Absolute Truth, History, Etc.

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Reply Sat 26 Apr, 2008 01:48 pm
This is a continuation of a conversation started in this thread:
http://www.philosophyforum.com/forum/philosophy-religion/1171-problem-religious-philosophy.html

Aedes wrote:
Do you have to prove every single assertion that you make? If something is self-evident to a reasonable person when presented a certain way does that mean the point is invalid in all contexts if an absolute proof is impossible?

It's not really that the absolute proof is not possible, it's that the statement "there is no absolute truth" is a logical contradiction, with no evidence or "proof" of why I should I should believe it anyway. If I want to believe it, thats fine. But it certainly isn't objectively reasonable.

Aedes wrote:

First of all, I don't think that anyone reasonably would assert that objectively there is no such thing as absolute truth.

Hence my problem with it being taught in the classroom as an objective truth.

Aedes wrote:
The problem is that we're neither objective nor omniscient, so we cannot absolutely know if any apparent truth is either absolute or even true at all. So the incompleteness of our understanding is the strongest argument for our lack of access to absolute truth -- if there is such a thing.

I actually don't think we're 100% different in our beliefs on this one, but I do think some clarification of wording is needed. I agree that we seem to lack absolute knowledge. By absolute knowledge I mean a completely gauranteed or proven apprehension of some or all of reality, and I agree that we don't seem to have any way to achieve this.

But what I don't understand is why that would lead a person to conclude that there is no absolute truth or reality. Everything we do, every day, is based on the asssumtion of an absolute reality. Even this debate is based of the fact that you think i'm wrong, which completely assumes an absolute reality for me to be wrong about. I just don't get it.

Aedes wrote:

To learn more. Not necessarily to learn all.

If no absolute truth exists, then we are learning more of a lie. If it does exist, then we can learn more, and hope that what we are learning is true. The goal was never to learn all.

Aedes wrote:

But it IS historiography. And historiography is requisite for any advanced understanding of history. Historiography is to history what the scientific method is to science, what logic is to philosophy, and what theology is to religion.

I don't understand how assuming that there is no absolute truth is in any way necessary or even complimentary to the attempt of learning the truth about history. Taking a humble view of the incompleteness of what I know seems like a useful thing though.


Another idea I think is worth realizing is that, even if we don't have any absolute knowledge, we don't know that our knowledge (as we understand it) is wrong. This opens the door for believing. I realize that all my ideas about reality could be wrong- I could be a brain in a vat or something. But I might not be... It is actually possible that I am a human being in a universe that closely reflects my sensory understanding of it. This is what I believe. Obviously I could be wrong, but I believe that I'm right, and no one has ever demonstrated a good reason for me to believe otherwise.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Sat 26 Apr, 2008 03:18 pm
@NeitherExtreme,
NeitherExtreme wrote:
the statement "there is no absolute truth" is a logical contradiction, with no evidence or "proof" of why I should I should believe it anyway
So long as we don't have absolute knowledge, we can never assert one way or the other as to whether there is such a thing as absolute truth.

The contrary assertion "there is absolute truth" is just as much of a logical stretch -- perhaps even more so, because it's a lot easier to demonstrate that something is NOT absolutely true than to demonstrate that something IS absolutely true.

Quote:
Hence my problem with it being taught in the classroom as an objective truth.
You're introducing a different element to the discussion when you say "It was taught as an objective truth". THAT would be self-contradictory. On the other hand, what's wrong with it being mentioned as a point of view? It's a legitimate point of view, and it's legitimate to mention in history class.

I had an English teacher in high school who was a big Yankees fan and often talked about that in class. What does baseball have to do with medieval English lit? Nothing -- but not every uttered word in class has to do with the orthodoxy of the subject. There is a social reparte in classrooms, and there's nothing wrong with bantering on one's perspective.


Quote:
But what I don't understand is why that would lead a person to conclude that there is no absolute truth or reality.
Who cares? It seems to you and to me that there should be absolute truth. I operate as if there is. But I don't KNOW if there is, and there is zero basis by which I can assert that there is such a thing.

Quote:
Even this debate is based of the fact that you think i'm wrong
No, that's not true. This debate is based on the fact that with all due respect I think you're making a mountain out of a molehill. You're making a big philosophical point about something that may have been said tongue in cheek, or may have been overstated to make an impression, but was never meant to be as academically rigorous as your objection would suggest.

Quote:
If no absolute truth exists, then we are learning more of a lie.
THIS is a point on which I fully disagree. Lack of absolute truth doesn't abrogate the possibility of relative truths, including conventional truths (i.e. things that are generally held as true by society). Why would the lack of absolute truth transform everything into lies???

Quote:
I don't understand how assuming that there is no absolute truth is in any way necessary or even complimentary to the attempt of learning the truth about history.
Because it gets you to start from a blank slate and look directly at source material rather than assumptions.
 
NeitherExtreme
 
Reply Sat 26 Apr, 2008 05:56 pm
@Aedes,
Aedes wrote:
So long as we don't have absolute knowledge, we can never assert one way or the other as to whether there is such a thing as absolute truth.

Agreed. Part of my point.

Aedes wrote:

You're introducing a different element to the discussion when you say "It was taught as an objective truth". THAT would be self-contradictory.

Then I guess we agree...

Aedes wrote:

Who cares? It seems to you and to me that there should be absolute truth. I operate as if there is. But I don't KNOW if there is, and there is zero basis by which I can assert that there is such a thing.

So I guess you believe that there is? (I'm just assuming this because you operate as if there is.) And on what basis could someone teach that there isn't?

Aedes wrote:

No, that's not true. This debate is based on the fact that with all due respect I think you're making a mountain out of a molehill. You're making a big philosophical point about something that may have been said tongue in cheek, or may have been overstated to make an impression, but was never meant to be as academically rigorous as your objection would suggest.

First, just to make sure we're clear- I'm not upset at all... I'm really just enjoying the debate.Wink I'm not scarred by or angry about the teacher or his teaching, which by the way not not a major part of the class. I do however think that he was out of line when he did teach it, simply because I think it was his philosophical point of view, not a fact as he taught it. But really, this is just a fun exploration of a complex topic as far as I'm concerned, so I really hope I'm not offending anyone. Smile If so, I can let it drop.

Back to the debate... the philosophy debate part of this has to be based on an assumtion that one can be right or wrong with respect to reality.

Aedes wrote:

THIS is a point on which I fully disagree. Lack of absolute truth doesn't abrogate the possibility of relative truths, including conventional truths (i.e. things that are generally held as true by society). Why would the lack of absolute truth transform everything into lies???

Again, I don't think we're really as far different on this topic as our language usage leads us to think. I'm guessing we're somewhat just missing each other here.

To me absolute truth (for history) would mean that something (1 version) happened- it was real. It may be very complex, and our previous understanding could be wrong or incomplete, but we are attempting to learn, to the best of our ability what that absolute truth was. If I say that Abraham Lincoln was our 16th president, I believe that to be absolutely true. At the same time, I keep in mind that I could be wrong, and would be willing to change my belief if there were good reason.

If you would say that there is not absolute truth in history, what would that mean to you?
 
Aedes
 
Reply Sat 26 Apr, 2008 08:10 pm
@NeitherExtreme,
NeitherExtreme wrote:
So I guess you believe that there is? (I'm just assuming this because you operate as if there is.) And on what basis could someone teach that there isn't?
Honestly, I think absolute truth can only be asserted colloquially -- and what someone asserts as absolute is not really absolute under any scrutiny. I mean the Pope can assert that some religious point is an absolute truth -- but so long as the Pope acknowledges his own humanity and his ability to err, even this will not meet the test of absolute.

So do I believe that there is absolute truth? Certainly not for any metaphysical concept, I mean I don't believe that good or bad exist in any absolute sense. I can intuitively believe that there is a truth behind the physical nature of the universe, which we try to approximate by studying it well.

But at the same time, the reality of absolute truth is in my estimation intellectually unimportant.

Quote:
Back to the debate... the philosophy debate part of this has to be based on an assumtion that one can be right or wrong with respect to reality.
If we have no access to absolute truth, and no knowledge of what is absolutely true, then we cannot speak of someone being absolutely right or absolutely wrong.

Quote:
To me absolute truth (for history) would mean that something (1 version) happened- it was real.
But it's irrelevant. The English defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 is preserved for posterity by memories, writings, and lore. What ACTUALLY HAPPENED then, ship by ship, decision by decision, molecule by molecule, is available to us only through documentation.

That is true even for well documented things, like the 9/11/01 terrorist attack. We STILL don't know exactly what happened on each flight, or particularly on United flight 93, or where that plane was targeted. We are forever locked in what we DO know -- and what we DO know is limited by our doubt we have of its accuracy, completeness, or freedom from bias.

Quote:
If you would say that there is not absolute truth in history, what would that mean to you?
Exactly what I said above here. Assumed truth comes from sources of knowledge. Absolute truth is something we hope to be tapping into by studying these sources -- but do we really ever know?
 
NeitherExtreme
 
Reply Sat 26 Apr, 2008 08:25 pm
@Aedes,
Aedes wrote:
Absolute truth is something we hope to be tapping into by studying these sources -- but do we really ever know?

Nope. At least as far as I'm concerned. I think we really aren't all that different on this topic. You seem to focus on the fact that there is always more than we can know. I focus more on the fact that we all assume (believe in) an absolute reality, and that the evidence points towards it's existence- even if we can not fully apprehend it. Does that sound like a fair assesment?

Also, if the application of "there is no absolute truth" is as complex as it seems to be, can you understand my dislike of the expression? (Especially as the same words could be confused with very different ideas than you've expressed.)
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Sat 26 Apr, 2008 09:05 pm
@NeitherExtreme,
NeitherExtreme wrote:
This is a continuation of a conversation started in this thread:
http://www.philosophyforum.com/forum/philosophy-religion/1171-problem-religious-philosophy.html


It's not really that the absolute proof is not possible, it's that the statement "there is no absolute truth" is a logical contradiction, with no evidence or "proof" of why I should I should believe it anyway. If I want to believe it, thats fine. But it certainly isn't objectively reasonable.


Hence my problem with it being taught in the classroom as an objective truth.


I actually don't think we're 100% different in our beliefs on this one, but I do think some clarification of wording is needed. I agree that we seem to lack absolute knowledge. By absolute knowledge I mean a completely gauranteed or proven apprehension of some or all of reality, and I agree that we don't seem to have any way to achieve this.

But what I don't understand is why that would lead a person to conclude that there is no absolute truth or reality. Everything we do, every day, is based on the asssumtion of an absolute reality. Even this debate is based of the fact that you think i'm wrong, which completely assumes an absolute reality for me to be wrong about. I just don't get it.


If no absolute truth exists, then we are learning more of a lie. If it does exist, then we can learn more, and hope that what we are learning is true. The goal was never to learn all.


I don't understand how assuming that there is no absolute truth is in any way necessary or even complimentary to the attempt of learning the truth about history. Taking a humble view of the incompleteness of what I know seems like a useful thing though.


Another idea I think is worth realizing is that, even if we don't have any absolute knowledge, we don't know that our knowledge (as we understand it) is wrong. This opens the door for believing. I realize that all my ideas about reality could be wrong- I could be a brain in a vat or something. But I might not be... It is actually possible that I am a human being in a universe that closely reflects my sensory understanding of it. This is what I believe. Obviously I could be wrong, but I believe that I'm right, and no one has ever demonstrated a good reason for me to believe otherwise.


Could you say what the difference is between absolute truth, and just plain old truth; and between absolute knowledge, and just plain old knowledge?
How does the adjective, "absolute" make any difference? Why, for instance would a truth like Quito is the capital of Ecuador not be an absolute truth? What would it have to have to be one?

By the way, how could any knowledge be wrong? If it is wrong, then you just don't know it. Isn't that so? Of course, it is possible to think that you know something, and be wrong. People sometimes believe they know that a statement is true, and it turns out later that they are wrong. But then, of course, they never knew it to begin with. It was not that they knew it and were wrong. Rather it was that they thought they knew it, and were wrong.
 
Aedes
 
Reply Sat 26 Apr, 2008 11:16 pm
@NeitherExtreme,
NeitherExtreme wrote:
I focus more on the fact that we all assume (believe in) an absolute reality, and that the evidence points towards it's existence- even if we can not fully apprehend it. Does that sound like a fair assesment?
Whether or not this is what you focus on, there is NO evidence that points towards the existence of an absolute reality. ZERO. If every living human and every human who ever lived is convinced that rocks fall when you drop them, that does not provide a shred of evidence that gravity is true in the absolute. There is no evidence at all of absolute truth. All there is evidence of, ultimately, is consistency among our observations and conclusions -- which generates a conventional or functional truth.

Quote:
Also, if the application of "there is no absolute truth" is as complex as it seems to be, can you understand my dislike of the expression?
Hence my mountain out of a molehill comment (as pertains to your reaction, not to the validity of the topic for discussion). The statement "there is no absolute truth" may be careless from the point of view of formal logic. But used colloquially, I bet your history teacher meant something very similar to what you and I have largely agreed on here.
 
Arjen
 
Reply Sun 27 Apr, 2008 02:48 am
@NeitherExtreme,
Say guys, if I understand correctly this discussion is about the existance or non-existance of absolute truth. I think when looking at it honestly there really can be no discussion. The reason for the discussion is becaus of the contradiction in the thoughtprocesses on the subject. These contradictions point to a paradox. I will get back tot the paradox later.

Truth is something that is intangible; it has no object. It can be said of an object though. Truth is something which can be said of something which is the same from every perspective. So something looked at without a mental position (no thought process shapes the perception) and without a physical position (no physical position shapes the perception). So truth exists outside of metaphysics (the thought prcesses) and outside of empirics (physical psoition). That leaves a "stable" transcendental ontological level for truth to exist in.

What makes this so hard to understand is that in reality all human have this metphysical and empirical position. And struggling with these positions we try to see that which is transcendental. That is a hard thing to do and most people mix up these ontological levels; thus creating a paradox. Someone could, for instance, get the idea that "truth" exists in an empirical or metaphysical way. That would draw "truth" to an ontological level which does not have the properties for "truth" to be itself. So everytime someone would try to define "truth" would one do so in a metaphysical way; thereby stating thing about truth which are "quantified" in an actuality that is incompatible with "truth",

I am trying to point to a difference between a potentiality (a "source", if you will) from which actualities "quantify". All actualities are possible from this potentiality; but only one takes place simultaniously (perhaps the others exist in parallel dimensions). An actuality is that which is taking place; a potentiality is that which can take place. "Truth" is something which differs from actuality to actuality; while a "true stement" is something which has taken place in a past actuality. We see here twoo different uses of the same concept; one in potantiality and one in actuality.

I hope this has in any way become clear..
Smile
 
NeitherExtreme
 
Reply Sun 27 Apr, 2008 11:05 am
@NeitherExtreme,
Ok, I guess I need to define terms. Not that I'm %100 certain of these, but I'll do my best.

(Absolute) Truth: Reality. It's what's real, what exists.

Knowledge: Our (percieved) apprehension of truth, or reality.

Absolute Knowledge: Certain or proven knowledge.

Now my question is- Even though absolute knowledge appears unatainable, what reason do we have to disbelieve in the existence of absolute reality (truth)? Something exists. Whatever it is is true. How could I be wrong? :confused: If I'm wrong, that means that reality is different from what I think, which would then be reality.
 
Arjen
 
Reply Sun 27 Apr, 2008 11:30 am
@NeitherExtreme,
You are wrong because you do not seperate ontological differences. In your statement absolute truth and absolute knowledge are the same, while in reality they are not. That is what formes the inconsistency in your last statement:
Quote:

Even though absolute knowledge appears unatainable, what reason do we have to disbelieve in the existence of absolute reality (truth)? Something exists.
 
NeitherExtreme
 
Reply Sun 27 Apr, 2008 12:48 pm
@NeitherExtreme,
Yeah, I think I see what you're getting at. Maybe not. Surprised I'm sure that you're right that I'm mixing up different ideas.

I'm in no way attempting to find absolute knowledge here, or even trying to figure out a way to attain it. I'm just trying to say that some reality (truth) must exist, regardless of my perception or apprehension of it. Or at the very least, it is reasonable to believe that it does. (Honestly, I'm not sure what other position could be reasonable.)

Why is that so complicated? :confused: Wink

PS, here are 3 of the the Webster definitions of truth: When I say "truth", I'm talking about the first two (especially the second), and not so much the third.

(1): the state of being the case : fact
(2): the body of real things, events, and facts : actuality
(3)often capitalized : a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality b: a judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true <truths of thermodynamics> c: the body of true statements and propositions
 
Arjen
 
Reply Sun 27 Apr, 2008 01:17 pm
@NeitherExtreme,
I understood what you ment just fine. I am merely pointing out to you that what you mean does not exist in the sense that you are saying. That is why the contrdiction exists.

Think about it: you are experiencing a contraction in our own definitions. That is why you are not able to work this out. The contradiction is that you think that "truth" exists in such a manner that is would be "actual". While actuality ony permits "true phenomena". Am I still speaking in a way that you can understand, or should I clarify by means of Immanuel Kant or Wittgenstein?
 
NeitherExtreme
 
Reply Sun 27 Apr, 2008 01:23 pm
@NeitherExtreme,
I think I'm understanding what you meant by "there can be no discussion" on the subject... It seems that no matter how you look at it, there will always be a paradox, at least from a logic point of view.

If this is true, what does that mean (to you) about the statements "there is absolute truth" or "there is not absolute truth"?
 
Arjen
 
Reply Sun 27 Apr, 2008 01:33 pm
@NeitherExtreme,
Perhaps pardoxes are what one calls absolute truth?
 
NeitherExtreme
 
Reply Sun 27 Apr, 2008 01:56 pm
@Arjen,
Arjen wrote:
Perhaps pardoxes are what one calls absolute truth?

Hmm... Interesting. I'll give it some thought. Smile

We can't be certain of the existence of objective reality because we are subjectively experiencing it. (right?) But can the subjective exist without the objective? If not, then can we be reasonably certain that it at least exists?

Maybe my feeble mind is just at its limits. Wink
 
Arjen
 
Reply Sun 27 Apr, 2008 02:00 pm
@NeitherExtreme,
I gave it some thought at first too....I am still giving it some thought now..

I am thinking about writing a paper/article about my thoughts because I think I am breaking every limit philosophy so far has set on this subject. I think I can twist the thought into something very recognisable and very interesting. That is for another day though.

Quote:

We can't be certain in the existence of objective reality because we are subjectively experiencing it. But can the subjective exist without the objective? If not, then can we be reasonably certain that it at least exists?

To answer any of these questions, should we not at first explore what we are in an anthropological sense?
 
NeitherExtreme
 
Reply Sun 27 Apr, 2008 02:07 pm
@Arjen,
Arjen wrote:

I am thinking about writing a paper/article about my thoughts because I think I am breaking every limit philosophy so far has set on this subject. I think I can twist the thought into something very recognisable and very interesting. That is for another day though.


I'd be interested in seeing your thoughts put together. Smile

Arjen wrote:

To answer any of these questions, should we not at first explore what we are in an anthropological sense?


Sounds like a reasonable idea... For me, the whole concept of world-view has been very important, which I think ties very closely with anthropology. I also think that our word-view plays a big part in what conclusions we come to when we approach mind-bending, words-failing ideas like "absolute truth". At some point reason and philosophy take a back seat to our world-view, if for no other reason, then simply because of their limited scope.
 
Arjen
 
Reply Sun 27 Apr, 2008 02:15 pm
@NeitherExtreme,
NeitherExtreme wrote:
I'd be interested in seeing your thoughts put together. Smile

As would I; I've been putting it off, but I think I'd be pretty ground breaking...then again..I have a track record of thinking of other peoples philosophies Smile

Quote:

Sounds like a reasonable idea... For me, the whole concept of world-view has been very important, which I think ties very closely with anthropology.

Yep, that is very important. What are we and from there: what do our perceptions and experiences mean.

Quote:

I also think that our word-view plays a big part in what conclusions we come to when we approach mind-bending, words-failing ideas like "absolute truth". At some point reason and philosophy take a back seat to our world-view, if for no other reason, then simply because of their limited scope.

We are misled by the grammer of our language according to Ludwig Wittgenstein. Our definitions sometimes take our breath away. I think that would be philosophy of language though. And a bit philosophy of mind. Have you ever noticed how much people act on their own rulebase instead of looking at what is really happening?
 
NeitherExtreme
 
Reply Sun 27 Apr, 2008 02:21 pm
@Arjen,
Arjen wrote:
I have a track record of thinking of other peoples philosophies Smile

I've felt the same way a few times in my life. :rolleyes:

Arjen wrote:
And a bit philosophy of mind. Have you ever noticed how much people act on their own rulebase instead of looking at what is really happening?

It really is a hard balance to find... People need definitions and conclusions- its part of who we are. At the same time, we can be blinded by them. I guess we just have to do our best. Smile

Well, I've got to run. It's been a good chat.

-Luke
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 29 Apr, 2008 07:19 pm
@Arjen,
Arjen wrote:
Perhaps pardoxes are what one calls absolute truth?



And perhaps not. Now that is a paradox (I suppose that is what you meant). And so, perhaps the paradox that paradoxes may and may not be absolute truth is the absolute truth. Now, is that ground-breaking or is it not?
 
 

 
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