11 May 2017

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The truth about the truth

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing: The truth about the truth

This topic is certainly something that is the concern of philosophy, and
indeed it is and has been since the dawn of time. but even still, we can
still ask what is this thing we call truth?

The truth is not some ingredient like chocolate is an ingredient in a
chocolate cake. Truth, therefore, cannot be a metaphysical problem, but
it is an epistemological problem. In other words, truth is not something
about the world, but something about us.

There are three issues regarding statements of facts that are presented
as true: 1) the language used to convey the information in the statement
of fact, 2) do we have the necessary and sufficient information to make
a statement of fact true, 3) do we have what it takes to understand
statements of fact.

Maybe item 3 above is the hardest for us; and it is hard because this
depends on our individual knowledge and experience. For example, if a
pastry chef tells us that we need ¾ cup (volume US) of cocoa chocolate
for a good chocolate cake but we have no idea what a US cup is in litres
(volume) then we have no idea whether it is true or not that we need ¾
cup chocolate for a decent chocolate cake. Today we are lucky because
within five seconds we can find the answer on our mobile phone which is
0.1774412 litres (volume).

However, life is not as simple as making chocolate cakes. Consider the
political uncertainty in the US by with the election of a populist
president. The political uncertainty associated with the current
president is not one of comparing this president with past presidents.
This would be unfair, since the world changes and presidents have to
deal with the world they find it. The problem is rather the rhetoric of
the president is not something we are familiar with. On the one hand we
appreciate the language used by the president is an appeal to our
emotional instinct, but many of us also understand that most of this
rhetoric is false.

Incidentally the rhetoric used by the President is also the same sort of
rhetoric used by the supporters of Brexit in the UK and the failed
candidate in the recent French presidential elections. In many cases the
language (item 1) used in politics is one that makes it difficult to
verify (item 2) and to understand (item 3). And I use politics because
there is nothing more important and directly more relevant in our life
in modern society than politics.

Of course, the language used by politicians exploits another problem
with the truth: there is a difference between statements of facts that
have taken place in the past and statements of facts that are still to
take place. Statements of facts that still have to happen fall foul of
item 2 above; we just don't have enough information to understand what
is meant when it comes to future facts. But this discrepancy, known as
the problem of induction, has not stopped philosophers from creating a
work around which we call the scientific method or statistical forecasting.

So one of our problems is how to represent the world around us into
information we understand and act upon it. After all, a condition of
understanding is knowing how to use the information. Indeed, this
appraisal is one of the most basic tests in assessing the progress of
someone learning a second language. And this is why filling in the
blanks type of exercises are not a reliable test. People are more
tolerant about syntax than about semantics. We are more interested in
what people want to tell us than how they tell us.

Of course, this idea does not always go down well; in the age of the
internet we want quick access to information (eg a message from our
loved one in an SMS) than whether that message is written in the correct
syntax (ungrammatical text). In the past, when information was more
difficult to convey, syntax was more important than anything else; we
wanted to make sure the receiver had all the information. Today. A
simple LYAL can mean a huge volume of romantic emotion (Love You A Lot).
A side issue is at which point would semantics fail when syntax is out
of order?

We can safely say that the truth is a mental (epistemological)
representation of what happened in the real world in the past or
happening now). This information is primarily conveyed with "truth" type
language: it is windy outside; the allies invaded Normandy on the 6 June
1944. But we also use this form of language to make statements of fact
about the future: the EU creates stability in Europe (simple present
form also confirms the future); building a ten foot high wall will keep
illegal immigrants from entering the country.

It would be nice if that all statements of facts were like historical
statements of fact; these statements are a fair representation of past
events and the three criteria mentioned about would be satisfied. But in
the real world we also function, maybe even mostly function, with
beliefs. So in a way both the President's supporters and the Brexit
supports are justified in rejecting negative statements of facts about
their respective policies; after all even experts are not immune from
the uncertainty of the future.

Beliefs about the future can still be reasonable because they are the
product of the scientific method; of course scientific statements of
facts do not create the future but rather helps us better understand
statements of facts about possible future events. So once again,
science is there to help us understand what is going on around us in the
world and not to make the world around us go one way or another (that's
another matter).

But the truth can sometimes also be deduced from given known facts or
given known language. We know from facts that building a wall won't stop
the so called illegal immigrants. What would limit haphazard migration
is stability in the countries people feel they have to leave. If in
these countries people had a stable government with equitable wealth
distribution and law and order they wouldn't have the urgent need to
leave. Ironically, foreign millionaires and billionaires in Cyprus,
Malta, Monaco, London and Switzerland are not called illegal immigrants.

Language again can be a source of facts; based on meaning rather than
events. The suggestion that a deal with the EU can be better than being
a member of the European Union is just a failure to understand the
meaning of membership, deal and most of all, European Union.
Incidentally countries don't make deals they arrive at agreements.

The truth about the truth is that, the truth is about us and our
perception of the world around us. It is powerful not only because we
learn something new but also because it directly affects our emotions
and in most cases can lead us to action: we can be happy, we can be,
sad, angry, elated etc etc. But truth (ie statements of fact) is also
very weak because truth becomes truth when we believe it is the truth.

ITMT the truth may or may not be something we are prepared to accept,
but facts happening in the world will go on as if our opinion does not
matter at all.

Best Lawrence

Best Lawrence

tel: 606081813
Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com.es/
MeetUp https://www.meetup.com/PhiloMadrid-philosophy-group/

PhiloMadrid Meeting
Meet 6:30pm
Centro Segoviano
Alburquerque, 14
28010 Madrid
Metro: Bilbao
Open Tertulia in English every
Thursdays at Triskel in c/San Vicente Ferrer 3.
Time: from 19:30 to 21h

from Lawrence, SUNDAY PhiloMadrid meeting at 6:30pm: The truth about the

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