Truth, knowledge, and objectivity

From the time of Socrates and Plato human beings have wrestled with the concept of truth.  During this meetup we will discuss what truth is as conceptualized by many before us and whether or not there can be an ultimate truth.  We will address views on truth as conceptualized by philosophers like Socrates to pragmatists like William James and John Dewey.  Some questions we will address include: Is there such a thing as a real truth or is truth really in the eye of the beholder?  What does it mean to know something is true? What sorts of things can be true?   Is truth a function of our interactions with the world or is it something that exists outside our own perceptions?


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  • Andrea

    Thanks, Katie and everyone, for an interesting discussion! Given the topic, I just wanted to share this link to a free online class, Intro to Philosophy, that starts Jan 28th given by professors at the University of Edinburgh. It looks like it will touch on a lot of what we talked about today. https://www.coursera.org/course/introphil

    December 30, 2012

    • Michael

      Thanks, Andrea. I just signed up.

      1 · December 30, 2012

    • Darren W.

      I signed up too, thanks. Now I have to get a kilt to wear while studying. :-)

      1 · December 30, 2012

  • Steve P.

    My apologies for missing this meeting today. I wanted to go, but other things came up. I hope to make it to the next one.

    December 30, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    To the members of the Citizens for Liberty and/or others who have chosen to respond substantively to my argument and/or to the loss of your restuarant venue on either this forum or in private email: I have a politely worded, measured, and uncompromising rebuttal for each and every one of you. In deference to the sensibilities of the members of the Thinking Society, I will be delivering that rebuttal to each of you through the off line email facility that some of you have chosen to use to express your views to me.

    December 29, 2012

    • Steve P.

      Please stop spamming this group. We wouldn't want you to get banned. We have a new meeting place that is friendly to people who support the Constitution and Liberty. If anything, we thank you because we now have a bigger and better place :)

      December 30, 2012

  • Jackie

    So Darren should not have advertised his speaking on this forum I get it. I respect the restaurants decision although I do not understand. The UN is a real threat they are implementing procedures in place to take away our US sovereignty- agenda 21, global gun ban, "freedom from war" still the active military manual signed in by JFK in 1961 look it up. I guess where your losin me is where was it written that we want assault rifles at our meeting. I bring my children to meetings, I'm not sure what you think but we don't play "who's is bigger" with the guns. Under the increment of the law people who are licensed to carry in public obviously would be licensed o carry at our meeting but guns remain unseen and not talked about. For you to call CFL gun toting extremists when NONE. Of the CFL leadership have guns or a license to open carry is just false. I'm not sure how Darren described us but you have he wrong opinion.

    2 · December 30, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Part 3 of 3

    5. Post-modernism. This takes constructivism to a kind of limiting case perspective. There are multiple, socially-constructed realities. This includes standards by which we assess right, wrong, truth, falsehood, and the like. This implies that one socially constructed linguistic discourse is as valid a respresentation of reality as any other. This is because the standards by which such judgments are made are themselves arbitrary social constructions. Correlatively, politics becomes a struggle to impose one socially constructed discourse, and its distributionally significant allocation of rewards and costs, on other discursive communities (Derrida).

    December 29, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Part 2 of 3

    3. Hermaneutics, Phenomenology, and other Interpretatvist Approaches. These are the first of a collection of views which claim epistemology trumps ontology. In the case of these particular perspectives, reality is constructed by the subjective perspective of individuals. On this view, there are a multiplicities of realities -- one for every individual subjectivity.

    4. Social constructivism. This view "socializes" the notion of subjectivty. It posits an intersubjective consensus on reality and its meaning. The medium for constructing this consensus is language and the social agreements on semantic meaning that language establishes. On this view, reality is an interpreted, constructed experience that is shared by individuals participating in the same language-mediated community. There may be multiple realities, but they reside in social communities rather than in individuals.

    December 29, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Part 1 of 3

    Now to the Sunday discussion. Like Katie, I too was exposed to this topic in graduate school. Subsequently, I taught graduate seminars on epistemology for a number of years. I have been away from the academy for many years now. So my knowedge of the state of the literature in this area is somewhat dated. That said, here is a brief synopsis of some major points of view:

    1. Positivism. This is a perspective which asserts that there is an objective reality constituted by discrete units of analysis (atoms, humans, nation-states, etc.) that can be described in normatively neutral terms through the use of controlled observations and measurement. On this view, ontology trumps epistemology. Karl Popper is one of the main proponents of this view.

    2. Structuralism. This is another objectivist perspective. It differs from positivism in its choice of the unit of observation. For structuralists, this unit is some sort of struture -- such as the syntactical rules of language (Chomsky) or social st

    December 29, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Part 2 of 3

    (3) A polemic developed on Thursday that was fueled by what I had to say. My responses were extremely confrontational. They were designed to bait. In some sense, they did their job. I am not too terribly happy with my conduct however. Too many references to skin heads and Nazis. The subtstance of my complaint is there for anyone to read. I do not disavow its substantive content. But I concede that my substantive point almost certainly got lost in the to-and-fro of the polemic. And I also concede that I should have cut short my part in maintaining the duration of the discussion.

    So no apologies for the substantive, non-polemical points I have made. But the confrontational tone of the subsequent debate and my failure to keep my temper in check has violated the sensibilities of this group and my own standards for reasoned argument. For this, I apoloigize.

    December 29, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Part 1 of 3

    To the members of the Thinking Society: I would like to extend a qualified apology for some aspects of my conduct over the last couple of days. Here is what I mean: (1) Just prior to Christmas, a member of our group posted an invitation on a Thinking Society discussion thread inviting members of our group to attend a gun-wielding meeting regarding an empirically untenable fantasy concerning the UN, Obama, and other American elites. After stewing for a couple of days, I decided to post a critique of that meeting's agenda. I stand by what I said and am making no apologies for any aspect of my original statement. You can find this critique and a subsequent polemical tirade involving me and another person on the Gun Control thread. (2) Because my critique evoked no response, pro or con, by any member of this group, I decided to notify members of what had been said by posting a reference to it on a discussion thread dedicated to the upcoming Sunday meeting on epistemology. This caught people's a

    December 29, 2012

  • Jean S.

    Thank you Rita. the discussion had certainly gotten out-of-bounds. I have had second thoughts about attending also. With all of this hostility before the meeting, what it the point of trying to have a civil discussion? I travel too many miles to attend to have my time wasted. This is where a great event host steps forward and holds the reins. See you Sunday

    December 29, 2012

  • Will B.

    Katie I hope all your good intentions for this topic are possible. Honestly I think Rita has stated the simple truth and her feelings in a refreshingly clear and direct way. Christmas is a time for elves not trolls.

    December 29, 2012

  • Katie

    This is a topic that I have had the opportunity to touch on through readings on the philosophy of science and various world views such as social const, logical positivism, realism, etc. My interest in the topic was renewed after listening to a Radiolab.org podcast that examined what a fact was. I pasted the link below if others are interested. I look forward to a conversation on this topic on sunday:
    http://www.radiolab.org/2012/sep/24/

    1 · December 28, 2012

  • Jackie

    Do we really live in a world where Groups with differing opinions can't be civilized? We have never and will never insult your group and your leadership that way. I truly hope you will not counter protest we are not "right" wing crazies as mentioned we are constitutionalists trying to revert the country back to how the founders wanted small govt, eliminate police state and promote personal responsibility. Please respond to me so i know where you stand.

    1 · December 28, 2012

    • Andrea

      Hi Jackie, this was not a "group" thing. It was an argument between two individuals that, unfortunately, played out on this forum. The leadership stepped in to diffuse the argument, not to attack in any way.

      3 · December 28, 2012

    • Steve P.

      I 100% agree with you Jackie. Very uncivilized for someone to make a statement about sabotaging our meeting. Andrea, thank you. We really appreciate your support.

      December 28, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Darren, I called the restaurant's manager. My intent was to tell her that she might be facing a counter-demonstration from people who do not agree with the so-called Citizens for Liberty. I did not get very far. Evidently the CFL met at this restaurant before. The management team subsequently visited the same Facebook page you are advertising now. They came to their own conclusions and described the CFL as crazy or something similar.

    I have no problem owning up to what I did. This restaurant claims to a plain-vanilla family establishment. Hardly seemed like the kind of place that would willing host a political rally by gun-toting skin heads,

    December 27, 2012

    • Steve P.

      Hello. I am the co-founder of CFL. Why in the world would you try to sabotage our private friendly meeting? If you have a problem, I would love to meet up and discuss it with you.

      December 28, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Michael, let me explain a couple things.

    1. If the Sunday meetup goes as planned, we WON'T be discussing the issue that is vexing me here. We will be talking about objectivist vs. constructivist views of ontology and epistemology. This topic is loaded with political import. But, if we pursue the discussion properly, we will never get to a level of concreteness that might otherwise stir up some passions.

    2. Even if we do get to that level, it is not clear that those sentiments will lead us down the road to the topic that is vexing me here.

    3. The vexing topic was initiated on ANOTHER thread owned by THIS group, You can find it here: http://www.meetup.com/thinkingsociety/events/88133332/. And you can find the Facebook page to which it points here: https://www.facebook.com/events/443544712373370/. Read both carefully. Read the relevant comments in this thread with those links in mind. Then draw your own opinions about them.

    For me, this is clear., The material in question is beyond what civilized

    December 27, 2012

    • Steve P.

      Hello friend. How did my groups facebook meeting thread become a topic of conversation?

      December 28, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Sorry to Katie and to new members A thinking society is NOT a "get out jail free" card. There ARE rules. The rules of thinking: (1) Logical argument. Meaning conclusions that are derived deductively from premises. (2) Evidence. Meaning there is (ideally) statistically significant data to substantiate the premises. Anything else does not count as disciplined thinking.

    This leaves open a wide latitude for dispute. And this is because the evidence on offer is rarely clean enough to settle a controversy. Hence the need for the debate on Sunday.

    So I come back to my initial challenge: What supportable theory of the international political system or about foreign policy making would ever substantiate the claims about the UN and about American elites that got this whole discussion underway?

    December 27, 2012

    • Michael

      Why not attend the meetup and see what the evidence and arguments are? I don't expect these claims to be substantiated on these threads. That's why there is a meetup. I hope I can make it.

      December 27, 2012

  • Katie

    In order to maintain these types of open discussions we have to have respect for each other, and their views, whatever they may be. We don't expect everyone to agree with each other but we do demand that you respect each other.
    In response to some of the comments posted below, other meetings and events were posted as other members may have an interest in attending them to learn more. For example, I do not consider myself a libertarian but I am open to learning more about this view and have enjoyed learning about more opportunities to join discussions that teach me more about a view that I may or may not support. It is not wrong for those types of activities to be posted under a relevant discussion topic.

    December 27, 2012

    • Michael

      Good points. Frank seems to be trying to prevent further discussion at the meetup that Darren has scheduled. I don't know anything about the Citizens for Liberty group, but I think I can make up my own mind when these view are presented at the meetup.

      1 · December 27, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Katie, I have the brass to show up. You have a lot of nerve not standing up to Darren's initiating post.

    Shame on you. Shame on any one else who stays silent.

    December 27, 2012

    • Katie

      The initiating post, at least the one I saw as the initiating post was on topic with what is truth. This continued discussion has gotten out of hand and has become inappropriate. Please discontinue this conversation.

      2 · December 27, 2012

  • Katie

    I apologize to all members who have been turned off based on this discussion, if these posts continue I will be canceling this meetup and discontinuing this particular thread. Please feel free to contact me or any of the other organizers directly with any concerns, comments or suggestions you have.

    1 · December 27, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Sorry Katie. You are wrong. Politics is not a parlor game. Civility in politics presupposes a shared sense of boundaries. The boundaries get instantiated in a social contract and a constitution that establishes an intersubjective consensus on what is tolerable. If you truly believe that ANY view is tolerable, then you and I do not belong in the same room. Otherwise, the issue becomes a matter of where one draws the boundaries. I did not start this. I did not invite our group to attend a political meeting in which the subjects to be discussed are: (1) A globalist conspiracy involving President Obama and other American elites that intends to use the UN to overthrow the sovereignty of the United States. (2) the importance of gun rights to fight off the invasion of Blue Helmet UN troops. (3) An expressed desire to show up with guns at family restaurant to make their point. If you think it is acceptable to use our group as a vehicle for advertising this nonsense and if you think others among us ha

    December 27, 2012

    • Katie

      Frank I respect your opinion and do see your point, I agree in boundaries and that not all views are tolerable but you alone do not get to decide what those lines are. My purpose in posting to this thread was to stop this thread from becoming overly rude and aggressive, specifically the name calling was insulting and really brought down the caliber of the group itself. I would hate that new members only see this thread and form an opinion of this group based on it. On sunday I would like a good discussion but I fear that it will turn into a heated argument that will make most uncomfortable just based on how this thread has played out.

      1 · December 27, 2012

    • Katie

      Please do not come if you plan to continue the discussion in the same manor you have in this thread. If on the other hand you can come and have a genuine discussion without resorting to underhanded tactics I would love to have you there as I value your opinion, as well as Darrin's, and feel that the two of you do have interesting perspectives that others could benefit from hearing. If this is not possible then I ask that you do not attend out of respect for the other members.

      2 · December 27, 2012

  • Andrea

    It seems like this conversation has gotten way off the Truth, Knowledge and Objectivity topic. I know that there is some interpersonal history here, but I wonder if there might be a better forum than here to hash out some of these side topics? It seemed to start out with a worthwhile discussion about truth and reality, but then veer into a direction that might not be productive for the group as a whole, in my opinion.

    1 · December 27, 2012

    • Katie

      Thanks for posting this. I look forward to seeing you sunday!!

      December 27, 2012

  • Katie

    I would also like to speak to our new members, please do not judge the whole of the group based on this one thread. I apologize if any of this thread, including my posts, have been offensive or turned you off from being a part of our group. I assure you that was not the intention of any of the posters. I know all these members personally and consider them to be very intelligent and friendly people who have contributed substance to the meetings, please rest assured that if discussions or comments by any members become overly offensive or inappropriate the organizers will remedy the situation so that the goals of the group are upheld.
    We have and will always be a thinking society, meaning that we do not have a specific agenda or viewpoint we are hoping to promote, rather we hope that members from diverse backgrounds and beliefs will come together to learn and share with each other in hopes of learning more about each other, ourselves, and other potential ways to see the world.

    1 · December 27, 2012

  • Katie

    It is fine to disagree with others but it is wrong for someone to voice this type of disagreement as if the entire membership is against this viewpoint. One of the best things about this group is the diversity of its membership and their willingness to come together to learn from one and other. If you cannot keep an open mind and be respectful to each other when coming I again ask that you do not attend this meetup or others in the future.

    December 27, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    This IS the place. As well as the meetup. As well as every public space. Disavow the CFL. Stick to a property rights argument and stay away from the crazies. If you do that, I will back down, apologize publicly, and embrace you as a respected opponent in debate. If you don't, then your only recourse will be demonstrate with the tools of logic and evidence that I am wrong about the CFL. Good luck on that score.

    December 27, 2012

  • Katie

    i also would like to thank Andrea for pointing out that this is neither the format nor the place for this type of discussion. I am honestly disappointed at the direction this has taken.
    I would like to remind everyone that one of the core goals of this group is to have open discourse around provocative topics in an adult, civilized way. After reading these posts I am saddened that these values have not been carried out on this thread, in particular the name calling is not only inappropriate but also has now given new members a inaccurate representation of the majority of the members. We would like members to come to these events and to have an open discussion, regardless of their position, but if this cannot be done in an adult, mature way, without loosing ones temper then we ask that you do not attend.

    December 27, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    To Andrea. I really am sorry about the disruption to comity. I did think long and hard before going down this road. It is not personal. Prior to this week, I figured Darren to be a reasonable advocate for a property rights-based libertarianism. There is much in that view that I find important. Particularly as it informs our attitudes concerning personal responsibility, choice, and efficiency. But I still care about equity and fairness. Hence my own personal journey from socialism stops at liberalism. I will not got down the road to libertarianism.

    But I am no liberal when it comes to tolerating views the flirt with far-right skin heads and Nazis. I am completely intolerant when it comes to such views. And I would hope most of us are. Remember, Hitler was VOTED into power by people who didn't want their comity disrupted. If Darren is not of that ilk, then I invite him to disavow the Citizens of "Liberty". If he doesn't, then this thread is as good as any other to call out what is going on h

    December 27, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Darren, as said earlier in this thread. I understand where you are coming from on this. I used to take the same view. It is only over time that I have to realize that the objectivist position is, at best, irrelevant. Do I think there is a reality independent of knowledge claims about it? Yes. Can I prove it? No. The fatal word in my claim is THINK -- a synonym for BELIEVE. Both words presuppose some determinate system of knowledge. Reality has no real operational meaning outside of beliefs about it. So talking about an objective reality that can be apprehended outside of a belief system is polite fiction at best.

    December 27, 2012

  • Darren W.

    The basic metaphysical issue that lies at the root of any system of philosophy [is] the primacy of existence or the primacy of consciousness.

    The primacy of existence (of reality) is the axiom that existence exists, i.e., that the universe exists independent of consciousness (of any consciousness), that things are what they are, that they possess a specific nature, an identity. The epistemological corollary is the axiom that consciousness is the faculty of perceiving that which exists—and that man gains knowledge of reality by looking outward. The rejection of these axioms represents a reversal: the primacy of consciousness—the notion that the universe has no independent existence, that it is the product of a consciousness (either human or divine or both). The epistemological corollary is the notion that man gains knowledge of reality by looking inward (either at his own consciousness or at the revelations it receives from another, superior consciousness).

    3 · December 9, 2012

    • A former member
      A former member

      BTW. You still have not responded to my challeb

      December 27, 2012

    • Darren W.

      "I challenge you to make a defensible claim about ANY aspect of reality that can be stipulated independently of a system of knowledge." Why should I do that? I'm talking about the fact that reality exists independent of people's perception of it & you're talking about how to express one's perception of reality. They're 2 different things. Regardless, I've never claimed that "...reality...can be stipulated independently of a system of knowledge."

      1 · December 27, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    There is another discussion going on as a hold-over from the Gun Control debate. It got started by an invitation for all of us to attend a meeting featuring two topics that are being treated as interrelated: (1) President Obama and other senior elites in the United States are part of a secret globalist cabal dedicated to undermining the sovereignty of the United States. (2) Second Amendment rights to lock and load. Probably to fight off all those Blue Helmets that will be invading the US soon.

    December 27, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    I do not have a problem with people expressing their own views -- even views I think are over the top. But I DO object to using a forum based on ostensibly self-selecting thoughtful people as a vehicle for advertising a mode of thinking that is inconsistent with this group's intellectual agenda. I trust that appropriate action will be taken. Absent that, it may be necessary to consider some kind of split. I, for one, do not wish to be associated in any way with fringe, ultra-right wing activity.

    December 27, 2012

    • Darren W.

      Frank, you just want to silence those you disagree with. I hope the thoughtful people around here will see this. Enough said.

      1 · December 27, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    The use of "entitlement" to describe social programs like social security is designed deliberately to defame the legitimacy of the program. Interestingly, most opponents of so-called Big Government never discuss Defense or subsidies to business as entitlements. Yet they function in similar terms from the point of view of how they are funded and their degree of voluntary versus involuntary participation.

    December 27, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    And now back to last night's discussion. Specifically, social security as social insurance versus an entitlement. Darren has confused some of the history and the "reality" of social security. First, the program was not sold as insurance. It was sold as a trust fund. That was the misrepresentation. Second, social security IS insurance. In any private insurance market, policy holders pay premiums to support current beneficiaries and to fund investments that help to defray the costs of future obligations. Social Security does this. Social Security also is an entitlement in the sense that citizens must pay into it as one of our obligations as citizens. In return, we are entitled to make claims against it once we are eligible, Participation in private insurance markets normally are more or less voluntary.

    December 27, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Here is the link to the discussion I was referencing:

    http://www.meetup.com/thinkingsociety/events/88133332/

    December 27, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Rita, the story the lawyer told essentially makes the point for which I am arguing.

    December 27, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Sorry for the bad typing. BTW. You still have not responded to my challenge. I now feel compelled to add this caveat: A legitimate response must adhere to the rules of Western rational thought. Examples of such thinking include the scientific method, legal jurisprudence, mathematical proofs, and microeconomic modeling.

    December 27, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    There is subjective and objective truth. That is, that there seems to be a truth for oneself and our surroundings and situations seen form one particular angle (self-perception) and a truth that is free from perception, a truth which exists irregardless of our emotions, thoughts and feelings that make up our perceptual opinion.

    1 · December 19, 2012

  • Tom

    Truth is a set of facts that allow you to determine the validity of a statement.

    Another definition: Truth is what a politician avoids at all cost in answering a question.

    November 27, 2012

    • A former member
      A former member

      I don't think its that simple, its a very human quality to see "facts" that support our beliefs and then we call that truth. I'm afraid a lot of what is called truth is just local (between the ears) preferences, likes and dislikes or just plain old self-interest. Trying to get above or beyond that is harder than it might seem at first glance. I think that subjectivity shows up as some of the conflict that is part of our species.

      1 · December 7, 2012

    • Lee D.

      Subjectivity is the bugaboo of every ethical decision and why so many people act as though the ability to exercise free will is a curse to be handed off at the first opportunity. Political ideologies , certain unnamed authors who have been used to justify amorality, and assorted religions have sought to exploit our fear of making the wrong choices by holding up a self proclaimed absolute reality (often just a repackaged, blatently self serving subjectivity) for adherents to act upon without self examination, feeling freed of all those messy ethical constraints.

      December 17, 2012

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