Real Philosophy: What is Truth?

  • May 26, 2013 · 1:00 PM
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Real Philosophy: What is Truth?

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

“The truth." Dumbledore sighed. "It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”
― Winston Churchill

“The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept.”
― George Carlin

Why is truth such a hard thing to handle? Why do different people assert different things to be true, with equal certainty? Also, why is it important to distinguish one kind from another, and – most importantly – how can someone living in today’s sea of information navigate the riptides of truths? And does it matter to the way we see the universe and the human condition if we never get to the truth?

Getting at the truth has for millennia challenged philosophers, theologians, scientists, and jurors, along with private detectives and the rest of us. It turns out, as in the song "Lookin' for Love," we may have been looking for truth in all the wrong places. William Gardner's interesting, readable book Handling Truth helps us look in the right places.
According to Gardner, there are four domains of truth: Mystica (which includes religion),
Rhetorica (common sense), Logica (reason), and Empirica (research). Each domain has its own rules for deciding what is true; this means the domains often conflict with one another. For instance, in the Empirica domain, truth is revealed only through supportive research data.
Reason alone is insufficient. In the Mystica domain, "God created man," is a truth unacceptable by the rules of Empirica. In Empirica, "Human beings evolved from an earlier species." Is any domain superior to another? No, but each has its own assumptions; and the listener or reader should learn to recognize each domain and the boundaries of its truth claims.

Source: William Melvin Gardner's book (Amazon):

"HANDLING TRUTH: Navigating the Riptides of Rhetoric, Religion, Reason, and Research"

Join Plato's Cave philosophers as we consider the questions of "What is truth?" , "Where can we find it?", "Is truth always relevant?", "When should the truth be withheld?" and others in our discussion of TRUTH as absolute, relative or cultural.
 
Be sure to check the Plato’s Cave discussion and files sections where you can read, post and download documents that are relevant to this topic.
 

Thanks to Swami for suggesting this subject.

-Steve, Plato's Cave Organizer

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  • Alan G.

    I hope this is only the beginning. I would like to propose a framework for personal philosophical progress (FPPP)!.

    July 28, 2013

  • Steve S.

    OK - So we discussed Truth as it falls into 4 different main categories: Empirica, Logica, Mystica and Rhetorica. Now I want a one sentence summary of each to remind me.... :) Great meetup as usual.

    May 28, 2013

    • Steve

      Mystica (mystical, religion, and gurus)
      Rhetorica (rhetoric, debate and ‘common sense’)
      Logica (logic, reason and mathematics)
      Empirica (empiricism, research and science)
      Each domain has its own rules for deciding what is true; this means the domains often conflict with one another. For instance, in the Empirica domain, truth is revealed only through supportive research data.
      Reason alone is insufficient. In the Mystica domain, "God created man," is a truth unacceptable by the rules of Empirica. In Empirica, "Human beings evolved from an earlier species." Is any domain superior to another? No, but each has its own assumptions; and the listener or reader should learn to recognize each domain and the boundaries of its truth claims.

      May 28, 2013

    • Swami

      Simplest terms: ARGUMENT, REVELATION, LOGIC, & MEASUREMENT

      More detailed:

      - RHETORICA (rhetoric): Persuasion via argument/debate.

      - MYSTICA (spiritual/religious/the­ological): Faith/belief via revelation (public/private), prophesy, sacred text, authority, enlightenment.

      - LOGICA (logic): Via inference/proof by logical methods (e.g. logic, and mathematics).

      - EMPIRICA (empirical): Via measurement/observation/­research (e.g. science/scientific method, history).

      Note: The order loosely follows chronological development.

      Even more here:
      http://files.meetup.c...­

      May 28, 2013

  • Tim B.

    Actually I could participate via skype... my skype ID , I think is tim.badonsky that would be really cool

    1 · May 26, 2013

    • Jairo M.

      Well Tim, thanks for calling the Austin's Coffee to get my attention during the meet up. I was able to read your quote from Nietzsche to the group, but it had different interpretations in the minds of the folks in the group. I think one interpretation was that some beings are very strict about catching errors in statements, for example the statement that there were a thousand people in a public gathering. The being listening and evaluating the statement might rightly question the accuracy of the data, so the statement will need revision, like 900 +/ - 100.

      May 28, 2013

    • Tim B.

      Nietzsche's aphorisms can leave themselves open to interpretation, but having read a fair bit of his writings I can say with some confidence that he is specifically saying that the idea that truth is some perfect ideal is an illusion, but one we cannot live without. We create "truths" and we need to have them and, on some level, we need to believe that they are perfect and ideal (that there are some things that are absolutely true) even though that is utterly wrong.

      May 28, 2013

  • Tim B.

    Mathematics is a form of delusion without which science would be impossible.

    May 27, 2013

    • Tim B.

      And perfect, ideal truth is an illusion without which life would be intolerable.

      May 27, 2013

  • Jairo M.

    We will never find the Truth. And that's the Truth.

    1 · May 26, 2013

    • Tim B.

      I agree, Jairo, that we will never find the truth, but we probably disagree as to why. I assert that truth is something humans have constructed and so, like an invention or a work of art, cannot be found.

      May 27, 2013

    • Tim B.

      However, at the same time, I do assert that there are modes of describing the world that are more accurate and reliable than others. But I don't equate such reliability with the idea that there is some actual entity such as truth.

      May 27, 2013

  • Rami K.

    The Bible supports neither a Copernican or 'center of the universe' understanding. The portion dealing with celestial placement is a story from a mythology which was oral long before it was written down. The Truth to be found in the canon is the truth found in story.

    May 27, 2013

  • Swami

    AUDIO: By coincidence, "TRUTH" was the topic of today's Atheist Experience podcast call-in show...
    http://www.atheist-experience.com/archive/AtheistExp-2013-05-26.mp3

    May 27, 2013

  • Swami

    Truly awesome:)

    May 27, 2013

  • Tim B.

    Is there anybody out there? Hoping to connect up to the meeting...

    1 · May 26, 2013

    • Jairo M.

      Here is that link Tim submitted to me on Skype at around when during the meet up we were considering the Variety of Religious Experiences by William James and other experiences such as Out of Body, Near Death, etc. Check it out. An interview on NPR http://www.npr.org/20...­

      May 26, 2013

    • Jairo M.

      During the meetup I sent Tim the link to mathematician Mike's writing on Physicalism and here it is for others to read http://www.mdeetaylor...­ During the meetup [at 15:37:17] Tim Badonsky responded via Skype SMS as follows: I look forward to challenging Mike on his definitions: I think he is talking about realism, not physicalism.

      May 26, 2013

  • D.F.

    Can't be there and this is my favorite topic ;0) What David Foster Wallace has to say applies to big T truth ... he explains why at the end. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=xmpYnxlEh0c#!

    May 9, 2013

    • Steve S.

      I read Wallace's speech, and I wasn't thrilled. Yes, he made some good points that most of us have observed. But he also expanded the definition of "worship" to the point where it was meaningless. And no, Jairo - I AM an atheist. Though I may respect, honor and treasure some people or things, I don't worship.

      May 25, 2013

    • Rami K.

      David Wallace's use of the word 'worship', was in context to what we meditate over. In other words, what we "think about". His statement about default thinking, and our ability to become well adjusted in our thinking are some of the most vaulable parts of his speech.

      May 26, 2013

  • amanda m.

    "Is any domain superior to another? No, but each has its own assumptions;" I disagree. It is like sitting down to a meal and wondering if you should just have cake. Now there can be difference of opinion. A five year old finds that cake superior to other things. An adult might embrace the broccoli. Even if inexact there is still a type of truth that exists. We can choose to approximate close to it- or not.Even if honest and forthright regarding the matter at hand, there is for one thing social aspects. It is your birthday so you are compelled to have a taste of cake even if you don't like it. The discussion may not be the point at all and it could be just a way for creatures to give each other mental strokes. Then any truth seeking can often work against that. But the truth, I believe, still exists. We can choose to seek it, or not.

    2 · May 14, 2013

    • amanda m.

      I embrace paradox. When and if I find it. Which I have recently found out is rare. But logical thinking can end up there.Reality exists apart from our description of it. It is not dependent on my description of it. Many dislike it when their thinking gets close to a paradox. I actually like it. The idea that what one person thinks is therefore truth is ridiculous. Have you ever just started to awaken and haven't quite realized you are still dreaming? it is a 4 year olds view to think that the dream is the truth. The truth is you are in a bed, waking up from a dream.

      1 · May 17, 2013

    • Jairo M.

      What one person thinks becomes his Truth, but unfortunately may be a Lie which can cause Cancer.

      May 25, 2013

  • Steve S.

    "Let us begin by committing ourselves to the truth - to see it like it is, and tell it like it is - to find the truth, to speak the truth, and to live the truth." ~ Richard M Nixon (Accepting the Republican Convention presidential nomination before his first election in 1968)

    1 · May 25, 2013

  • Rami K.

    Removed the +1 so that another on the waitlist may be encouraged to attend (though my wife will most likely be aside me).

    May 25, 2013

  • Rami K.

    Something I realized today about the title of William Gardner's book "Handling Truth". What I have found, by way of life experience, is that the case is reversed: Truth handles you.

    May 23, 2013

  • Rami K.

    Truth is it's my birthday!

    1 · May 20, 2013

    • Swami

      Are you sure!? Just kidding:) HAPPY BDAY.

      May 20, 2013

  • Jairo M.

    According to Buddhist masters, especially Nagarjuna, there are two truths (or realities): Absolute Truth and Relative (or conventional) Truth. We function mostly only in Relative Truth world (empirica domain?)

    1 · May 10, 2013

    • Jairo M.

      And what about Buddha's Four Noble Truths? Well, maybe they are more like 4 contemplations that lead to perfection. The Buddha and Buddhism does have 3 "truths" about reality or life from which to base the four noble truths, and these are (1) everything is impermanent (2) there is really no inherent and permanent self or being in anything and (3) there is suffering or unsatisfactoriness experienced by those sentient beings. Actually these 3 truths are about experiential existence. From these 3 truths or marks or characteristics of existence the Buddha derived the Four Noble Truths as the formula to get out of unsatisfactory existence.

      May 13, 2013

    • Jairo M.

      A sentient being experiences suffering but does not suffer. There is suffering just as there is hunger. I am not hungry, I experience hunger, but that does not necessarily mean that my body needs to be fed, it may be lying to me.

      May 19, 2013

  • Jairo M.

    Limitations of Science. A view from a Christian educator http://www.bjupress.com/info/science/philosophy.php

    May 19, 2013

    • Jairo M.

      Science cannot make value judgments. But it can be used to back up or shape value systems.

      1 · May 19, 2013

  • Rami K.

    Cannot claim to have time to contribute however I have this moment, and with it I feed in http://socioenergetics.org/truths.html which is graphic designer Paula Rozelle Hanback's list of some 600+ ponderable truths.

    1 · May 18, 2013

    • Jairo M.

      Some Truths to consider. What you think creates your reality.
      As you think, so you are.
      Living universal truth changes the world.
      To know the answer, we must first question.
      A choice is never wrong, though some have difficult consequences.

      When Us is more important than Them, They are expendable. You don't have to give up or give in when you can always change your mind.

      1 · May 19, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    My project management class ends that Sunday so I may be busy finalizing our deliverables. But if I finish my course work before then, I will stop by Austin's to listen to the discussion. :-)

    3 · May 17, 2013

  • Jairo M.

    Thanks to Swami for suggesting this subject. Does the title "Real Philosophy: What is Truth?" mean that we haven't been considering real philosophy in past meetups? Was the recently past meetup on the Zeitgeist Movement a meetup not philosophy and were we deluding ourselves into considering that topic at all? I don't know, I wasn't there. Now that calls for a meetup on Philosophy. Perhaps we could call it "The Philosophy of Philosophy" or perhaps "Philosophizing on Philosophy" or "Philosophy: Thinking about Philosophy" or "How to Philosophize" or simply "What is Philosophy?". We could start negatively by a process of elimination by asking ourselves "What is not Philosophy?" What do you think?

    May 12, 2013

    • Jairo M.

      Right click and select save as the following mp3 file link http://traffic.libsyn...­ to hear philosopher philosophizing about philosophy.

      May 12, 2013

    • Tim B.

      The issue of what is real philosophy has come up before. I think Swami expressed doubts about the discussion about a year ago on "Thinking Fast and Slow"--as psychology not as philosophy. (I think there is/should be no hard and fast divide between science and philosophy.) There is a well known and contentious divide between continental philosophy (Hegel, Nietzsche, Foucault, Derrida) and western analytic philosophy (Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein +/-, Kripke, etc.). The analytic school is often rather dismissive of anything else being called philosophy.

      1 · May 13, 2013

  • Swami

    Here is a great podcast that helps explain why people hold different beliefs on what is "truth/Truth"...

    PODCAST (Equal Time for Freethought):
    William Gardner on Handling Truth

    [BOOK: "Handling Truth: Navigating the Riptides of Rhetoric, Religion, Reason, and Research"]

    EXCELLENT INTERVIEW...

    "Why is truth such a hard thing to handle? Why do different people assert different things to be true, with equal certainty? Dr. William Gardner discusses four kinds of truths, which he calls Rhetorica, Mystica, Logica, and Empirica… and why they don’t always get along."
    www.equaltimeforfreethought.org/2013/04/20/show-459-william-gardner-on-handling-truth

    1 · April 30, 2013

    • Jairo M.

      Thanks Swami for the link to the excellent interview. I wonder if the best strategy (or policy) is to accept or tolerate all domains and be poli-domain-al (i.e. be able to navigate in all the domains depending on situation) and know where they are coming from when one is in conversation with others.

      May 10, 2013

  • Tim B.

    Hi Steve, Swami, Jairo. I was inspired by the topic to post a new discussion thread which lays out my (rather lengthy) views on the subject. Near the end, Swami, I provide a theory as to why (what we call) truth is such a hard thing to handle.

    I do apologize for the length, but I have spent much of the last several years developing a nominalistic, physicalistic theory of truth and I have been unable, up until today, to disgorge it in any coherent form. Thank you all for providing a place where I could at least make the attempt.

    April 30, 2013

    • Jairo M.

      Can you kindly post the link to the page where you began your discussion? I am using a Windows Phone and it won't let me get to the discussion pages because the drop down menus won't stay open for me.

      May 5, 2013

  • Jairo M.

    Actually, although I am not speaking for all Buddhists and all of Buddhism, I "believe" that what the Buddha and other masters taught is that the Truth is not something absolute and universal for everyone, but that Truth is individual (or personal) and it forms a mandala or universe for the person, and an appropriate or more truthful mandala is the path that leads to perfect living and being.

    April 30, 2013

    • Jairo M.

      Well maybe not a mistake, but prone to confusion and taking things too literally. Or just not being able to see the big picture.

      May 5, 2013

    • Jairo M.

      Buddhist literature is very difficult because it sometimes has to leave special words untranslated. For example, the word dharma. For Hinduism, especially in the Gita Dharma means duty, almost surrender. But in Buddhism Dharma usually means The Teachings of the Buddha, but in other places it refers to Truth. And when talking about the dharmas that means phenomena and how the mind captures it.

      May 5, 2013

  • Envie

    How does truth comes into existence - is it "discovered" or created? Shall we make the mechanics of communicating truth a separate meetup? The how, or even if, the truth in your brain can be accurately communicated and translated into the same truth in mine? I can see this topic getting way too big bc each one of your five final questions could take up a whole meetup on their own....which I would happily attend.

    May 1, 2013

    • Jairo M.

      Not necessarily too big. We aren't here to go through each question and answer them and select democratically or tyrannically the final truthful answer to each question. I'd like to think that we are here to let the questions simmer in our minds and generate more questions. Because once one of these questions is "answered" we are deluding ourselves. Anyway, perhaps there really is no Truth. There are only increasing levels of Falsenesses, and this landscape of falsehoods between the highest peaks (least falsehoods) and deepest valleys (biggest falsehoods) makes up the fuzziness of our logical experience.

      May 5, 2013

    • Jairo M.

      Well there are places where we find the absolute truthfulness and falsefulness of things useful, and that would be Boolean logic and algebra and switching circuits and truth tables, where only two variables are allowed, 0 and 1, where we can choose to have 1 represent truth and 0 represent false. In a simple circuit that would mean that 1 is ON and 2 is OFF. So the light switch or computer power on off button can be used to turn the light or the computer on, and turn it off. We have had so much success in computer technology; we assume we can model the brain in this binary way to produce artificial intelligence, and artificial life, and artificial mind, and artificial soul, making our lives soulless.

      May 5, 2013

  • D.F.

    Topic I really would like to discuss but will be out of town that day.

    May 2, 2013

  • Jairo M.

    May I suggest a book that explores our stubbornness and our attachment to our beliefs and delusions? Google "On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not" I have not read it all and I am not reading it regularly, but the little I read seemed pretty good.

    April 30, 2013

    • Jairo M.

      This could be one of the most important books of the year. With so much riding on ‘certainty,’ and so little known about how people actually reach a state of certainty about anything, some plain speaking from a knowledgeable neuroscientist is called for. If Gladwell's Blink was fascinating but largely anecdotal, Burton's book drills down to the real science behind snap judgments and other decision-making.”-- Howard Rheingold, futurist and author of Smart Mobs

      1 · April 30, 2013

    • Tim B.

      Kahneman's "Thinking Fast and Slow" also specifically analyzes the reliability of our judgments against our often misplaced confidence in them.

      1 · April 30, 2013

  • Tim B.

    Oddly I think that my ascetic, physicalistic view shares some agreement with Jairo that "Truth is not something absolute and universal for everyone". While I do not embrace what philosophers call relativism, I specifically conceive of truth as something inherent in us (and some of the systems we create) and not something that exists apart from us.

    April 30, 2013

  • Tim B.

    From the discussion thread "What is Truth?"

    I assert that we call things true because of one of or a combination of three reasons, which correspond to particular physical processes in our brains. More specifically, I assert that we say something is true because it feels right, e.g., "No child should die for lack of food." Or we say something is true because we think it is an accurate representation of the world, .e.g, "The earth is approximately 93 million miles from the sun." Or we say something is true because it is consistent with some formal system we have learned, .e.g., "3 +7 = 10."

    April 30, 2013

  • Swami

    In summary, the book below claims: One's claim to truth depends on the basis: RHETORIC, MYSTICISM, LOGIC, or EMPIRICISM.

    P.S. I wonder which one(s) of these domains this claim is made from!:)

    April 30, 2013

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