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Honestly…what is with your truth? October 24, 2010

Posted by shaunphilly in religion, atheism, polyamory, culture.
Tags: , , ,

I have been spending some time recently thinking about truth.

No, that’s not quite right.  I haven’t necessarily been thinking about truth, but I have been thinking about the subject of truth.

That’s not quite right either.  I guess I’ve been thinking about thinking about truth.  Meta-truth, if you will.  And as I did so, I started to get that semi-relativistic head-throbbing that comes when trying to work out the paradoxes of epistemology.  So I took a step back, took a deep breath, and eventually I realized something.  It’s nothing hugely profound, or even novel.  But I think it’s important, nonetheless.

Perhaps we are putting too much emphasis on ‘truth.’  Perhaps this is the wrong primary approach.  This word ‘truth’ is, after all, deceptive.  Because we are not often very certain of it’s parameters or its contents, we are often left with jumbles pieces and we know not how to assemble them.  We end up being circus clowns of truthiness, juggling and dancing to keep up while endeavoring to keep a straight, serious, face.  Truth is serious stuff, after all, and not for clowns.

This reminded me of something that good old Soren Kierkegaard said:

One must not let oneself be deceived by the word ‘deception.’  One can deceive a person for the truth’s sake, and (to recall old Socrates) one can deceive a person into the truth.  Indeed, it is only by this means, i.e. by deceiving him, that it is possible to bring into the truth one who is in error.

Yeah! Take that all you people in error.  I’m gonna kick the truth into you…or something….  You’re gonna wish you ain’t done been wrong in all that error-having you have had….  Sorry, lost it there for a second.  Kierkegaard has that kind of affect on me, it seems.

(BTW, this is not license for people to keep lying for Jesus)

I will not comment on the quote itself, but will prefer to allow it to speak for itself.  I have always liked it though, and am glad to pass it on.

What is the truth? Is there (or is there not) a god? I don’t know.  How to evaluate something that is often so nebulous and slippery as the concept ‘god’ which makes belief in often impossible for the mere fact that we don’t know what the term is supposed to indicate. How can I say it does not exist when I don’t know what it is?  How can I believe in it for the same reason?

(And how do so many people keep claiming that atheism is the claim that there is no god in light of this impossibility?)

But at least we can ask people to be truthful, to tell the truth as best they can, in order to have an honest discussion. But something is not quite right about that phrase.  For some time I could not quite put my finger on what it was, but then it occurred to me; I’m not so much advocating truth as I am advocating honesty.

The simple, brute, fact is that we can’t always know that we have the “truth” in order to give it to others.  If someone asks me to give them the truth, I often have little choice but to cock my head and follow-up with some question.  I need clarification.  And even if I receive the ideal level of clarification, I won’t necessarily be able to give the TruthTM.

But I can be honest.  I can even give good reasons that support the opinion I am being honest about.  But do I dare call it truth?

It seems that such a step is often considered arrogant.  How do I know it’s true? What if I’m wrong?

What I think is going on here is that the term ‘honesty’ has a flavor to it which is often soft and bland.  It has no zing to merely be honest.  People want the truth, right?  Being honest is merely stating an opinion.  But giving the truth…well that’s just sexy!

There is a responsibility behind claiming to give the truth which may not seem as naturally wedded to being honest; and perhaps for good reason.  But I feel that in presenting our beliefs, we have a responsibility to make sure that those belief have gone through some thought, fact-checking, and other considerations.  They, perhaps, have not gone through peer-review, but that is what saying them is for.

And to think those ideas to be true? Well, at some point the ideas we hold, especially if they survive our vetting and the conversational battle-field, we will believe with the force of ‘truth’ (whatever that is) whether it is objectively true (whatever THAT is…) or not.

But recently I’m preferring the concept of honesty, responsible honesty, to truth.

And honesty, in light of politics (both governmental and interpersonal), is an idea perhaps more fundamental and important.  The simple fact is that I don’t often believe that many people are truly…honestly…being honest with themselves or with other people.

I think that would be a good place to start for many people I’ve known in my life.

But they might not even know I’m talking about them.  While they may see the truth in what I say, they may not see the dishonesty in which they live.



1. dangeroustalk - October 26, 2010

Ain’t that the Truth, 😉

2. Dennis Rockingham - October 28, 2010

Since you’re a liar I’ll post this about Faith in Reason from your friend’s blog, this is in response to his article….

Your arguments in the examiner article are rather unsophisticated and betray an almost total ignorance of the philosophy of science.

“Science doesn?t depend on the laws of physics remaining constant; science observes that the laws of physics seem to be constant”

Most philosophers of science from Carnap and Quine to Haack and Mayo would disagree with you. Their arguments would likely be over your head or would take far too long to communicate to the lay reader.

In a nutshell They would argue that nature requires some principle of the uniformity of nature. Without going into the voluminous reasons why they argue these positions briefly: if scientific theories were never corroborated there could be no ‘science’.

Fortunately for you however there are philosophers of science that would more or less agree with your position, the anti-inductivists. By far the most influential philosopher of science in that camp would be Karl Popper. But It was Popper who coined the phrase faith in reason:

“”The rationalist attitude is characterized by the importance it attaches to argument and experience. But neither logical argument nor experience can establish the rationalist attitude; for only those who are ready to consider argument or experience, and who have therefore adopted this attitude already, will be impressed by them.

That is to say, a rationalist attitude must be first adopted if any argument or
experience is to be effective, and it cannot therefore be based upon argument or
experience. (And this consideration is quite independent of the question whether or not there exist any convincing rational arguments which favour the adoption of the rationalist attitude.)

We have to conclude from this that no rational argument will have a rational effect on a man who does not want to adopt a rational attitude. Thus a comprehensive rationalism is untenable.

But this means that whoever adopts the rationalist attitude does so because he has adopted, consciously or unconsciously, some proposal, or decision, or belief, or behavior; an adoption which may be called ‘irrational’.

Whether this adoption is tentative or leads to a settled habit, we may describe it as an irrational FAITH IN REASON. So rationalism is necessarily far from comprehensive or self-contained.””

If you follow the development of anti-inductivism from Popper onward scientific knowledge becomes a form of “unjustified, untrue, unbelief”.

Again the history and arguments are far too complex to get into here but suffice to say that anti-inductivists that have tried to have a comprehensive rationalism that doesn’t rely on faith always smuggle in justification or induction (Musgrave), or create philosophies with internal contradictions (Bartley) or redefine science into something unrecognizable (Bayesians).

“Reason needs no presupposition. If reason were to fail us, then we move on. As it happens, that has not occurred in all of recorded human history.”

This is a SPECTACULARLY false statement. Reason fails us all the time as seem to suggest when you say theories are scrapped. But these are far from the worst examples think of all the centrally planned economies, lysenkoism, deriving an ought from an is, Social Darwinism and its cousin scientific racism to name a tiny few.

I suppose you could argue that people were reasoning imperfectly in those cases but in that case you must have faith in a platonic ideal of Perfect Reason. And there are a host of deep problems with such a notion. Google Ayer and Total Evidence for starters.

But even were your faith in perfect reason well-placed, the decisions with the best outcome are not always rational, just ask a lottery winner. The best that can be said even of Perfect Reason is that it will yield better results more often than irrational decision making. This is a far far cry from your statement.

“We can say that we know certain things with reasonable certainty because the evidenceseems to indicate those things are the case and we can use our conclusions to accurately predict other facts about the world”

An anti-inductivist CANNOT state this for we can only predict with reasonable certainty if we presuppose the future resembles the past i.e. INDUCTION.

If you’re going to try an teach people philosophy you should master the subject yourself BEFOREHAND.

3. dangeroustalk - October 28, 2010

Copying other people’s drivel is not all that honest Dennis. But since we are just copying and pasting here, let me just copy and paste my response:

I am aware of what other philosophers have said and both Shaun and I have indeed “mastered” the subject, lol.

I stand by my article. Reason needs no presupposition. we reason because reason works. Science is descriptive, not prescriptive. That might be over your head, jk.

Reason has not failed us, reason is a process, not a single idea. There are bad ideas which have been derived from reason, but through reason we discovered that they were bad ideas. I think you oversimplified the concept of the reasoning process there.

4. Dennis Rockingham - October 29, 2010

I think you have oversimplified reason much as Shaun has oversimplified honesty. We are all liars as well we all should be be. There are virtues of mendacity (and a wonderful book with that title)

“Reason has not failed us, reason is a process, not a single idea.”

Reason may be a process but it is a process that can lead to grave error, for example if humans go extinct thanks to nuclear weapons, bio-terror, or global warming that will in large measure be due to reason and science.

The rejoinder that it is an irrational misuse of technology in no way invalidates that claim, for it is has always been obvious that humans may use the products of reason in unreasonable ways. On the other hand we may be able to defend against an asteroid or other existential threats that otherwise we would not so on balance its been a worthwhile endeavor.

Its also true that being irrational may lead to a better outcome when reason does not. Some people have been seized with a sudden irrational fear of flying and decided not to get on a plane that crashed. Unless you want to believe in ESP those people were being completely irrational yet they made the better choice.

Another point is that even in the most formal and rigorous areas of human thought there are irreducible elements of faith. There was a long battle starting with Berkeley vs Halley that, thanks to infinitesimals, mathematicians need to believe certain things on faith.

When Cauchy and the other 19th century formalists came along they rejected this view and put calculus on a firm footing. Hilbert tried to do the same for geometry and arithmetic but couldn’t. Then comes Godel who proved that we can never know whether or not the interesting systems we work with are consistent. Mathematicians just assume or rather believe they are consistent and continue working.

So here are your two major claims:

1. Reason has never failed us.

That is obviously completely false, you may reply “well reason works”, yes, but it doesn’t ALWAYS work. By the way science is neither descriptive or prescriptive, but proscriptive. But even if you disagree with all my examples and arguments against the view that Reason has never failed us, what makes you assume it never will?

2. Rationalists have no faith in reason.

You never even attempted to address that, probably because you can’t. If someone has not adopted the rationalist attitude why should they? Again “because it works” is not answer since one only knows it works by examining the evidence that it does indeed (usually) work. But examining evidence is part of being reasonable. This is not an unrealistic example, for we all know, Creationists for example, who are not reasonable and don’t care what the evidence says.

Since this thread is about honesty I wasn’t really being dishonest in the way you suggest. I wasn’t copying someone else’s “drivel” for:

Sir Francis Geycat = Dennis Rockingham = Tomkinson = Jon Clark (wasn’t that obvious?)

But now Shaun probably won’t respond or if he does it will be a personal attack.

Which is a shame. I genuinely would like to know what he thinks of say Popper’s argument.

If you guys want to go out and be these voices of atheism I think you should try to be a bit more rigorous in your arguments. If you truly know what other philosophers have said why do we not get your take on say the “Total Evidence” problem? Why didn’t you take on Popper who originated the phrase “faith in reason?” in your Examiner piece?

Most of the major voices of atheism are philosophically sophomoric. And this is doubly no triply so at the blogger level http://yashwata.info/2009/11/25/a-brief-summary/
There’s a niche for you guys to fill but you need more than stock arguments and philosophy 101.

5. dangeroustalk - October 29, 2010

I shouldn’t even respond to you because it would just feed your ego. But I do think it is funny that you are calling me dishonest because I mistakenly thought you stole someone’s work because you were in fact dishonest about who you were.

“Reason may be a process but it is a process that can lead to grave error, for example if humans go extinct thanks to nuclear weapons, bio-terror, or global warming that will in large measure be due to reason and science.” Those are consequences not errors in reason. At most you could say that they are errors in reasoning, but not errors in reason.

If you don’t accept reason, fine with me. One need not accept reason for reason to work. But for goodness sack, stop using it if you don’t believe it works.

I love how you criticize people for what they don’t say rather than what they do say. It has always been your trademark fallacy. If I am writing a paper for a philosophical journal, then I might decide to quote philosophers, but it if I writing for the general public, they I don’t think it necessarily makes sense to do so.

6. shaunphilly - October 29, 2010

Jon, you are a despicable person.

There’s your personal attack.

If all you can do is compare my thoughts to the battle-lines drawn in the philosophy of science and then ask me to play the silly game of taking sides with one of them (or admit that I’m not cohering with them), then I have no interest in talking with you.

You have never addressed the fact that what you are calling “faith” in reason is nothing like having “faith” in silly things like gods. It’s so obviously an equivocation fallacy.

because even if your argument were true that we have “faith” in reason (which I am not saying), then this has NOTHING to do with the fact that what a rationalist does in his acceptance of the tools of reasonable discourse are not what believers are doing in accepting their superstitions.

But this conversation has nothing to do with THIS post.

That was about honesty, something you just terrible at.

Right Jon/Tomkinson/Dennis?

Go away, please.

7. Tomkinson - October 30, 2010

UMMMM No. No. No.

What Staks said has nothing to do with reality (I hope we are all realists). I did not accuse him of dishonesty in this case at ALL: I clearly stated —I WAS DISHONEST— but not for plagiarism, rather misrepresentation.

I do think however that Staks, unlike Shaun is frequently dishonest but not in his posts in this thread. One final equation of some importance is this:

April Milner = Jon Clark

Staks was deeply dishonest in at least two ways regarding the arrest the Pope.– That turned out well didn’t it? –And by the way my dishonesty paid off too, for if a real facebook account was erased, as was Milner’s, I could have lost hundreds of pictures and contacts. Fortunately I never even considered having a “real” FB account. So much for HONESTY.

Now for the errors:

Stak’s wrote:

“If you don’t accept reason, fine with me.”

I do accept reason, I never suggested that I didn’t.

Staks continues:

“I love how you criticize people for what they don’t say rather than what they do say. It has always been your trademark fallacy.”

I don’t think I do this, and if I do its not a fallacy. If Shaun writes about what is essentially ‘Bad Faith’ I expect him to write not just about Kierkegaard but Sartre. If you Staks write about ‘faith in reason’, you should at least deal with the person who coined that phrase.

To Shaun:

“You have never addressed the fact that what you are calling “faith” in reason is nothing like having “faith” in silly things like gods”

I don’t think the two ‘faiths’ are that different. I agree faith in gods is silly, for the following reasons. I’m a deductivist epistemologically. If you have two theories say one that says the Earth is only 6000 years old and another which says its 4.5 billion years old. If the 6k theory is refuted and the 4.5g is not we can ONLY say this logically (assuming the separation of truth and falsehood is our aim)::

Refuted theories should not be preferred to unrefuted theories

Note the converse is NOT TRUE:

Unrefuted theories should be preferred to refuted theories.

It follows that ALL beliefs and courses of action are IRRATIONAL, the best we can do is remove from them what logic and solid evidence forbids, for then we are left with beliefs which MIGHT be true, (but probably are not)

If there is a difference between between faith in reason and faith in gods (and neither you Shaun, nor Staks addressed Popper’s argument-Why?) then state it.

But..You could say that well people that have faith in gods persist in that faith even when the evidence is CONTRARY, where as we people of reason are always ready to change our beliefs, we are not stubborn or dogmatic.(I don’t believe that at all)

To take the last statement first, people like you Shaun are dogmatic for you are of the view that “Reason is uncriticizeable” If you disagree with this assessment how is reason criticizeable, if you agree with it how do you persuade those that have not adopted such an attitude to agree with you?

And we haven’t even begun to talk about TRUTH. You called me “despicable” but I’ve respected your privacy online (even though I think the the truth undercuts some of your polyamory arguments-which I’m sympathetic to) and I was never less than friendly on the phone. Yet you persist in beliefs and statements befitting the worst of the fundies. think about that.

I want to end on what I hope is something the three of us (Me, Shaun, Staks) agree on. I LOVE HALLOWEEN. Not only do we like the fact the Satanic associations offend some Christians, we also like the fact “good girls” have an excuse to dress like sluts.

That will be seen (read) as piggish and chauvinistic by some liberals but you guys know its not and that -means- everything.


8. dangeroustalk - October 30, 2010

You still believe that I am working with facebook in some grand conspiracy to delete your profile? Your “April” personality was crazy and I see that your “Jon” personality is also crazy.

I said:
I love how you criticize people for what they don’t say rather than what they do say. It has always been your trademark fallacy.

“I don’t think I do this… I expect him to write not just about Kierkegaard but Sartre. If you Staks write about ‘faith in reason’, you should at least deal with the person who coined that phrase.”

– You just did. I can’t be responsible for what you expect me to write. Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Jon, you are a crazy stoker and I don’t want anything more to do with you. I you don’t like what I write, don’t read it!!! You are a pathetic excuse for a person if you have nothing else to do but drink yourself silly, make up crazy personalities, and stoke those who disagree with you. Get a life dude.

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