The Heart of Epistemology: What is Truth?

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I was walking about – taking a midday stroll through the park – when I suddenly recollected the reading of an article on the nature of knowledge, by Michael Foucault (an eminent philosopher of the 20th century), concerning the character of social conventions. In the article, the author argued that knowledge was considered the awareness of the factually true, as evident by objective devices, and was facilitated through the faculties of reason delivered in the development of understanding.

Propounding the rationale that knowledge was truth and, thereof, social conventions are simply truths in vogue, I inquired about the essence of truth. What is truth if nothing can be expressed in a unilaterally unanimous notation which, by vehicle of predetermined symbolism, is absolutely clear of relativistic ambiguity? Well, a certain proposition: “A satisfies the criterion of D, along constraints of E”, can directly be exemplified by a propositional instantiation of a given element, but the validation of a subset does not automatically justify the remainder of the waver in assigning validity to the property of the circumscribing totality – it does not immediately serve to prove the categorical form, as is patently unsound.

I am not simply playing a game of verbiage and skimming the pulp to little more than the exchange of repartees; the corpus of my suspended confusion lurks elsewhere. If nothing can be absolutely defined, then how can a categorical proposition assume coherency of specification? If I observe an eagle, as a member of an infinite set, flying through the air, I cannot reflexively affirm that the nature of an eagle, as a metaphysical substance, encompasses the property of flight. Of course, the eagle, as an individual animal, could fly, but the definition of eagle is not therefore one necessarily inclusive of the property. One cannot prove the statement by way of exhaustive analysis. To employ a befitting witticism, in consensus, there is no absolute consensus. The problem is that an eagle is not absolutely defined and, in this case, not only is it not defined, it cannot be defined per force.

Likewise, in a more abstract volley of demonstration, if I were to say that a racecar is blue, there are, in a preliminary analysis, two obstacles of which I need to properly circumvent: 1.) what is a racecar and 2.) the matter of proof. One is required to determine an axiomatic definition and, upon establishment of the contextual setting, step from the outing in demarcating the corresponding allocations of parametric variables involved in the dynamic interplay of axioms and theorems. Now, if one cannot generalize a table of data, the table of table has no predicative (or, more precisely, predictive) power and is thus philosophically meaningless, at large – in microcosm, there is no functional value. Our perception is the inlaid embryo of logical exposition, whereas the mistress of systematization dwells in definition.

If I do not understand what a racecar is other than the object directly in front of me and, from that definition, continue in proving that the racecar is so and so, then there is no external viability. Now, all truths are really, philosophically speaking, only viable as generalizations. If I say a television is this or that, it is universally potent, even if only circumstantially. What I mean is that a television can be this or that and must be this or that, in order to qualify for the dividend of the entitlement. On the other hand, of what I have covered in detail, one cannot truly formulate such schemata of generalization without degeneration of idealism – the solution seems to be its own executrix as portending the extinction of commonsense. So, what is truth? Is there even truth at all, in the terminological culture lexicographers expound it as?

 
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To me truth is something which can be proven with objective facts. For example, the theory of gravity is true as it holds true anywhere in the universe.

 
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Originally posted by JaumeBG:

To me truth is something which can be proven with objective facts. For example, the theory of gravity is true as it holds true anywhere in the universe.

Yes, truth is that which, by principle, is objectively true, but one cannot absolutely specify the identification of the axioms and premises and therefore cannot absolutely impugne the validity of a truth or even the denial of a truth. For example, if I say that gravity is true, how are we to absolutely define gravity for the purposes of our analysis as absolutely true without the vehicle of a universal notation in the development of our comprehension? Strictly speaking, from girth of reservation, you can’t. What is gravity? It is an entity, A, which meets the criteria of B, under constraints of C where C is the interpretative context. Tilting the balance to glance at the underside, epistemology is an absolute art – a dimension of the absolute. Well, interpretation will give way to ample room for ambiguity and thereof relativism as opposed to absolute resolution. We are now at the crux of the problem.

Maybe my introduction was … unnecessarily convoluted.

 
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Normally, people, e.g. me, can just equate truth with pragmatic truth. For example, “that racecar is blue” means that “the majority of the people perceive that as a racecar” and “the majority of the people perceive its colour as blue.” It’s simple.

However, epistemologists often dig deep, excavating examples that defy normal experiences, just like mathematicians pointing out when the improper integral will diverge. However, many of them forgot one thing:

Human language has its limits. Rather than interpretation giving way to ample room for ambiguity, we may as well say that it is language giving way to ample room for ambiguity. As long as we discuss this in a human language, ambiguity arises.

 
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I originally wrote a long response to your first paragraph and the start of your second, but then I realized that wasn’t really addressing the majority of your post.

As I understand it, the rest of your post goes approximately as follows.

Paraphrased from simeng:

You can demonstrate that a claim in the form “A has behavior B and/or property C,” but only for individual instances. You cannot generalize from a single instance of an object of type A to all possible objects of type A.

For example, observing an eagle in flight is not enough to prove that “eagles” as a whole can fly. That particular eagle can certainly fly, but it is only one instance. There could be other eagles that are unable to fly, and it isn’t possible to examine every single eagle’s capabilities.

This reminds me of a joke: An engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician were on a train heading north, and had just crossed the border into Scotland. The engineer looked out of the window and said “Look! Scottish sheep are black!” The physicist said, “No, no. Some Scottish sheep are black.” The mathematician looked irritated. “There is at least one field, containing at least one sheep, of which at least one side is black.”

(The physicist was right.)

Paraphrased from simeng:

The problem is that, not only is the term “eagle” not defined, there is no “single possible definition” for it. Definitions are determined by consensus, and there is never a “single possible consensus.” Consider the logical principles of induction and deduction. In the former, you begin with specific examples and derive general statements, while in the latter, you begin with general premises and apply them to specific cases. In either case, both statements (general and specific) need to be unambiguously defined.

If the segue to “induction and deduction” seems abrupt, that’s because it is. I have not been able to figure out exactly why you brought them up at that point. If you wanted to emphasize the importance of definitions, perhaps you could just have stated, “in [formal] logic, you need precise definitions.”

Also, the fact that things aren’t “absolutely defined” (“per force”) isn’t a problem. As you suggested next, you can simply establish an axiomatic definition before making a claim.

Paraphrased from simeng:

Likewise, to claim that a racecar is blue, there are two obstacles: 1.) defining “racecar,” and 2.) proving the claim. We must define (a priori) what it is we’re talking about when we say the word “racecar” before we can apply logic to and prove anything at all about “racecars.” Then we need to generalize our conclusions; if we can’t, that means they have no predictive power, making them useless in the real world.

If I define “racecar” as “this object in front of me,” I can prove that “racecars” have specific properties, but it becomes a useless sort of definition. I could say that “all racecars are blue with a white stripe across the back,” but then what would I call a green one with two red stripes? Would I have to insist on another term, like “car-for-racing”? It is dangerous to say a television IS this or that, because that potentially excludes a number of things that ought to fall under the definition of “television.” A better way to put it would be “a television can be this or that,” because that phrasing doesn’t exclude televisions. Unfortunately, a claim of this sort misses the point – you cannot use it to deduce facts about a thing given that it is a “television.”

All this talk of proving things about “the object directly in front of me” and “no external viability” is missing the point. Claims can be useful even if they aren’t used to formulate universal definitions, even if they apply to only one single object.

Let’s take eagles as an example. I can state, “the eagle directly in front of me has a broken wing.” This description does not extend further than that one eagle, but even so it can be used to make reasonable predictions. For example, I can predict that the eagle will still have a broken wing come tomorrow morning. I can predict that it will be at risk if I leave it in the open, but that it will recover if I take it to a vet.

On the flip side, it is possible to generalize from specific examples. That one eagle would of course be unsafe to generalize from (“eagles are a type of bird distinguished by a broken right wing”), but with each additional eagle I encounter, I gain a better picture of what “eagles” are. Even without examining every single eagle in existence, I can approach a “true” definition.

 
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Originally posted by player_03:

I originally wrote a long response to your first paragraph and the start of your second, but then I realized that wasn’t really addressing the majority of your post.

As I understand it, the rest of your post goes approximately as follows.

Paraphrased from simeng:

You can demonstrate that a claim in the form “A has behavior B and/or property C,” but only for individual instances. You cannot generalize from a single instance of an object of type A to all possible objects of type A.

For example, observing an eagle in flight is not enough to prove that “eagles” as a whole can fly. That particular eagle can certainly fly, but it is only one instance. There could be other eagles that are unable to fly, and it isn’t possible to examine every single eagle’s capabilities.

This reminds me of a joke: An engineer, a physicist, and a mathematician were on a train heading north, and had just crossed the border into Scotland. The engineer looked out of the window and said “Look! Scottish sheep are black!” The physicist said, “No, no. Some Scottish sheep are black.” The mathematician looked irritated. “There is at least one field, containing at least one sheep, of which at least one side is black.”

(The physicist was right.)

Trite, but critically acclaimed! However, as you spiraled off on a tangent and did not return to the original prompt, I might as well dismiss this matter as it is lacking in further merits.

Paraphrased from simeng:

The problem is that, not only is the term “eagle” not defined, there is no “single possible definition” for it. Definitions are determined by consensus, and there is never a “single possible consensus.” Consider the logical principles of induction and deduction. In the former, you begin with specific examples and derive general statements, while in the latter, you begin with general premises and apply them to specific cases. In either case, both statements (general and specific) need to be unambiguously defined.

If the segue to “induction and deduction” seems abrupt, that’s because it is. I have not been able to figure out exactly why you brought them up at that point. If you wanted to emphasize the importance of definitions, perhaps you could just have stated, “in [formal] logic, you need precise definitions.”

Yeah, there seems to be a slight pause of disconnect – bouncing from place to place. However, I simply intended to impose an arbitrator of the two methodological trades to serve as a transaction clause between this and that; I was claiming a bearing on universality. Perhaps, that wasn’t well thought and could very well prove to be a design flaw. For now, I will not systematically expunge these manners of blemishes and will leave them be unless they pose a legitimate issue in the interaction of communication and comprehension.

Paraphrased from simeng:

Likewise, to claim that a racecar is blue, there are two obstacles: 1.) defining “racecar,” and 2.) proving the claim. We must define (a priori) what it is we’re talking about when we say the word “racecar” before we can apply logic to and prove anything at all about “racecars.” Then we need to generalize our conclusions; if we can’t, that means they have no predictive power, making them useless in the real world.

If I define “racecar” as “this object in front of me,” I can prove that “racecars” have specific properties, but it becomes a useless sort of definition. I could say that “all racecars are blue with a white stripe across the back,” but then what would I call a green one with two red stripes? Would I have to insist on another term, like “car-for-racing”? It is dangerous to say a television IS this or that, because that potentially excludes a number of things that ought to fall under the definition of “television.” A better way to put it would be “a television can be this or that,” because that phrasing doesn’t potentially exclude televisions.

(I will respond to this part later.)

I patiently await your rendering on this matter, although I will not strive to jump too far afield in the subject until more progress is enabled by contribution on part of the general community.

 
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Originally posted by simeng:

However, as you spiraled off on a tangent and did not return to the original prompt, I might as well dismiss this matter as it is lacking in further merits.

The point was that you don’t have to restrict yourself only to things you’ve directly confirmed (“the near side of this particular sheep is black”). You’re allowed to extrapolate a little. A single sheep seen in the distance isn’t indicative of every sheep out there, but it’s a reasonably safe bet that it’s not the only one.

Originally posted by simeng:

I patiently await your rendering on this matter […]

Done. See my previous post.

 
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Originally posted by player_03:

I originally wrote a long response to your first paragraph and the start of your second, but then I realized that wasn’t really addressing the majority of your post.

Paraphrased from simeng:

The problem is that, not only is the term “eagle” not defined, there is no “single possible definition” for it. Definitions are determined by consensus, and there is never a “single possible consensus.” Consider the logical principles of induction and deduction. In the former, you begin with specific examples and derive general statements, while in the latter, you begin with general premises and apply them to specific cases. In either case, both statements (general and specific) need to be unambiguously defined.

If the segue to “induction and deduction” seems abrupt, that’s because it is. I have not been able to figure out exactly why you brought them up at that point. If you wanted to emphasize the importance of definitions, perhaps you could just have stated, “in [formal] logic, you need precise definitions.”

Also, the fact that things aren’t “absolutely defined” (“per force”) isn’t a problem. As you suggested next, you can simply establish an axiomatic definition before making a claim.

Paraphrased from simeng:

Likewise, to claim that a racecar is blue, there are two obstacles: 1.) defining “racecar,” and 2.) proving the claim. We must define (a priori) what it is we’re talking about when we say the word “racecar” before we can apply logic to and prove anything at all about “racecars.” Then we need to generalize our conclusions; if we can’t, that means they have no predictive power, making them useless in the real world.

If I define “racecar” as “this object in front of me,” I can prove that “racecars” have specific properties, but it becomes a useless sort of definition. I could say that “all racecars are blue with a white stripe across the back,” but then what would I call a green one with two red stripes? Would I have to insist on another term, like “car-for-racing”? It is dangerous to say a television IS this or that, because that potentially excludes a number of things that ought to fall under the definition of “television.” A better way to put it would be “a television can be this or that,” because that phrasing doesn’t exclude televisions. Unfortunately, a claim of this sort misses the point – you cannot use it to deduce facts about a thing given that it is a “television.”

All this talk of proving things about “the object directly in front of me” and “no external viability” is missing the point. Claims can be useful even if they aren’t used to formulate universal definitions, even if they apply to only one single object.

Let’s take eagles as an example. I can state, “the eagle directly in front of me has a broken wing.” This description does not extend further than that one eagle, but even so it can be used to make reasonable predictions. For example, I can predict that the eagle will still have a broken wing come tomorrow morning. I can predict that it will be at risk if I leave it in the open, but that it will recover if I take it to a vet.

On the flip side, it is possible to generalize from specific examples. That one eagle would of course be unsafe to generalize from (“eagles are a type of bird distinguished by a broken right wing”), but with each additional eagle I encounter, I gain a better picture of what “eagles” are. Even without examining every single eagle in existence, I can approach a “true” definition.

I am inclined the believe (ambiguity – inside joke!) that the argument my point is misleading itself is misleading, or it could be that we are both sidetracking and derailing the point altogether. The hoax, being a hoax, has turned the table on itself and collapsed in a fit of irony. Enough with the metaphorical witticisms. :D

Again, when you say, “the eagle directly before me is so-and-so for this-and-that”, you’re referring to its current state of circumstances -what happens afterwards is an artificially acclimatized ambience (alliteration – including alliteration per alliteration) of extrapolation aligned with your mode of thinking. The eagle may have a broken wing, but that doesn’t mean that a day or even a second from now, the eagle won’t have a broken wing. See, the problem is that, in attempting to penetrate the catalyst of fertility, you’ve slid a notch too low and inadvertently slain the infantile scion. When you are saying something about the future, you are merely making a prediction – unless all of those “mystical” experiences are actually true, empirically speaking, and, by simply gazing through a crystal ball, you can accrue an iota of foreknowledge concerning your present awareness, I am afraid that you are failing to address the critical point of my polemic – there is no absolute truth. Even if it was the case that such absolute truth existed, my argument is wired in the routing of description, not in prediction, even though the former may be used as predicating the latter of the two.

Of course, you can compile the data in a table and use it for referential purposes of enlightenment, but my argument was that, as Pulsaris noted, owing to the limitations of language, we can only approach a “true” definition if our criterion of truth is mere pragmatism. On the flipside of the flipside of the polemic of the polemic (humor is the bloodline of creativity and is the lifeforce sustaining many an endeavor), one cannot, even having examined a wide range of phenotypes and genotypes, ultimately codify the germplasm of existential identity in an absolute lexicon of operatives. From that perspective, absolute truth is beyond reproach.

If I have misinterpreted your point, by any means, notify me and I will respond without hesitation.

 
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Originally posted by simeng:

I am afraid that you are failing to address the critical point of my polemic – there is no absolute truth. Even if it was the case that such absolute truth existed, my argument is wired in the routing of description, not in prediction, even though the former may be used as predicating the latter of the two.

It seems we are in agreement on the main points: that discussion was a tangent, and more importantly, “truth” is not attainable because we lack omniscience. There is always the possibility that our observations are incomplete or mistaken, and there is always the possibility that our predictions will fail to pan out.

Originally posted by simeng:

[…] but my argument was that, as Pulsaris noted, owing to the limitations of language, we can only approach a “true” definition if our criterion of truth is mere pragmatism.

Being a pragmatist, I’m in agreement with you here as well, except for “owing to the limitations of language.”

Summary of my position: The only reason we cannot reach the truth is, as I said above, we aren’t omniscient. But we can approach the truth.

And if you think it needs to be more complicated than that, consider reading this humorous and insightful parody of debates like this.