything else opinion, then? Yes and no; yes, if we insist upon the criteria of certitude, incorrigibility, and immutability of the truth known; no, if we relax those criteria and recognize that there are opinions we can affirm on the basis of evidence and reasons that have sufficient probative force to justify our claiming at the time that the opinion affirmed is true.
We should be prepared to say that such corrigible, mutable opinions are knowledge — knowledge of truths that have a future in which they may undergo correction or alteration and even rejection.
As against opinions that deserve the status of knowledge in this sense of the term, there remain what must be called mere opinions because they are asserted without any basis at all in evidence or reason. Our personal prejudices are such mere opinions. We assert them stoutly and often stubbornly, even though we cannot point to a single piece of evidence in support of them or offer a single reason for claiming that they are true. This is also true of some of the beliefs we harbor and cherish.
Sometimes we use the word “belief” to signify that we have some measure of doubt about the opinion we claim to be true on the basis of evidence and reasons. In that case, it is not incorrect to say that we know it (because we have sufficient grounds for affirming it to be true). However, at other times, we use the word “belief” to signify total lack of evidence or reasons for asserting an opinion. Then we should never say that we know.
There is another special use, or misuse, of the word “knowing.” It involves the distinction between two acts of the mind – apprehension and judgment.
The first act of the mind is simple apprehension. Some object is apprehended but we should not use the word “knowledge” for such apprehensions. Except for perceptual apprehensions, which cannot be separated from perceptual judgments, all other apprehensions are totally devoid of any judgment about the object apprehended. Devoid of such judgments, an apprehension is not knowledge because there is nothing true or false about it. True and false enter the picture only with the act of judging, and only then do we go beyond apprehension to what, strictly speaking, can be called knowledge.
The word that most of us use to signify the independent character of the knowable is the word “reality.” If there were no reality, nothing the existence and character of which is independent of the knowing mind, there would be nothing knowable. Reality is that which exists whether we think about it or not, and has the character that it has no matter how we think about it.
The reality that is the knowable may or may not be physical. It may or may not consist solely of things perceptible to our senses. But whatever its character, its existence must be public, not private. It must be knowable by two or more persons. Nothing that is knowable by one person alone can have the status of knowledge. Whatever can be genuinely known by any one person must be capable of being known by others.
I will be using the word “knowledge” to cover the necessary and self-evident truths we know with certitude and also the opinions we are able to assert on the basis of sufficient evidence and reasons to outweigh any contrary opinions. I will be using it to cover things about which we can say both that we know them and also that we believe them, because some measure of doubt remains about them. I will be using it always for judgments that are either true or false, but never for apprehensions that are neither true nor false. And I will use the phrase “mere opinion” for whatever is deemed by anyone not to be knowledge in any of the foregoing senses.
In summary, we have self-evident truths that have certitude and incorrigibility; and we also have truths that are still subject to doubt but that are supported by evidence and reasons to a degree that puts them beyond reasonable doubt or at least gives them predominance over contrary views. All else is mere opinion — with no claim to being knowledge or having any hold on truth.
There is no question that the findings and conclusions of historical research are knowledge in this sense; no question that the findings and conclusions of the experimental or empirical sciences, both natural and social, are knowledge in this sense.
As contrasted with such knowledge, which is knowledge of reality or, as Hume would say, knowledge of matters of fact and real existence, mathematics and logic are also knowledge, but not of reality. They are not experimental or empirical knowledge. They do not depend upon investigative research for their findings and conclusions.
The question that remains to be answered is the one that, in my judgment, Hume and Kant answered erroneously, an answer that has persisted in various forms down to our own day. Where does speculative or theoretical philosophy (by which I mean philosophical physics, metaphysics, and philosophical theology) stand in this picture? Is it mere opinion or is it genuine knowledge, knowledge that, like the empirical sciences, is knowledge of reality?
According to Sir Karl Popper, one of the most eminent philosophers of science in our time, the line of demarcation between knowledge and mere opinion is determined by one criterion: falsifiability by empirical evidence, by observed phenomena. An opinion, a view, a theory, that cannot be thus falsified is not knowledge, but mere opinion, neither true nor false in any objective sense of those terms. Drawing this line of demarcation, Popper places the experimental and empirical sciences on one side of the line, and theoretical philosophy (covering what I have indicated above) on the other side of the line. Popper thus repeats the conclusion Hume reached in his Enquiry.
I, on the other hand, have reached the opposite conclusion. The reasons are as follows.
In the first place, what has been overlooked is the distinction between common and special experience. The empirical evidence to which science and history appeal is special experience that consists of observed data produced by methodical investigation, using all the devices and instrumentation of the laboratory and the observatory. Such observed data are no part of the experience of ordinary individuals who do not engage in scientific or historical investigation.
In sharp contrast to such special experience, there is the everyday, ordinary experience that all of us have during the waking hours of our life. This experience comes to us simply by our being awake and having our senses acted on. We make no effort to get it; we are not seeking to answer questions by means of it, we employ no methods to refine it; we use no instruments of observation to obtain it. Within the range of such experience there lies a core that constitutes the common experience of mankind - experience that is the same for all human beings at all times and places.
With this distinction in mind, between special and common experience, between experience resulting from investigation efforts and experience enjoyed without such efforts, we can distinguish between bodies of knowledge that rely on different types of experience.
Speculative or theoretical philosophy is a body of knowledge that can be produced in an arm chair or at a desk. The only experience that the philosopher needs for the development of his theories or the support of his conclusions is the common experience of mankind. Reflecting on such experience and proceeding by means of rational analysis and argument, the philosopher reaches conclusions in a manner that resembles the procedure of the mathematician, not that of the empirical scientist. However, like empirical science, theoretical philosophy claims to be knowledge of reality.
In the light of what has just been said, we can divide the sphere of knowledge into (1) bodies of knowledge that are methodically investigative and (2) bodies of knowledge that are noninvestigative and that employ only common, not special, experience. To the first group belong history, geography, and all the empirical sciences, both natural and social. To the second group belong mathematics, logic, and theoretical philosophy.
If the division is made in terms of whether the body of knowledge claims to have a hold on truth about reality, then theoretical philosophy, even though it is noninvestigative in method, belongs with history, geography, and the empirical sciences.
Each of these disciplines, according to its distinctive character, has a method peculiarly its own and, according to the limitations of that method, can answer only certain questions, not others. The kind of questions that the philosopher can answer without any empirical investigation whatsoever cannot be answered by the empirical scientist, and, conversely, the kind of questions that the scientist can answer by his methods of investigation cannot be answered by the philosopher.
The line of demarcation between all these bodies of knowledge and mere opinion involves criteria other than the one proposed by Popper. Falsifiability by experience — whether it be the observed data of scientific investigation or the substance of common experience — is certainly one criterion by which we separate genuine knowledge from mere opinion. But it is not the only one.
Another is refutability by rational argument. The only irrefutable truths we possess are the very few self-evident propositions that have certitude, finality, incorrigibility. Since our knowledge of reality, whether scientific or philosophical, does not consist exclusively of self-evident truths nor does it consist of conclusions demonstrated to be true by deduction from premises that are self-evidently true, scientific and philosophical theories or conclusions must be refutable in three ways.
One way is falsification by experience, which produces evidence contrary to the evidence that has been employed to support the opinion that claims to be true and to have the status of knowledge. A second way is by rational argument, which advances reasons that correct and replace the reasons advanced to support the opinion that claims to be true and have the status of knowledge. The third way is a combination of the first and the second — new and better evidence, together with new and better reasons for holding a view contrary to the one that has been refuted.
Opinions that cannot be refuted in one or another of these three ways are not knowledge, but mere opinion. Were this not so, this essay would be fraudulent in its claim to point out philosophical mistakes and to correct them by offering evidence and reasons to expose their errors. Nor could we replace them with views that are true or more nearly true.
If philosophy were mere opinion there would be no philosophical mistakes, erroneous views, false doctrines. There would be no way of substituting views or doctrines more nearly true because they employed insights and appealed to distinctions that for one reason or another were not in the possession of those who made the mistakes.
The foregoing analysis has not been exhaustive. It does not include bodies of knowledge that result from scholarly research in fields such as philology, the comparative study of religion, or the fine arts. If these bodies of knowledge rely upon methodical investigation they belong with the empirical sciences, not philosophy. The other question to be decided is whether or not they are knowledge of reality.
Reference to religious belief or faith has also been omitted. It claims to be knowledge and would lose all its efficacy if it were reduced to mere opinion. But the grounds on which it makes such a claim are so utterly different from the criteria we have employed to divide genuine knowledge from mere opinion that it is impossible within the brief scope of this discussion to put religious faith or belief into the picture we now have before us.
On the basis of the common experience that all of us possess, we have commonsense knowledge about matters of fact and real existence, knowledge that is neither scientific nor philosophical. There is, however, a relation between such commonsense knowledge and theoretical philosophy that does not exist between it and empirical science.
Theoretical philosophy is an analytical and reflective refinement of what we know by common sense in the light of common experience. Our commonsense knowledge is deepened, illuminated, and elaborated by philosophical thought. There is little if any sound philosophy that conflicts with our commonsense knowledge, for both are based on the common human experience out of which they emerge.
That is why I have reiterated again and again that philosophy, unlike the investigative sciences, historical research, or mathematics, is everybody’s business. All the latter are fields that tend toward greater and greater specialization and become the province of a wide variety of specialist experts. Philosophy alone, because of its intimate connection with the commonsense knowledge of the ordinary individual, remains unspecialized — the province of the generalist, the business of everybody.
The importance of refuting the errors made by Hume and Kant, errors that are widely prevalent in the twentieth century, is that the relegation of theoretical philosophy to the realm of mere opinion amounts to a cultural disaster in an age that is so dominated by increasing specialization in all other fields of learning. If philosophical speculation is not respected in its claim to have a hold upon the truth about reality, our culture will cease to have generalists.
Knowledge is not the highest of the intellectual goods. Of higher value is understanding and, beyond that, wisdom. These are goods that, to whatever extent they can be achieved, become ours through philosophical thought, not scientific knowledge. Philosophy makes it’s contribution not only as a body of knowledge, but also because it is through philosophical thought that we are able to understand everything else that we know. We are justified in hoping that from such understanding, with maturity of judgment and wide experience, some measure of wisdom will ultimately be attained.
The authors of the two philosophical mistakes with which we are here concerned are David Hume and Immanuel Kant. The influence that, historically, Hume had upon Kant, conceded by Kant to have prompted the philosophical edifice he constructed in order to avoid the conclusions reached by Hume (which he thought untenable, even disastrous), throws some light on the relation of the two mistakes.
Looked at one way, the two mistakes represent opposite extremes. Looked at another way, they represent opposite faces of the same error. The error in both cases has to do with the role that sense-experience plays with regard to the origin and limits of knowledge. The two mistakes are opposed to one another by reason of the fact that they take opposite stands with regard to the certitude, immutability, and incorrigibility that does or does not belong to knowledge.
Hume’s mistake had its roots or origin in earlier mistakes, and especially the mistakes made by John Locke with regard to the senses and the intellect and with regard to ideas as objects we directly apprehend. On the other hand, Kant’s mistake had its origin in the mistake made by Hume. He might have avoided his own mistake by pointing out that the conclusions Hume reached, which he found so repugnant, were based on false premises.
Had he rejected those premises, that by itself would have sufficed to avoid Hume’s conclusions. But he did not do so. Instead, he invented and erected a subtle and intricate philosophical structure in an effort to reach and support conclusions the very opposite of Hume’s, and just as incorrect.
Let us begin with David Hume. David Hume concedes that we do have knowledge of two sorts.
One is the kind of knowledge to be found in mathematics. He refers to this as “abstract science” because it involves no assertions or judgments about matters of fact or real existence. It deals only with the relation between our own ideas — our ideas of quantity and number. Here it is possible to have demonstration and a measure of certitude.
Hume then tells us that judgments about matters of fact and real existence, if they can be supported by evidence and reasons, constitute knowledge, not mere opinion; but they are always the knowledge that lacks certitude and falls within the sphere of doubt — the sphere of the corrigible and the mutable.
Such knowledge depends upon our sense-experience. “It is only experience,” Hume writes, “which teaches us the nature and bounds of cause and effect, and enables us to infer the existence of one object from that of another.” According to these criteria, Hume admits into the sphere of empirical knowledge (as contrasted with abstract science) such things as history, geography, and astronomy, and also the sciences “which treat of general facts, i.e., politics, natural philosophy, physics, chemistry, etc.” This brings him to his thundering conclusion in the last paragraph of the Enquiry:
When we run over our libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, “Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?" No. "Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matters of fact and existence?" No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
The line that divides what deserves to be honored and respected as genuine knowledge from what should be dismissed as mere opinion (or worse, as sophistry and illusion) is determined by two criteria. (1) It is knowledge and can be called science if it deals solely with abstractions and involves no judgments about matters of fact or real existence. Here we have mathematics and, together with it, the science of logic. (2) It is knowledge, if it deals with particular facts, as history and geography do, or with general facts, as physics and chemistry do.
In both cases, it is knowledge only to the extent that it is based upon experimental reasoning, involving empirical investigations of the kind that occur in laboratories and observatories, or methodical investigations of the kind conducted by historians and geographers.
What did Hume exclude from the realm of knowledge? He refers to what he calls “natural philosophy”, as well as metaphysics and philosophical theology.
This view of knowledge and opinion comes down to us in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the form of a doctrine that has been variously called positivism or scientism. The twentieth-century form of scientism or positivism thus came to be called “logical positivism.”
Here we have one facet of the mistake about knowledge and opinion, the other facet of which is to be found in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. The latter is by far the more serious and the more far-reaching in its consequences.
Kant tells us that David Hume awakened him from his dogmatic slumbers. His prior dogmatism, as well as Hume’s skepticism, which Kant also found repugnant, was replaced by the critical philosophy that he developed. It is also sometimes called a transcendental philosophy because of its transcendence with regard to experience.
In order to understand this, it is necessary, first, to pay attention to two distinctions that are operative in Kant’s thinking. One is the distinction between the a priori and the a posteriori. The other is the distinction between the analytic and the synthetic.
The a priori, according to Kant, includes whatever is in the mind prior to any sense-experience and also whatever judgments it can make that are not based upon sense experience. The a posteriori is, of course, the opposite in both respects.
The analytic consists of judgments the truth of which depends entirely upon definitions. Clearly, such analytical judgments can be, in fact must be, a priori. Their truth depends solely upon a definition of terms, not upon sense-experience. Hume would have regarded such analytical judgments as truths that deal with the relation of our own ideas, not with matters of fact and existence. John Locke, before him, regarded them as mere verbal tautologies; in his words, judgments that are “trifling and uninstructive.” Locke, in my judgment, is correct in dismissing them as unworthy of serious consideration.
Earlier in this essay, I explained the character of self-evident truths, truths that have certitude and incorrigibility because it is impossible for us to think their opposites. Such a truth as a finite whole is greater than any of its parts is not analytical in Kant’s sense: its focal terms — whole and part — are indefinable. Nor is it a priori in Kant’s sense: its truth depends upon our understanding of the terms whole and part, an understanding that is derived from a single experience, such as tearing a piece of paper into pieces, thus dividing a whole into parts.
Philosophers since Kant have misconceived what an earlier tradition in philosophy had understood to be self-evident truths or axioms. They have mistakenly accepted Kant’s restriction of such truths to verbal tautologies, to trifling and uninstructive statements.
But this is not the worst of Kant’s mistakes. Much worse is his view about synthetic judgments a priori. A synthetic judgment is not trifling or uninstructive. It does not depend upon an arbitrary definition of terms. It is the kind of judgment that Hume regarded as a truth about matters of fact or real existence. In every such case, the opposite of what is asserted is possible — thinkable, conceivable. But for Hume, the very fact that a judgment is synthetic involves its dependence on experience of one sort or another. It cannot, therefore, be a priori — independent of sense experience.
To maintain that there are synthetic judgments a priori, as Kant does, is, perhaps, the single most revolutionary step that he took to overcome the conclusions reached by Hume that he found repugnant. What was his driving purpose in doing so? It was to establish Euclidean geometry and traditional arithmetic as sciences that not only have certitude, but also contain truths that are applicable to the world of our experience. It was also to give the same status to Newtonian physics.
To do this, Kant endowed the human mind with transcendental forms of sense-apprehension or intuition (the forms of space and time), and also with the transcendental categories of the understanding. The mind brings these transcendental forms and categories to experience, thereby constituting the shape and character of the experience we have.
According to Kant, the mind is not (as John Locke rightly insisted it was in his refutation of Cartesian innate ideas) a tabula rasa— a total blank — until it acquires ideas initially from sense-experience. Locke rightly subscribed to the mediaeval maxim that there is nothing in the mind that does not somehow derive from sense-experience. It was this maxim that Kant rejected.
The transcendental forms of sense-apprehension and the transcendental categories of the understanding are inherent in the mind and constitute its structure prior to any sense-experience. The common experience that all of us share has the character it does have because it has been given that character by the transcendental structure of the human mind. It has been formed and constituted by it. This elaborate machinery invented by Kant enabled him to think that he had succeeded in establishing and explaining the certitude and incorrigibility of Euclidean geometry, simple arithmetic, and Newtonian physics.
(Note: I agree with Dr. Adler that Kant was wrong if he maintained the certitude and incorrigibility of Euclidean geometry, simple arithmetic, and Newtonian physics.)
Three historic events suffice to show how illusory was the view that he had succeeded in doing that. The discovery and development of the non-Euclidean geometries and of modern number theory should suffice to show how utterly factitious was Kant’s invention of the transcendental forms of space and time as controlling our sense-apprehensions and giving certitude and reality to Euclidean geometry and simple arithmetic. Similarly, the replacement of Newtonian physics by modern relativistic physics, the addition of probabilistic or statistical laws to causal laws, the development of elementary particle physics and of quantum mechanics, should also suffice to show how utterly factitious was Kant’s invention of the transcendental categories of the understanding to give Newtonian physics certitude and incorrigibility. How anyone in the twentieth century can take Kant’s transcendental philosophy seriously is baffling, even though it may always remain admirable in certain respects as an extraordinarily elaborate and ingenious intellectual invention. So much for the illusory character of what Kant claimed for his transcendental philosophy as an attempt to give mathematics and natural science a certitude and incorrigibility that they do not possess.
(Note: This is the part that I disagree with Dr. Adler. It is the inherent universality of Kant’s transcendental forms of sense-apprehension and the transcendental categories of the understanding that allow us to have objective view of our ordinary sense-experience. However, its simple structure does not permit us to directly apprehend the intellectual world of non-Euclidean geometry, relativistic physics, and quantum mechanics.)
What about the critical character that Kant claimed for his philosophy — critical in the sense that it would save us from the dogmatism of traditional metaphysics, especially its cosmology and natural theology?
Kant argues for the exclusion of traditional metaphysics from the realm of genuine knowledge on the grounds that it must employ concepts derived from experience to make assertions that go beyond experience — the experience that is constituted by the a priori structure of the human mind. Where Hume dismissed traditional metaphysics as sophistry or illusion, Kant dismissed it as trans-empirical.
However, all the ideas used in metaphysics are not empirical concepts. The idea of God, for example, and the idea of the cosmos as a whole are not concepts derived from sense-experience. They are instead theoretical constructs. There is, therefore, nothing invalid about employing such an idea even if it goes beyond all the sense-experience available to us. Let me add here that, unlike an empirical concept, a theoretical construct does not and cannot have any perceived particular instances.
What I have just said about such metaphysical concepts as God and the cosmos as a whole applies equally to some of the most important ideas in twentieth-century theoretical physics, such ideas as the idea of quark, of certain elementary particles, such as mesons, or of black holes. All of these are theoretical constructs, not empirical concepts.
(Note: Here I agree with Dr. Adler. Indeed, the simplicity of Kant’s transcendental forms of sense-apprehension and the transcendental categories of the understanding does not permit us to directly apprehend the intellectual constructs of non-Euclidean geometry, relativistic physics, and quantum mechanics as well as the metaphysical concepts.)
Kant had no awareness of the distinction between empirical concepts and theoretical constructs. His reasons for dismissing traditional metaphysics as devoid of the validity appropriate to genuine knowledge would apply equally to much of twentieth-century physics. Here, once more, we have grounds for not taking much stock in Kant’s claims for the critical character of his philosophy.
(Here, I disagree with Dr. Adler.)
Finally, we come to what is, perhaps, the most serious mistake that modern philosophy inherited from Kant — the mistake of substituting idealism for realism. Even though Locke and his successor Hume made the mistake of thinking that the ideas in our minds are the only objects we directly apprehend, they somehow (albeit not without contradicting themselves) regarded us as having knowledge of a reality that is independent of our minds. Not so with Kant.
The valid knowledge that we have is always and only knowledge of a world we experience. But precisely because it is a world as experienced by us, it is not, according to Kant, a world independent of our minds. It is not independent, as we have already seen, because experience is constituted by the transcendental or a priori structure of our minds — its forms of intuition or apprehension and its categories of understanding. Not being independent of our minds, it can hardly be regarded as reality, for the essential characteristic of the real is independence of the human mind.
(Here, again, I disagree with Dr. Adler. The inherent universality of Kant’s transcendental forms of sense-apprehension and the transcendental categories of the understanding allow us to have objective view of our ordinary sense-experience. Kant did not say that the world is in our minds. It is still out there. It just appears to us the way it is because of the imposition of transcendental structure of human mind. Animals, having different transcendental structures of mind, apprehend the world differently from us and between species. So, what is the “Dinge an sich” of the real world? Who knows? We just want to know who shot JFK - the truth. Dr. Adler defines truth as the correspondence of the mind with reality. It is Lee Harvey Oswald who shot JFK and that is the reality. But "Oswald shot JFK" is not Kant's “Dinge an sich”, neither is his motive. The “Dinge an sich” in this case is the basic structure or essence of human nature that makes someone, like Oswald, a killer. Well, according to Kant, we can never know, for sure.)
For Kant the only things that are independent of the human mind are, in his words, “Dinge an sich” — things in themselves that are intrinsically unknowable. This is tantamount to saying that the real is the unknowable, and the knowable is ideal in the sense that it is invested with the ideas that our minds bring to it to make it what it is. (I will let Dr. Adler has the last words because I agree with him all other points he makes about “knowledge and opinion”, including metaphysics claims to have a hold on truth about reality, as well as the stand he takes in “What is an idea” and "The Intellect and the Senses".)
The positivism or scientism that has its roots in Hume’s philosophical mistakes, and the idealism and critical constraints that have their roots in Kant’s philosophical mistakes, generate many embarrassing consequences that have plagued modern thought since their day. In almost every case, the trouble has consisted in the fact that later thinkers tried to avoid the consequences without correcting the errors or mistakes that generated them.
The Three Primary Truths
There are three truths which must be accepted at the beginning of any investigation into the problem of knowledge and truth:
•The First Fact: The fact of our existence. “I exist.”
•The First Principle: The principle of contradiction. “A thing can not be and not-be at the same time in the same respect.”
•The First Condition: The essential capability of the mind to know truth. “My intellect can reason and discover truth.”
These primary truths cannot be “proved” by a positive demonstration because they are presupposed and involved in every demonstration. They are so evident that any attempt to doubt or deny them would already mean they have been affirmed and accepted. They are, therefore, fully grounded in reason and no reasonable person can dispute them consistently.
In fact, if anyone questions you as to their truth, simply ask: “What will you accept as proof for the truth of these three primary truths?” Put the challenge to the opponent. No opponent can even tell you what form of proof he would find acceptable without accepting the truth of the three primary truths in the first place! ...
Read the article at themoralliberal.com
The judgment that something is good or bad — or that it is better or worse than something else — is one we make every day, often many times a day. It is implicit in every choice we make. It is expressed every time we appraise anything or estimate its value for us. That is why judgments that attribute goodness or some degree of goodness to things have come to be called “value judgments.” ...
When we talk about the pursuit of truth, we are regarding truth as an object of desire and, in doing so, we are in effect attributing goodness to truth. ...
Read the article at themoralliberal.com
The distinction between descriptive and prescriptive propositions:
A descriptive proposition is one which asserts that something exists or has certain properties or attributes. It asserts that that which is, is; or that that which is not, is not. Obviously, such assertions correspond to that which is or is not. The contrary assertions — that the affirmation that that which is, is not — obviously do not correspond and, therefore, are false.
But prescriptive propositions — propositions that declare what ought to be sought, desired, or chosen, or what ought to be avoided, not desired, nor chosen — have no reality with which to correspond.In what sense, then, can they either be true or false? The failure to find an answer to this question has resulted in the modern view of ethics as noncognitive — that is, not a branch of objective valid knowledge.The only way this skeptical conclusion can be avoided is by expanding our understanding of truth. Can we find another mode of truth, one that is appropriate to prescriptions? According to Aristotle, the truth of injunctions (prescriptive truth) consists in their conformity to right desire.
The definition of truth and falsity in thought is as follows. It is the agreement or correspondence between what one thinks is the case and what is the case in reality.
Truth and falsity in thought parallel truth and falsity in speech. Truth in speech may accompany falsity in thought, and falsity in speech may accompany truth in thought. For this to be possible, it must also be possible for us to be mistaken or in error in our judgment about what is true or false.
This theory of truth and falsity rests on the following presuppositions: first, the existence of an independent reality which is what it is whether or not we know it and regardless of what we happen to be thinking about it; and second, the determinateness of that independent reality. This is made clear by the principle of contradiction as an ontological principle. Nothing can both be and not be at one and the same time. This principle is self-evidently true; you cannot think the opposite.
If any statement is ever true, it is always true, and unchangeably so, regardless of how we change our minds about it. This holds even for changing aspects of reality itself: the addition of a precise time specification in the statement makes it possible for the statement to be immutably true.
Most of the judgments we make about what is true or false are fallible and corrigible. They are mutable, not final. They have a future, in which they may be corrected or amended in some way, or replaced by other judgments that are truer.
The realm of judgments that have a future comprises those judgments with regard to which all relevant evidence may not yet be at hand, and the thinking we have done may not be as good as possible. Hence, when new evidence is found or when better thinking is done (or when we discover and correct errors or inadequacies in prior thinking), we change our minds and alter our judgments concerning the true and false.
The most impressive example of this is in jury trials of questions of fact. They imply two standards of proof: (1) by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not to be true); (2) beyond a reasonable doubt (but still not beyond all doubt, not beyond the shadow of a doubt).
The judicial reason for re-opening a case or having a second trial may be either to allow for the introduction of new evidence, or to correct a procedural error that may have affected the deliberations of the jury. Reversal is possible even if the original verdict was beyond a reasonable doubt.
What I have just said about jury trials applies to all fields of research, historical and scientific, to everything that is in what I am going to call “the realm of doubt,” which is the realm of judgments that have a future — judgments that are subject to change, that are not final, infallible, and incorrigible.
Are there judgments that belong to the realm of certitude?
The realm of certitude is the realm of judgments that are subjectively as immutable as objective truth is. These are judgments for which we dare to claim finality, infallibility, and incorrigibility — without being dogmatic. They are, therefore, judgments that have no future.
What judgments have this status?
All self-evident truths: judgments the opposite of which it is impossible for us to think, such as the principle of contradiction; the statement about wholes and parts involving indefinables; the statement that no triangle has any diagonals involving definitions.
All empirically falsified generalizations have this status also. No empirical generalization is beyond the shadow of a doubt. One negative instance falsifies such generalizations. Once falsified, it is always false — immutably.
Finally, this status belongs to evident truth, such as my own existence, or the existence of physical objects perceptually present to me when I am not hallucinating. For all practical purposes, such evident truths are certain rather than probable.
All other judgments fall in the sphere of doubt: all our common-sense generalizations, most of which are subject to falsification; all of the generalizations made in the empirical sciences; almost all scientific theories or hypotheses — which are subject to correction, amendment, or rejection in the light of new evidence or better thinking; a great deal of what we call “historical knowledge” including both what we regard as historical facts and also the interpretation of these facts.
All these judgments are placed in the realm of doubt; they, though now regarded by us as true, may turn out to be false when new evidence is forthcoming or better thinking is done.
Nevertheless, we normally use the word “knowledge” when we speak of our common-sense knowledge of the world in which we live, of our scientific knowledge of it, or our historical knowledge of its past, and so on.
We distinguish between the realm of knowledge and the realm of opinion, as follows: knowledge consists in the possession of the truth. The phrase “false knowledge” is self-contradictory. The phrase “true knowledge” is redundant. Only opinion, not knowledge, can be either true or false.
It would appear that what we call knowledge is no better than opinion, if it can turn out to be false. Must we restrict our use of the word “knowledge” to judgments that clearly belong in the realm of certitude and refrain from using the word “knowledge” for any judgments that belong in the realm of doubt?
The resolution of this apparent paradox is as follows. It consists in noting a strong and weak use of the word “knowledge” and a strong and weak use of the word “opinion.” In its strong use, the word “knowledge” refers to judgments that belong in the realm of certitude. In its weak use, the word “knowledge” and in its strong use, the word “opinion” refer to a middle ground.
Here we have, not final or incorrigible truth of the kind we have in the realm of certitude (knowledge in the strong sense), but only that which is truer than anything else at the moment.
That which is truer than alternatives may become truer still with additional evidence or better thinking (may have even more reasonable grounds). Or it may be replaced by an alternative that is truer in the light of more evidence or better thinking. Nevertheless, our claim of truth here is not an unsupported claim. On the contrary, it is the truth we must affirm in the light of the best evidence we now have and the best thinking we can now do.
At the opposite extreme is mere opinion — totally unsupported opinion, not knowledge in even the weaker sense of that term. When we express, espouse, or insist upon such opinions, we do so only as a matter of personal prejudice. It is an act of will on our part, not an act of thought. Here, if we use the word “truth” at all, we do so in the purely subjective sense: “true for me, and that’s all there is to it.” It may still remain the case that such opinions are either objectively true or false, since whatever is asserted about the way things are may either agree or not agree with the way that in fact things really are. But, since we can offer no reasonable grounds to support such opinions (since we have no evidence in favor of them or thinking to base them on), our assertion of them reduces to mere opinion.
The sphere of taste consists of all opinions that, being unsupported, are unarguable. It may also include opinions that are not only unsupported but are intrinsically unsupportable. This applies to all opinions that are nothing but expressions of our likes and dislikes and cannot be anything else (the intrinsically unsupportable); and also to those opinions that are unsupported at a given time, but which may nevertheless not be intrinsically unsupportable.
In sharp contrast, the sphere of truth consists of those opinions (in the strong sense, which is identical with knowledge in the weak sense) that are intrinsically supportable and that are also based on reasonable grounds — supported by what evidence is available and what thinking has been done. Here the judgment we make is necessitated by evidence or reasons: it is not voluntary or an entirely free choice on our part.
Skepticism about value judgments — about the validity of our attribution of goodness to objects and about the truth of any statement that contains the words “ought” or “ought not” — begins in the modern world.
At the dawn of modern thought, Thomas Hobbes and Benedict Spinoza advanced the view that “good” was merely the name we gave to those things that in fact we happened to desire. If we had an aversion to them instead, we would call them bad. Since desires and aversions are matters of individual temperament and predilection, there is nothing that all human beings agree upon as deserving to be called good or bad. Just as the skeptic concerning truth says that what is true for me may not be true for you, so here the skeptic says that what is good for you may not be good for me.
A century or more later, David Hume reinforced skepticism about values. He pointed out that from our knowledge of the facts about nature or reality (as complete as one might wish it to be), we cannot validate a single value judgment that ascribes to an object a goodness that makes it true to say that all men ought to desire it.
Those identify the good with pleasure do not avoid the thrust of his skeptical challenge. Rather, they reinforce it, for what pleases one individual may not please another; and, in any case, the goodness that is identified with pleasure does not reside in the object but in the emotional experience of the individual.
In our own century, a group of thinkers, whose names are associated with a doctrine that has come to be called “noncognitive ethics”, use the word “ethics” to refer to the whole sphere of moral judgments about good and bad, or right and wrong, especially in the form of prescriptions about what ought and ought not to be sought or what ought and ought not to be done. Their dismissal of ethics as “noncognitive” is their way of saying that statements that assert an ought or an ought-not cannot be either true or false.
Not capable of being either true or false, such assertions are noncognitive. They do not belong to the sphere of knowledge. Thrown out of the sphere of truth, they are relegated to the sphere of taste. They are at best expressions of personal predilection or prejudice, entirely relative to the feelings, impulses, whims, or wishes of the individual.
Once we conceive the truth of a statement as residing in its correspondence with the facts of the matter under consideration, with the way things really are, we are led to the conclusion that only statements that assert that something is or is not the case can be either true or false.
All such statements can be characterized as descriptions of reality. Statements that contain the words “ought” or “ought not” are prescriptions, not descriptions of anything. If our understanding of truth and falsity conceives them as properties that can be found only in descriptions, then we cannot avoid the skeptical conclusion that prescriptive statements cannot be either true or false.
The only way this skeptical conclusion can be avoided is by expanding our understanding of truth. Can we find another mode of truth, one that is appropriate to prescriptions?
For the answer to this question, we must go back to antiquity — to the thought of Aristotle. Recognizing that the descriptive mode of truth did not apply to prescriptive statements (which he called “practical” because they are regulative of human action), Aristotle proposed another mode of truth appropriate to practical judgments.
That mode of truth, he said, consists in the conformity of such judgments with right desire. Unfortunately, Aristotle did not explain what he meant by right desire. We are, therefore, on our own in pushing the inquiry farther.
What is right desire? It would appear that the answer must be that right desire consists in desiring what we ought to desire, as wrong desire consists in desiring what we ought not to desire.
What ought one to desire? The answer cannot be — simply and without qualification — that we ought to desire what is good. As Plato’s Socrates repeatedly pointed out, we never desire anything that we do not, at the moment of desiring it, deem to be good. Hence, we must somehow find a way of distinguishing between the goods that we rightly desire and the goods that we wrongly desire.
We are helped to do this by the distinction that Socrates makes between the real and the apparent good. He repeatedly reminds us that our regarding something as good because we in fact desire it does not make it really good in fact. It may, and often does, turn out to be the very opposite. What appears to be good at the time we desire it may prove to be bad for us at some later time or in the long run. The fact that we happen to desire something may make it appear good to us at the time, but it does not make it really good for us.
If the good were always and only that which appears good to us because we consciously desire it, it would be impossible to distinguish between right and wrong desire. Aristotle’s conception of practical or prescriptive truth would then become null and void. It can be given content only if we can distinguish between the apparent good (that which we call good simply because we consciously desire it at a given moment) and the real good (that which we ought to desire whether we do in fact desire it or not).
How can we find some way of identifying what is really good, that which we ought to desire whether we do in fact desire it or not? Aristotle provides us with the answer by calling out attention to a fundamental distinction in the realm of desire.
On the one hand, there are the desires with which we are innately endowed; they are inherent in human nature. Not only are they present in all human beings, but they are always operative tendentially or appetitively (that is, they always tend toward or seek fulfillment), whether or not we are conscious of such tendencies or drives.
On the other hand, there are the desires that each individual acquires in the course of his or her life, each as the result of his or her own individual temperament and by the circumstances of his or her individual life. Consequently, unlike natural desires, which are the same in all human beings, acquired desires differ from individual to individual, as individuals differ in their temperaments, experiences, and the circumstances of their lives. Also, unlike our natural desires, of which we may not be conscious at a given moment, we are always conscious of our acquired desires at the time they are motivating us in one direction or another.
The quickest and easiest way to become aware of the validity of this distinction between natural and acquired desires is to employ two words that are in everyone’s vocabulary and are in daily use. Let us use the word “needs” for our natural desires, and the word “wants” for the desires we acquire. Translated into these familiar terms, what we have said so far boils down to this: that all human beings have the same specifically human needs, whereas individuals differ from one another with regard to the things they want.
The use of the words “need” and “want” enables us to go further. Our common understanding of needs provides us at once with the insight that there are no wrong or misguided needs. That is just another way of saying that we never need anything that is really bad for us. We recognize that we can have wrong or misguided wants. That which we want may appear to be good to us at the time, but it may not be really good for us. Our needs are never excessive, as our wants often are. We can want too much of a good thing, but we can never need too much of whatever it is we need. We can certainly want more than we need.
One thing more, and most important of all: we can never say that we ought or ought not to need something. The words “ought” and “ought not” apply only to wants, never to needs.
The distinction between needs and wants enables us to draw the line between real goods and apparent goods. Those things that satisfy or fulfill our needs or natural desires are things that are really good for us. Those that satisfy our wants or acquired desires are things that appear good to us when we consciously desire them. They may either turn out to be harmless or innocuous (in that they do not impede or prevent our acquiring the real goods we need) or they may turn out to be the very opposite (quite harmful or really bad for us because they somehow deprive us of one or another of the real goods we need).
We can never be mistaken about our wants. No one can be incorrect in saying that he wants something. But it is quite possible for individuals to be mistaken about their needs.
If we can be mistaken about our needs, does not that weaken the underpinning of our argument so far? To avoid this, we must be able to determine with substantial accuracy the needs inherent in human nature.
Since their gratification often requires the presence of certain favorable environmental circumstances, we must also be able to determine the indispensable external conditions that function instrumentally in the satisfaction of needs (e.g., a healthy environment is instrumentally needed to safeguard the health of its members). Success in these efforts depends on the adequacy of our knowledge and understanding of human nature in itself and in its relation to the environment.
It is by reference to our common human needs that we claim to know what is really good for all human beings. Knowing this, we are also justified in claiming that we can determine the truth or falsity of prescriptions. As Aristotle said, prescriptions are true if they conform to right desire. All our needs are right desires because those things that satisfy our natural desires are things that are really good for us. When we want what we need, our wants are also right desires.
The injunction to want knowledge, for example, is a true prescription because human beings all need knowledge. Since the acquired desire for knowledge is a right desire, because it consists in wanting what everyone needs, the prescription “You ought to want and seek knowledge” is universally and objectively true — true for all human beings — because it conforms to a right desire that is rooted in a natural need. That truth comes to us as the conclusion of reasoning that rests on two premises.
1. The first is a categorical prescription: We ought to desire (seek and acquire) that which is really good for us.
2. The second is a statement of fact about human nature: Man has a potentiality or capacity for knowing that tends toward or seeks fulfillment through the acquirement of knowledge. In other words, the facts about human nature are such that man needs knowledge and that knowledge is really good for man.
Now, if the foregoing categorical prescription is true and if, in addition, the foregoing statement of fact about human nature involving a need for knowledge is true, then the prescriptive conclusion, that everyone ought to want and seek knowledge, is also true.
The truth of the categorical prescription that underlies every piece of reasoning that leads to a true prescriptive conclusion is a self-evident truth. Anyone can test this for himself by trying to think the opposite and finding it impossible. We simply cannot think that we ought to desire that which is really bad for us, or that we ought not to desire that which is really good for us.
What about the truth of the other premise in the reasoning? That is a factual premise. It asserts a fact about human nature. Man’s natural desire or need for knowledge can be asserted as true, if not with certitude, then with a very high degree of assurance that suffices for present purposes.
What about other natural desires or needs, about which we must make accurate statements of fact if we are to proceed with reasoning that will yield us other true prescriptive conclusions? I have already admitted that, while we can never make a misstatement about our wants, we may be mistaken about our needs. Such mistakes would result in false rather than true factual assertions about human nature and the desires that are inherent in it.
The consequence of this is obvious. The prescriptive conclusions to which our practical reasoning would lead us would then be false rather than true. Therefore, what remains for further inquiry is whether our knowledge of human nature enables us to identify — with sufficient assurance, not with certitude — the real goods that fulfill man’s natural desires or needs.
I conceded earlier that David Hume was correct in pointing out that from our knowledge of matters of fact about reality or real existence, and from that alone, we cannot validly reason to a true prescriptive conclusion — a judgment about what one ought or ought not to do. In the foregoing statement, I have italicized the “and from that alone.” Upon that qualification, the correctness of Hume’s point rests. It follows, therefore, that practical or prescriptive reasoning can be validly carried on if it does not rely upon factual knowledge alone. Factual knowledge is represented solely in the second or minor premise.
The prescriptive conclusion, that everyone ought to want and seek knowledge, does not rest on that premise alone. It rests on that premise combined with the first and major premise — a categorical prescription that is self-evidently true, the injunction that we ought to want and seek whatever is really good for us. Upon this one categorical prescription rest all the prescriptive truths we can validate concerning the real goods that we ought to seek, limited only by the extent to which we can discover, with reasonable assurance, the facts about human nature and its inherent desires or needs.
(This lecture, which is part of the continuing Donley Memorial Lectures, was delivered at West Virginia University College of Law – March 23-24, 1981.)
Correspondence theory emphasizes that true beliefs and true statements correspond to the actual state of affairs. A judgment is said to be true when it conforms to the external reality. Truth is a matter of accurately copying what is known as "objective reality" and then representing it in thoughts, words and other symbols.
This type of theory stresses a relationship between thoughts or statements on one hand, and things or events on the other.
It is a traditional model tracing its origins to ancient Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. This class of theories holds that the truth or the falsity of a representation is determined in principle entirely by how it relates to "things", by whether it accurately describes those "things."
An example of correspondence theory is the statement by the thirteenth century philosopher/theologian Thomas Aquinas: Veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus ("Truth is the equation [or adequation] of things and intellect"), a statement which Aquinas attributed to the ninth century neoplatonist Isaac Israeli. Aquinas also restated the theory as: "A judgment is said to be true when it conforms to the external reality".
Correspondence theory centers heavily around the assumption that truth is a matter of accurately copying what is known as "objective reality" and then representing it in thoughts, words and other symbols. Many modern theorists have stated that this ideal cannot be achieved without analyzing additional factors. For example, language plays a role in that all languages have words to represent concepts that are virtually undefined in other languages. The German word Zeitgeist is one such example: one who speaks or understands the language may "know" what it means, but any translation of the word apparently fails to accurately capture its full meaning (this is a problem with many abstract words).
Realism and the correspondence theory of truth
The correspondence theory of truth suggests that truth is external; that the truth of our beliefs is not mind-dependent. If truth is not mind-dependent, and if truth is in that sense objective, then we have a version of realism, the view that there are are external things and events which are as they are independently of what we take them to be. Its central thesis is that true propositions “correspond” with reality. To say that the proposition is true is to say that it correctly represents reality. This, in turn, is commonly taken to mean that it represents a fact.
In correspondence theory, the truth or falsity of a statement of fact is determined by its relationship to the part of the world described by the statement....
Read the article at informationphilosopher.com Copy
A coherence theory bases the truth of a belief on the degree to which it coheres ("hangs together") with all the other beliefs in a system of beliefs (typically one person's beliefs, but it could be any body of knowledge).
In philosophies of idealism, all the ideas or beliefs are said to cohere with one another, perhaps because the world is reason itself or created by a rational agent.
In scientific theories, every new observational fact must be integrated with existing facts to make them maximally coherent. Perfect coherence is not to be expected, of course. Charles Sanders Peirce's theory of pragmatic truth is the coherent inter-subjective agreement of an open community of inquirers.
In analytic language philosophy, the truth of a proposition depends on its agreement with some larger set of propositions, ideally all known true propositions and any logical inferences from those propositions.
In traditional epistemology, the coherence may be internal to a personal set of beliefs that are accessible to a subject. In this case, coherence is one way to justify a belief.
The coherence theory is close to the consistency theory of truth. But consistency is only possible for relatively modest logical and mathematical systems. In a system of belief as large as the culture of a society, there are many conflicting beliefs. Even in the mind of a single subject, consistency of beliefs is more demanding than coherence, but neither is very likely.
Coherence and consistency are best understood as desirable conditions for any theory of truth, including the correspondence theory of truth.
The Correspondence Theory and the Semantic Theory account for the truth of a proposition as arising out of a relationship between that proposition and features or events in the world. Coherence Theories (of which there are a number), in contrast, account for the truth of a proposition as arising out of a relationship between that proposition and other propositions.
Coherence Theories are valuable because they help to reveal how we arrive at our truth claims, our knowledge. We continually work at fitting our beliefs together into a coherent system. For example, when a drunk driver says, "There are pink elephants dancing on the highway in front of us", we assess whether his assertion is true by considering what other beliefs we have already accepted as true, namely,
Elephants are gray.
This locale is not the habitat of elephants.
There is neither a zoo nor a circus anywhere nearby.
Severely intoxicated persons have been known to experience hallucinations.
But perhaps the most important reason for rejecting the drunk's claim is this:
Everyone else in the area claims not to see any pink elephants.
In short, the drunk's claim fails to cohere with a great many other claims that we believe and have good reason not to abandon. We, then, reject the drunk's claim as being false (and take away the car keys).
Specifically, a Coherence Theory of Truth will claim that a proposition is true if and only if it coheres with ___. For example, one Coherence Theory fills this blank with "the beliefs of the majority of persons in one's society". Another fills the blank with "one's own beliefs", and yet another fills it with "the beliefs of the intellectuals in one's society". The major coherence theories view coherence as requiring at least logical consistency. Rationalist metaphysicians would claim that a proposition is true if and only if it "is consistent with all other true propositions". Some rationalist metaphysicians go a step beyond logical consistency and claim that a proposition is true if and only if it "entails (or logically implies) all other true propositions". Leibniz, Spinoza, Hegel, Bradley, Blanshard, Neurath, Hempel (late in his life), Dummett, and Putnam have advocated Coherence Theories of truth.
The three most influential forms of the pragmatic theory of truth were introduced around the turn of the 20th century by Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. Although there are wide differences in viewpoint among these and other proponents of pragmatic theory, they hold in common that truth is verified and confirmed by the results of putting one's concepts into practice.
Peirce defines truth as follows: "Truth is that concordance of an abstract statement with the ideal limit towards which endless investigation would tend to bring scientific belief, which concordance the abstract statement may possess by virtue of the confession of its inaccuracy and one-sidedness, and this confession is an essential ingredient of truth." This statement stresses Peirce's view that ideas of approximation, incompleteness, and partiality, what he describes elsewhere as fallibilism and "reference to the future", are essential to a proper conception of truth. Although Peirce uses words like concordance and correspondence to describe one aspect of the pragmatic sign relation, he is also quite explicit in saying that definitions of truth based on mere correspondence are no more than nominal definitions, which he accords a lower status than real definitions.
William James's version of pragmatic theory, while complex, is often summarized by his statement that "the 'true' is only the expedient in our way of thinking, just as the 'right' is only the expedient in our way of behaving." By this, James meant that truth is a quality, the value of which is confirmed by its effectiveness when applying concepts to practice (thus, "pragmatic").
John Dewey, less broadly than James but more broadly than Peirce, held that inquiry, whether scientific, technical, sociological, philosophical or cultural, is self-corrective over time if openly submitted for testing by a community of inquirers in order to clarify, justify, refine and/or refute proposed truths.
Though not widely known, a new variation of the pragmatic theory was defined and wielded successfully from the 20th century forward. Defined and named by William Ernest Hocking, this variation is known as "negative pragmatism". Essentially, what works may or may not be true, but what fails cannot be true because the truth always works. Richard Feynman also ascribed to it: "We never are definitely right, we can only be sure we are wrong." This approach incorporates many of the ideas from Peirce, James, and Dewey. For Peirce, the idea of "... endless investigation would tend to bring about scientific belief ..." fits negative pragmatism in that a negative pragmatist would never stop testing. As Feynman noted, an idea or theory "... could never be proved right, because tomorrow's experiment might succeed in proving wrong what you thought was right." Similarly, James and Dewey's ideas also ascribe truth to repeated testing which is "self-corrective" over time.
Pragmatism and negative pragmatism are also closely aligned with the coherence theory of truth in that any testing should not be isolated but rather incorporate knowledge from all human endeavors and experience. The universe is a whole and integrated system, and testing should acknowledge and account for its diversity. As Feynman said, "... if it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong."
§ Reality and Truth Read 'Pragmatism’s Conception of Reality'
Reality and truth are coordinate concepts in pragmatic thinking, each being defined in relation to the other, and both together as they participate in the course of inquiry. Inquiry is not the occupation of a singular individual, but the common life of a community. - Peirce.
[Note: It is always an individual who first discovers the truth, however.]
"The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real. That is the way I would explain reality." (Peirce's How to Make Our Ideas Clear CP5-407)
For a realist, the real is nothing but the immediate object of that which is true. (Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, vol 6, BOOK I. ONTOLOGY AND COSMOLOGY, CHAPTER 12: NOTES ON METAPHYSICS, §18 Sufficient Reason CP6-393)
1. The world exists externally and is independently of our mind. (Philosophical Realism)
*Peirce: "Thus we may define the real as that whose characters are independent of what anybody may think them to be." (How to Make Our Ideas Clear §4: REALITY, CP5-405)
"That is real which has such and such characters, whether anybody thinks it to have those characters or not. At any rate, that is the sense in which the pragmaticist uses the word". (WHAT PRAGMATISM IS CP 5-430)
"The real, then, is that which, sooner or later, information and reasoning would finally result in, and which is therefore independent of the vagaries of me and you." (Some Consequences of Four Incapacities §4: MAN, A SIGN. CP5-311).
[Note: Thus, It can be said that Peirce holds the view that truth value of a belief depends solely on whether it depicts reality - A Correspondence Theory of Truth.]
*William James, in his Principles of Psychology- Chapter IX: The Stream of Thought, describes the fourth characteristic in thought: “Human thought appears to deal with objects independent of itself; that is, it is cognitive, or possesses the function of knowing.” (William James’ theory of consciousness)
2. There can be truths that would evade inquiry forever. (Metaphysical Reality)
a) The Ultimate Reality, the Abolute, or the existence of God can never be proven.
b) The thing-in-itself, the Dinge an sich, or noumenon is unknowable. (Kant’s Agnostic Realism)
*Peirce: "Who would have said, a few years ago, that we could ever know of what substances stars are made whose light may have been longer in reaching us than the human race has existed? Who can be sure of what we shall not know in a few hundred years? Who can guess what would be the result of continuing the pursuit of science for ten thousand years, with the activity of the last hundred? And if it were to go on for a million, or a billion, or any number of years you please, how is it possible to say that there is any question which might not ultimately be solved? (How to Make Our Ideas Clear §4: REALITY, CP5-409)
Peirce's conception of truth (as the final opinion) and of reality (as the object of this final opinion) has received much criticism. It has been argued, for instance, that we will never reach such final opinion; that we will never be in a position to know that we have reached it. (Cornelis De Waal's "On Pragmatism", page 26)
Later, Peirce acknowledged that there might be important questions that remain, in the end, unanswered. But that does not take away the need that we should always proceed on “[the] hope that the particular question which we are inquiring is susceptible of an approximate answer in a reasonable time” (In Illustrations of the Logic of Science by Charles Peirce (R422-16), Edited by Cornelis De Waal 2014). That is to say, for Peirce, the idea that there is a reality becomes a practical postulate of reason. (Cornelis De Waal’s “On Pragmatism”, page 15)
*The knowledge about the Ultimate Reality is by our definition, Truth of Certainty; and Dewey, in his Quest for Certainty, denied the Truth of Certainty.
*William James, in his The Will to Believe, tells us that we, sometimes and under certain conditions, have the right to believe the unknowable.
3. Practical Reality (or Pragmatic Reality) is something of which we must take account, whether we like it or not, if some purpose of our own is to get its fulfillment. (Read A.E. Taylor's Reality)
*For Peirce, truth is what scientific investigators would ultimately agree on. (Scientific Realism)
Peirce: "The real, then, is that which, sooner or later, information and reasoning would finally result in, and which is therefore independent of the vagaries of me and you. Thus, the very origin of the conception of reality shows that this conception essentially involves the notion of a community, without definite limits, and capable of an indefinite increase of knowledge." (Some Consequences of Four Incapacities CP5-311).
*William James: "True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate, and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot. That is the practical difference it makes to us to have true ideas; that, therefore, is the meaning of truth, for it is all that truth is known-as." ('Pragmatism's Conception of Truth' )
*Dewey prefers to use the term, "warranted assertiblity", to describe the distinctive property of ideas that results from successful inquiry. (warranted assertiblity - Naturalism)
Idealist philosophers in the time of William James, such as F. H. Bradley of Oxford, vilified him for defining truth pragmatically as that which works successfully or pays off in action. They failed to understand that James was offering a pragmatic test of truth, not a definition of it, which, for him, consisted in correspondence with reality.
Read 'Tests of Truth in Philosophy' in the following section.
The definition of truth as the correspondence of the mind with reality presupposes philosophical realism – the affirmation of a reality independent of the mind.
It must be remembered that the correspondence theory of truth is not itself a test of truth. It merely states the definition of truth — what it is. This underlies all the empirical and pragmatic tests of truth. As for the logical tests of truth, such as coherence or the absence of intrinsic contradiction in a theory, they do not presuppose the realist’s definition of truth as conformity of our thinking with the way things are. That is why idealists tend to define truth entirely in terms of coherence.
Tests of truth are either empirical or pragmatic or they are logical. In both cases, our sensitive powers and our rational processes may be involved, but in tests that are empirical and pragmatic, sensory experience, usually perceptual, is indispensable.
The empirical and pragmatic test of truth clearly derives from the correspondence definition of it. Let us suppose that you find yourself asleep in a hotel room that has three doors, one to the hallway, one to a clothes closet, and one to the bathroom. You awaken, fail to turn on the light, and wanting to go to the bathroom, your thinking about which door opens into the bathroom turns out to be incorrect or false. How did you find that out? By opening the wrong door and bumping your head against clothes in the closet. Your false or incorrect judgment has been tested by your action. Your action does not work out successfully.
Idealist philosophers in the time of William James, such as F. H. Bradley of Oxford, vilified him for defining truth pragmatically as that which works successfully or pays off in action. They failed to understand that James was offering a pragmatic test of truth, not a definition of it, which, for him, consisted in correspondence with reality.
Another empirical test of truth is offered by Karl Popper. It applies to all generalizations in science or philosophy; that is, statements that contain the word “all” or “always.” In his view, the test of truth with regard to such statements is to be found empirically in the perception of one or more negative instances.
The judgment that all swans are white is falsified by one negative instance — the perceptual experience of one black swan. Generalizations are exposed to the possibility of falsification. The generalized statements that time and time again escape such falsification are judged by us to be true with an increasing degree of probability, but they never attain certitude. They always remain in the sphere of doubt. They are never beyond the shadow of a doubt. That is why, with the exception of a small number of self-evident truths that do have certitude, philosophical knowledge is not what the Greeks thought of as episteme, but rather what they thought of as doxa — knowledge that remains in the sphere of doubt.
The remaining tests are logical, and here the principle of inner coherence is operative. Nevertheless, the correspondence definition of truth is still presupposed because the principle of non-contradiction (which governs coherence) is an ontological as well as a logical principle. In other words, coherence, or the absence of contradiction, is a sign of truth in our thinking because there are no contradictions in reality. Hence only a coherent theory or doctrine can correspond with reality.
When in the claims to truth made by historians, scientists, or philosophers, incoherence is found by virtue of some incompatibility among the elements of what is being proposed for consideration, the remedy, of course, is the elimination of one or the other of the incompatible elements, thus resolving the contradiction. It is in this way that hypotheses, theories, or doctrines are logically corrigible and amendable, becoming thereby not just true, but truer than they had been before.
Read the article at themoralliberal.com
It is commonly said that the great scientific fact of the nineteenth century was the establishment of the theory of biological evolution. This theory has influenced all branches of thought, not excepting philosophy. ….. Knowledge, like all other human things, has grown up in the struggle for existence. And this reflection has led to the belief that the structure of knowledge and its inner nature, like the structure of the physical organism, has been determined by biological needs. Bergson, William James, Vaihinger, and the pragmatists have emphasized different aspects of this view. And it has come to be thought that, in one way or another, knowledge is the handmaid of practical activity.
This was a new thought in philosophy, a thought which was not to be found in the classical systems of pre-evolution days. For Plato and Aristotle, for Berkeley, Hume, and Kant, knowledge was something ..... which might have come into existence with a bang, ready made and complete. It was regarded as wholly theoretical, and its theoretical character kept it in a water-tight compartment separated completely from the practical activities of life. …..
This new thought is likely to be abiding in its influence. The theory of knowledge can never return to its pre-evolution attitude. Any epistemology which in the future does not reflect, at least in some measure, the new insight, is likely to stand self-condemned as unscientific. The philosophies of Bergson and the pragmatists may well be no more, in the forms in which their authors have shaped them, than transient phenomena, symptoms of the passing age. They contain much that is not likely to remain for long acceptable to the scientific mind. But the influence of the thought that action at least in some measure governs knowledge will spread and will become incorporated in the philosophies of the future.
It frequently happens that the originators of a new idea ride it to death, and bring it, for the time being, into disrepute. And this, I fear, has been the tendency of the more extreme among the pragmatists. They have so subordinated knowledge to action that they have destroyed the basis of knowledge. And this has been instinctively perceived by the plain unphilosophical man who conceives that the definition of truth as any belief which 'works' is likely to lead to fantastic results. It would seem, therefore, that a balanced and sane examination of the issues is one of the chief needs of to-day in the theory of knowledge.
For knowledge has been conceived in the past as a value. I use the word value here in a special sense, and as practically equivalent to what some philosophers have called 'absolute value'. We commonly speak of food, money, clothes, houses, health, or anything else which we desire, as possessing value. But in the special sense in which I am electing to use the word they do not possess it. When it is said, in common parlance, that such things have value for us, it is meant only that they are things after which we strive because they satisfy our various needs and desires. It is true that the exact psychology of the matter has been the subject of much dispute. But the statement just made is good enough for our present purposes. In addition to the many things which we happen to desire and strive after there exist a few things which we feel are more exalted, and which we ought to strive after, whether in fact we do so or not. Common examples are goodness, beauty, and truth or knowledge. (There is a distinction between truth and knowledge, but that may be neglected for the moment.) The value of these things is believed to differ from the values of all other things in that there is in them an inherent rightness or excellence which imposes upon us an 'ought', an obligation to pursue and strive after them. Some people like meat; others prefer fish. But whichever your preference may happen to be, you do not assert that your preference is 'right' and the opposite liking 'wrong'. You do not think that all men 'ought' to prefer fish or meat as the case may be. You do not think that it is their duty to strive after meat or fish. These are matters of taste. De gustibus . . . But we do think that we 'ought' to prefer the good, the beautiful, and the true, to the evif, the unbeautiful, and the false. It is not here a matter of personal taste, but of one thing being inherently and in itself more excellent than another. The possession of this quality is what Ihere call value. And from this point of view I say that goodness, beauty, and knowledge possess, or are believed to possess, value; but that butter, eggs, clothes, houses, and the like do not possess it. It will readily be seen that by value I mean much the same as what is commonly meant by the word 'ideal'. Most people would admit that truth is an ideal. But no one would assert that butter is.
Now what I said was that, in the past, knowledge has generally been regarded as a value in this sense. It has been thought of as being an end in itself, as being valuable even when it cannot be shown to have any practical utility. Or at least it has been thought that if a proposition is true, it still remains true even if the knowledge of its truth is useless. That truth is something independent of our wishes and our needs; .... that truth is truth whether we like it or not; that it remains what it is whether it forwards or hinders the success of our practical undertakings ; these thoughts have seemed to men to possess genuine validity. And they stand in unyielding contradiction to the theory of knowledge as completely subordinated to action.
One question seems to have been insufficiently pondered by the upholders of the extreme pragmatic view. If knowledge has no purpose except action, what then is the purpose of action? The consideration of this question would carry them outside the bounds of epistemology into the sphere of ethics, which is perhaps not their strong point. And yet they cannot decline the issue. For it is they who have connected knowledge to action. It is they who have insisted that the two cannot be separate. And it is too late therefore to protest that ethical considerations must be given no weight in the theory of knowledge.
...... . The justification of knowledge, pragmatists tell us, is success in action, and its value — though they do not always say this — is a survival value. The criterion of right thinking is the successful satisfaction of biological needs. Will not the criterion of right action be also biological success? And will not moral ideas have no more than a survival value? Right action, we shall have to think, can only be defined as action which in the long run satisfies human desires. And what are these desires? Not the desire for knowledge, and not the desire for moral goodness. For to think this would be to argue in a circle. If moral conceptions only come into existence for the purpose of satisfying human desires, then those desires (which are the aim and end of life) must be prior to and independent of moral conceptions. And the same applies to knowledge. If knowledge is only an instrument, then it is not an end. What other ends can be suggested? The satisfaction of our aesthetic desires? But no one is likely to say that the desires for the satisfaction of which knowledge and morality have been evolved in the struggle for existence are the aesthetic desires. And certainly that is not the answer commonly given by pragmatism.
What desires, then, are left ? None, so far as I can see, except the brute desires of the body. I am far from wishing to decry as low or contemptible the body and its desires. They have their proper place in life, and an honourable place it is. But what I wish to point out is that theories of knowledge and ethics which reduce both truth and morality to a striving after the satisfaction of the non- spiritual desires destroy completely the conception of value which was explained above. Knowledge, in that case, has no aim except to help towards success in action; and action has no aim except the satisfaction of desires. And since these desires cannot be the desires for truth, goodness, or beauty, they can only be the desires for food, sex, health, wealth, power, and the like. These must be our sole ideals, these the final aim and justification of our lives. But I say that to admit this is to destroy all value and to make life purposeless.
….. The unqualified acceptance of successful action as the sole criterion of truth will destroy, not only truth, but moral and aesthetic values as well. If reason, logic, and science lead to this conclusion, we must loyally accept it, even though it devastate our hopes and our ideals. …… Whether reason, logic, and science do in fact lead to this conclusion is, however, not yet clear, and is precisely the question to be examined. And therefore we must have the issue clear to start with. Either there must be some other criterion of true knowledge besides that of success in action, or else we must submit to the destruction of all values and ideals and admit that our life has no higher purpose than the satisfaction of our desires to go on living, to live softly, pleasantly, or powerfully. If value is destroyed there can, of course, be no higher or lower in anything in life. For all judgements of 'higher' and 'lower' are judgements of value. Man will be no higher than the brute. Beautiful art will be no higher than eating and drinking. Socrates will be no better than the pig……
Of course it may be possible to take up for the moment the position that the function of knowledge is success in action, but that action itself is or ought to be governed by some absolute end other than mere success or survival. We might try to adopt, for example, some realistic theory of goodness as an objective quality of the external world (or of the internal world) on a par with qualities of things such as redness, spatiality, or other such. But in the first place such a position would not be consistent. For our belief in the existence of objective qualities would itself be a piece of knowledge which would have to be explained as a function of practical activity. And secondly, such a position is obviously one in which philosophy could not rest. The inevitable outcome of taking successful activity as the sole criterion of truth is to make it also the sole criterion of morals. We may set up some such half-and-half philosophy as a temporary dam against the value-destroying flood. But the flood will carry it away.
……….. We must either give up our belief in value, or we must find some criterion of truth which is not wholly dependent upon practical activity. We cannot have it both ways. …………..
That truth is something to be sought for its own sake. and not for its practical utility, is a belief which has been the spur of science and philosophy in the past. Great discoveries have for the most part been made m those civilizations in which the disinterested pursuit of truth, regardless of practical issues, has been an honoured ideal. And if this spirit should die, it is probable that science would die with it. In such civilizations as that of India knowledge for its own sake is not highly valued. Neither philosophical nor scientific problems are thought out for their own sakes as problems. Indians have never puzzled their heads, as the early Greeks did, about the motions of the heavenly bodies or their physical composition. Their only interest in the stars was astrological, i.e. they were only concerned to know whether the stars had any practical influence on life. If Europeans had been similarly practical-minded, astronomy would never have been born. It is the same in philosophy. The European is anxious to solve philosophical problems for their own sakes. Hence the wealth of European philosophical thought. The Indian only values philosophical knowledge if it can be put to practical use in freeing the soul from 'the wheel of things', in attaining Nirvana, union with Brahma, or some other such self-regarding end. And the result of this attitude is that science has never come into existence at all, and that philosophy, which has never separated itself properly from religion, has, after a brief early career, stagnated for centuries. And the people— in spite of Yoga philosophies and the like — have remained steeped in ignorance, error, and superstition.
These considerations show, at any rate, that belief in truth as one of the genuine values is deep-set in the human spirit. They show also that this belief has been of service to the human race, from which it would seem to follow that on pragmatic grounds it ought to be regarded as true! It may, nevertheless, be a delusion. But it is at least not a recommendation to a philosophy that it flies in the face of man's deepest ideals and aspirations. And when one remembers that the pragmatic view of knowledge has been belauded by some of its followers on the very ground that it enables man to have faith, through the 'will to believe', in his own ideals, the ironical nature of the position becomes clear. We have been told that since truth is what works, we can repose faith in our religious and moral aspirations if we find that they assist us in life. The delusive character of this hope should now be clear. It proposes to support our values by first destroying them.
We had thought that in some way moral activity was good and right because it is rational, because reason validates it. But we cannot have it both ways. If practical action validates reason, as these philosophers would have us think, then reason cannot validate practical action. If rational knowledge has no validity except as a guide to successful action, then the validity of right action cannot be founded on reason. On the pragmatist view reason has for its end action. And action has for its end what? Nothing, so far as I can see, except the satisfaction of desire. And then value disappears.
The same point may be put otherwise. According to the pragmatist view, if it is followed to its logical conclusion, not only truth but all values are for the sake of action. What then is action for the sake of? The answer is an absolute blank. But the opposite view is possible, and does not leave us with a blank at the end of our inquiries. This view consists in asserting that instead of value being for the sake of action, action is, on the contrary, for the sake of value. Our lives are then no longer purposeless. Knowledge is not something that has no meaning and no value except in so far as it helps us to ward off dangers, to obtain food, to keep on living our useless lives. It is a real ideal to strive for. Art is not to be sought after merely because it satisfies some idle and transient desire which is of such a nature that we should be just as well off if (like the pig) we did not have the desire at all. Art too is something to live for. Moral goodness is not the mere success of the species in the wearisome and fatuous business of keeping alive, a means to an end which is in itself purposeless, but it is an aspiration to an end which is really and genuinely higher and better than the lives we are leading. We live and strive for the absolute ends of truthf beauty, and goodness. We are not artists, saints, scientists, and philosophers merely in order to live. Much easier and probably pleasanter to live by being pork butchers. But we live, even the pork butchers among us, in the hope of becoming artists, saints, scientists, and philosophers. Such a view validates value, just as the pragmatist view destroys it.
If it is true, as I have urged elsewhere, that truth and reason lie at the heart of both beauty and moral goodness; and that truth is rational thinking, beauty rational feeling, and goodness rational action, then it is clear that in epistemology lies the whole crux of man's spiritual situation. We have to look to the theory of knowledge either to validate or to condemn not only truth-value, but moral and aesthetic values as well. And the question upon which this whole problem of man's spiritual life turns is this. Has rational knowledge, has truth, any justification apart from its use as a guide to successful action? If it has, then man's spiritual life is founded on a rock. If it has not, then all human ideals are vain.
I said at the beginning of this chapter that any future epistemology which fails to incorporate the thought that the development and structure of knowledge have been in some measure determined by biological needs, i.e. by the practical problem of living, must stand self-condemned. The pragmatic view rests upon a genuine insight, embodies a truth not again to be ignored with impunity. It is not therefore a simple question of finding arguments to dispute the pragmatic view in the interests of human values. The problem is rather to found an epistemology which reconciles the two sides of the dilemma, which gives due weight to the pragmatic element in knowledge without condemning knowledge to fatuity.
And we can see at once that the apparent contradiction is not absolute. Because knowledge has a biological value, it does not follow that it has no other value. Because its origin is in biological needs, it does not follow that it ends in them. It is an ancient and venerable insight that the essence of a thing, and its value, are not to be determined by any considerations regarding its historical origin and development. The flower is something other than the mud and dung out of which it grows. …….. Morality may have come into being through the struggle for existence and the biological advantages of co-operative effort. But it does not follow that morality is nothing but intelligent selfishness. Selfishness may at first have dictated to us a policy of fair treatment to others as well as to ourselves. And we may afterwards have come to see that the unselfishness which was thereby engendered is good in itself, apart from the selfish motive which was its origin. We may well believe that out of the stress and struggle of living, out of the evolution of life, there have emerged values which transcend their lowly origins. This may be true both of knowledge and of the other values. And a detailed examination of the structure of knowledge may perhaps support this view.
It will be objected perhaps that in the foregoing discussion we have not allowed a sufficiently wide interpretation of the pragmatist point of view. In order to do it anything like justice, one must not attach too narrow a meaning to such words as 'action', 'useful', 'working', which so constantly appear in its vocabulary. One must not think that 'action' is confined to purely practical activities. Thinking itself, even when purely theoretical, is an action. The manipulation of the retort by the chemist, the adjustment of the telescope by the astronomer, even when they are directed to the making of discoveries apparently remote from the common affairs of life, are yet actions. The 'useful' is not merely that which satisfies our lower physical or other desires, but rather that which is instrumental towards any desired end, including ideal ends such as knowledge for its own sake. A mathematical device is 'useful' if it helps to solve the problem with which the mathematician is concerned, notwithstanding that this problem may have, or appear to have, no practical bearing of any kind. Similar remarks apply to the conception of what 'works'. Einstein's theory of relativity 'works' if it solves the problem which it is intended to solve. The proposition 'Queen Anne is dead' is true and 'works' because it fits in with the evidence, and to believe it does not bring about any untoward practical or theoretical consequences.
We must certainly bear in mind these admirable professions of intention. But the position appears to be as follows,: (i) If the narrower interpretation is given to the terms which we have just been discussing, if knowledge is conceived as relative to practical activities, then pragmatism may remain self-consistent, but at the cost of destroying the concept of value. (2) If the more extended meanings suggested in the last paragraph are given to the pragmatist's stock words, then pragmatism becomes self- contradictory, and will be compelled to admit the reality of a truth which is independent of action and independent of any kind of usefulness.
……… Pragmatist writers tell us that knowledge, like anything else, can be treated as an end in itself. But this needs analysis. Suppose that the proposition P is true. On pragmatist principles this can only mean that its truth consists in the fact that it constitutes a successful means to some end other than its own truth.True propositions cannot be defined as propositions which are successful in being means to truth. Such a definition is circular and self-contradictory. It makes truth dependent on truth. In effect it makes truth absolute and self-dependent and independent of being a successful means to anything. It is therefore inconsistent with pragmatism. When it is said, therefore, that knowledge may be made an end in itself, all that the pragmatist can consistently mean by this assertion is that the knowledge of the proposition P may as a matter of psychological fact be treated by individual minds as an end in itself, but that its truth, whether it is so treated or not, still depends entirely upon its being useful as a means to some end other than itself. Truth is not true 'in itself'. It is only true as subserving some end other than truth, i.e. some end which is not theoretical but practical. So we come back to the same old position. If pragmatism defines truth in terms of purely practical ends, it destroys value. If it attempts to rise above this and to admit knowledge as a values it is self-contradictory and destroys itself.
So we see pragmatism doing what we are all apt to do when we have been so unfortunate as to take up a false position. It attempts to maintain itself by twisting. It takes up first a position based on the concepts of practical activities, biological needs, &c. It soon begins to feel this position uncomfortable because it is dimly perceived to be inconsistent with any belief in value. It therefore tries to shift its position while nevertheless using the same words. It endeavours somehow to foist into its conceptions of the 'useful', of 'what works', and of what leads to successful 'action', the quite alien conceptions of the theoretic value of truth, of knowledge as an end in itself, and so on. Hence arises that loose, ambiguous, and elusive use of such words as 'useful' and 'works' which has always been characteristic of pragmatists. The ambiguity of language is used to conceal the essential inconsistency of thought. And if we try to tie down the meaning of the terms to anything definite, the pragmatist will at once complain that he is misunderstood', that our interpretation of his terms is too narrow, &c.
But we began by admitting that the pragmatic point of view contains a genuine insight. The insight is that the structure and even the validity of knowledge must have been moulded in some way by practical needs in the course of the evolution of the species. We have to work out a sane theory of truth, a theory which includes this insight while at the same time avoiding the errors of pragmatism. It is time that the less irresponsible elements in the philosophical world began to seek out a satisfactory theory, a theory which must be characterized by judgement and balance, and not by paradox and cheap cleverness.
"Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again." - William Cullen Bryant
Truth (1896) by Olin Warner
Truth, holding a mirror and a serpent (1896) by Olin Levi Warner, (completed by Herbert Adams). Left bronze door at main entrance of the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building.
Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy by François Lemoyne, 1737.
Completed on the day before the artist’s suicide.