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The Belief Engine

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The Pope of Literature
Posts: 2553
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Re: Belief Engine

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Ken Hemingway: I still think that the conceptual frameworks we use are very different - which would imply a very long haul before we could get to even an approximate mutual understanding.Maybe so. The question is whether or not exploring this topic is worth the effort to you. If it is, then we may as well start in on the long haul. If we abandon the discussion somewhere along the line, so be it, but even an unfinished discussion may be worthwhile.I say start at the beginning: what do you mean by truth? My provisional definition is "knowledge of things as they are". Give your own definition or work from mine, but that question should serve as a worthwhile starting point.First, I have to say that I hate the idea of dropping the use of the word "truth" when discussing propositions.I'm not suggesting barring the use of truth in regards to all propositions, just certain kinds of proposition.One definition of proposition is "that which can be true or false".I think that's an unnecessary reduction of possible values. It's quite possible to make propositions that may lead to neither a confirmation of its truth or its falsity. The proposition that there is a being external to percaptable reality, for example, may be either true or false, but in human terms we're left with a third value which we can think of as ignorance or incalculability or whatever -- what matters is that it's a third term in reference to human knowledge.Beyond that, I think that settling on that definition of proposition sort of begs the question. I'd prefer to work with a less loaded definition: a proposition is a statement made for consideration. It's just as easy to think of propositions in terms of preferability as it is to think of them in terms of truth.The whole of propositional logic is devoted to the study of truth relations between propositions.Between propositions, yes. It's notable that logic does not deal with things themselves, but only with propositions about things. Because it cannot verify the fidelity of the proposition to the thing itself, it can only deal with the truth relations of the thing itself indirectly if at all. Logic may be applicable, but its truth value is divorced from the actual ontological value of things themselves.One of the classic beginner's questions in philosophical logic is:'If I say "Tame tigers growl", but there are no tame tigers, is my statement false?'... This is the sort of situation in which I would expect to use the term 'applicable' about a sentence or, maybe, a proposition.I don't see why that's an objection. It almost seems as though you've objected to my suggestion of clarifying terminology by pointing out one of the problems that makes it preferable. If there are no tame tigers, then clearly the proposition is inapplicable, whether or not it might have been true in a different set of circumstances.But there is, of course, an even deeper problem with the example as stated, and it's a problem that's bound to beleager any discussion we have concerning truth, which is that all of our statements are constrained by their linguistic basis. In itself, the statement is complete -- "tame" need not mean anything at all, yet by its very structure the statement is sussable. Whether or not it is true depends a great deal on whether or not the terms of the argument conform to the actual situation to which it refers. So it's possible to ask what it means to be a tame tiger, whether or not a tiger can ever really be rightly called tame, and so on. This is part of what I mean about the limited applicability of human standards of truth to situations that are not, themselves, human. It may be that we cannot speak of tigers as tame with the same sort of assurance that we speak of a human institutions as just -- simply because, unlike "justice" and "institutions", the former proposition contains terms which are not entirely reconcilable. Humans construct both justice and institutions; they may also construct the notion of "tame" but they can only circumscribe what it is to be a tiger. We can reconcile an institution to the notion of justice, but we can only reconcile the "tiger" to "tame" so much.And we may take this situation as an analogy in other fields. In physics the "tiger" may be matter, while "tame" are the laws we presume govern it. And so on. The problem is that nearly all of our propositions about non-human things are attempts to impose "tame" on a "tiger", where tame is really only meaningful in an explicitly human context.Words which can be used to say many different things in different contexts do not lose their ability to be used with precision in a particular context.So long as all parties involved are aware of the limitations placed on the term, there's little or no problem. But that isn't the case, and we can see evidence of the confusion in nearly every conflict that takes place between the so-called "scientific establishment" and any other cultural body. The use of the term "truth", for instance, contributes to the loggerheads that make the evolution-creationism debate so exasperating. Either side of the debate is using "truth" as though the two supposed truths could only be qualitatively equivalent. If the scientific establishment were only claiming that evolution stood as the most applicable scientific model for understanding things like diversity and biological development, I'm not sure that the debate would have much steam left in it. Nor does it seem to me that the creationists would feel quite as much need to assert the unrelenting "truth" of their position. What, if anything, is lost in that? What does evolution lose by asserting its practicality rather than obstinately claiming absolute validity?You just have to understand the context - but this is second nature to all competent users of the language.Which makes it all the easier to err.In particular what do you think is meant when someone responds to a statement concerning an empirical fact by saying, "That's not true"?That the statement does not reflect knowledge of things as they are.
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