Friday, October 2, 2015

What is Truth?

If I had to name the single most frustrating aspect of modern, popular debate, it would have to be the openly adversarial nature on which it all appears to operate.  Rather than work together on building a better understanding of our world, we instead seem to be more focused on scoring philosophical points against the "opposition."  Often times, this might even be by design, like in a courtroom setting where both advocates must dogmatically argue on behalf of their clients’ best interests.  The rest of the time, however, it seems to just happen spontaneously---as if no one really knows what the rules are when engaging in this process.  That's why so much philosophical debate in this world feels a lot like trying to play a game of chess against an opponent who thinks that this is supposed to be checkers.  Without some formal agreement over what truth is and how to recognize the truth when we see it, then there is simply no way to productively engage with opposing points of view.

To me, this presents a very strong incentive to just sit down and summarily examine the question of "What is truth?"  Fortunately, in the context of philosophical and mathematical logic, there are actually very well-established answers to this question.  It's just that you wouldn't really know it because no one ever seems capable of spelling them all out within a single, comprehensive reference.  That’s why I feel personally motivated to present my findings on this issue.  It’s a perfect opportunity to explicitly lay the foundations of basic epistemology for everyone to see, such that we can finally begin to hold each other accountable to a more rigorous set of philosophical rules.

To begin, it's important to understand that any time we talk about a thing like truth, we're not talking about some intrinsic metaphysical quality of reality itself.  Technically, what we're really talking about is a property of propositions.  That is to say, propositions can either be true or they can be false, but there is no such thing as raw "essence of truth" interwoven into the fabric of space and time.  Speaking more formally, a truth value is classically defined as a member of a binary set that contains the elements "True" and "False"  [1].  The purpose of this set is to serve as a kind of marker for linguistic propositions in order to help us measure their epistemic "correctness."  What exactly that means is open to some interpretation, but we can give it a rigorous definition through a mechanism known as a truth assignment.  Speaking formally again, a truth assignment (also called a truth valuation, or an interpretation) is defined as a mapping function between the set of simple linguistic propositions and the set of binary truth values.

If that sounds a bit technical at first, then just think of it like this:  Imagine me writing down a simple proposition on a post-it note and placing it in front of you.  In your left hand is a giant rubber stamp that says "true" while in your right hand is a another giant rubber stamp that says "false."  Your job is to decide which label deserves to be stamped on this note.  So ask yourself, how do you go about doing that?  Do you just arbitrarily stamp things randomly?  Or do you apply some set of rules that give your labels a more significant meaning?  Whatever answer you give to this question is effectively your truth assignment function.  It's an algorithm that takes simple linguistic propositions as an input and then determines a binary truth value as the output.

Now let's take it one step further.  Suppose you've stamped a dozen or so of these post-it notes with truth values, when suddenly you feel like connecting them together into more complex arrangements.  For example, maybe you think two true propositions connected left to right should also be stamped with a value of "true."  Or maybe you think two false propositions connected top to bottom should always be "false."  Maybe you think propositions stamped with "true" on the top should all be stamped with "false" on the bottom, and vice-versa.  These are all perfectly valid operations, and represent the role of logical connectives contained within the scope of propositional logic.  We like using logical connectives because they allow us to literally "connect" propositions together, thereby creating more interesting propositional formulas.

Notice also how there's nothing physically forcing us to stick with only a binary set of truth values.  For example, maybe you think truth would make more sense if we used a ternary set of values rather than binary.  It's a perfectly valid conception that's even used in practice today by scientists, engineers, and mathematicians [2].  Some systems of logic even treat truth as a continuum value rather than a discrete set [3], and again find use in modern scientific applications.  There is no objectively right or wrong answer except for the collective say-so of human philosophers in our ultimate quest for a meaningful conception of truth. 

This is all pretty standard material so far, and can readily be verified in most relevant textbooks on the subject [4,5].  However, something you generally won't find is an official stance over the precise nature of an ideal truth assignment.  It's as if we're all experts at manipulating truth values once we have them, but no one knows how to go about assigning those actual truth values in the first place.  That's a real shame, because this question represents the heart of what an idea like truth is supposed to philosophically encapsulate.  At best, we only seem to have this vague notion that truth should, in some way or another, represent a kind of "correspondence" between the set of linguistic propositions and the factual state of affairs in objective reality.  True propositions are those which effectively describe the real world as it really is, while false propositions do not.

This is a fairly common epistemic concept that philosophers like to call the correspondence theory of truth.  And at first glance, it does seem to be a pretty intuitive definition.  Unfortunately, there's also a glaring hole that needs to be addressed.  Namely, what exactly is this "correspondence" thing you speak of, and how do I recognize it when I see it?  For example, consider a simple proposition like "the Moon is round."  Is that true or false?  According to correspondence theory, the best we can say is that if the Moon is round, then it is "true" that the Moon is round.  Since that's obviously just a vapid tautology, correspondence theory of truth hasn't really told me anything about how to assign truth to propositions. 

But let's take it even further.  What if I stand outside one evening and simply look at the moon directly with my own eyes?  That way, if I see a generally roundish object, then I can legitimately say that the Moon is round, right?

Well, no.

For example, what if there was some kind of optical illusion brought on by the atmosphere that makes squareish things appear round?  Or what if I'm just looking at a giant photograph of the moon, or maybe some elaborate hologram?  Maybe it's all just an hallucination brought on by drugs, or perhaps a really vivid, lucid dream.  Maybe I'm being tricked by a magical demon, or maybe I'm really just a brain in a vat, plugged into some kind of matrix simulation.  I simply do not know, and what's more, I can't know.  No amount of reason or evidence can ever allow me to perfectly determine objective reality as it really is.  Correspondence theory of truth is therefore useless because it offers no way to differentiate between all of these competing  scenarios.  So if we're ever going to make any progress in building a viable epistemology, then we need to operate under the basic constraints that nature has given us.

This is a fundamental philosophical concept known as the egocentric position, or equivalently, the problem of external world skepticism.  All it says is that for whatever sensory perception you may be experiencing at any given moment, there are limitless ad hoc explanations for what might be causing it.  Remember that I'm just a sentient agent trapped within my immediate mental awareness.  It's not like I can just crawl out of that awareness and directly perceive reality as it really is.  And even if I could, how exactly would I correspond linguistic propositions to those objective states?  What are the rules I have to follow and how do I apply them?  We simply cannot ignore the fundamental barriers that exist between reality, our perceptions of reality, and our linguistic frameworks for describing reality.

This is the part where many philosophers really begin to butt heads with each other, but there are at least a few general principles that most people do tend to agree on.  For example, one theory of truth that has great utility is known as the principle of mental incorrigibility, or simply empiricism.  All this says is that any honest statement of immediate sensory perception is automatically a true proposition.  For example, consider a statement like "I feel a pain in my foot".  Even if it turns out to be a complete illusion (like an amputee with a bad case of phantom limb syndrome) I still cannot deny the fact that I am definitely experiencing a distinct sensory perception that is unique from many others.  It therefore seems perfectly reasonable to just acknowledge our perceptual data for what it is, designate those experiences with linguistic markers, and then assign a basic truth value to such propositions accordingly. 

Another popular method for assigning truth to propositions is the use of axiomatic formalism, or for the sake of this discussion, rationalism.  Basically, all this system says is that certain "obvious" propositions, called axioms, deserve a specific truth-value by rote fiat.  For example, take the reflexive law of equality: A = A.  No one derived this proposition from any prior logical framework, nor was it empirically discovered hiding under some rock.  It was just asserted outright as "true" because mathematicians needed a concept of equality from which to build a working system of algebra.  

Once we finally settle on an agreeable set of axioms, it then becomes possible to generate new true propositions out of the old ones by exercising rules of inference.  For example, one classic rule of inference is the transitive law of equality: if A=B and B=C, then A=C.  Again, no one derived this rule from any deeper foundations, nor was it empirically discovered.  It was just asserted outright as a thing we're allowed to do with the concept of numerical equality.  Any new propositions generated in such a fashion are then called theorems, and represent the core driver behind all propositional and mathematical logic.

This might feel like strangely circular reasoning at first glance, and in all fairness, it kind of is.  However, contrary to popular misconceptions, axiomatic systems like math and logic make no effort to describe any objective sense of mind-independent reality.  Rather, a far better way to think of such systems is as a kind of highly formalized language.  Good axiomatic assertions are therefore not really circular so much as they are definitional.  That's why all logical and mathematical theorems are said to analytic in nature, because such truths are ultimately derived entirely from the raw meaning we impose on the terms themselves, and not from any direct connection they have to the external world.  One could even argue that this makes analytic propositions a kind of formal extension on the incorrigible, since anyone is internally free to define their own personal vocabulary however they like.

But what about the so-called synthetic propositions that actually do attempt to describe objective reality---that is to say, the world "out there" beyond purely mental processes?  For example, consider a proposition like "all bachelors are bald" or maybe "all dogs live on Earth."  How do I assign truth to propositions in this category?  Again, it's not like I can just pop open a can of reality and directly observe the facts of the matter beyond my senses.  Nor can I logically derive their truth from any assigned meaning to the words themselves.  So what do we do?

This is another point where things tend to get very confusing, simply because there are so many oddball truth assignments to choose from and no real official answers to turn to.  For example, suppose we decide to assign truth to propositions that reinforce our sense of personal identity or social status. Let's call this egotistical validation.  Granted, it might not be a very good system, but it's still a perfectly valid function that operates under well-defined rules.  Maybe you've even encountered this system yourself, like in religious or political discussions where personal emotions tend to run very high.

Another interesting class of synthetic truth assignment is called Biblical inerrancy, and simply says that no true proposition can ever contradict the records contained within the Holy Bible.  It's actually a fairly common truth assignment, typically emerging from religious fundamentalist organizations.  Truth, in their view, is basically whatever the Bible says.  So while it is tempting to criticize the implicit goals contained within such a definition, it is hard to ignore the clear, meaningful distinction it represents.

But let's face facts.  Those truth assignments are obviously arbitrary and completely unsatisfying because they make no effort to philosophically connect our beliefs with any objective sense of mind-independent reality.  Unless we can find a way to overcome the egocentric position imposed on us by nature, then no system of truth assignment will ever have any meaningful sense of merit.  That’s why so much of the philosophical debate in our world appears to be so pointless.  Most truth assignment functions utilized in practice are either needlessly arbitrary, brazenly self-serving, or deliberately obtuse.

To address this problem, I find that it helps to step back and ask ourselves a fundamental question about truth that surprisingly few philosophers ever seem to ask.  Namely, why is it so god-damned important to believe in as many "true" propositions as possible while simultaneously rejecting as many of the "false?"  What difference does it make at the end of the day?  For instance, consider a possible world where everything I believe about the universe just so happens to be categorically false.  However, every single time I make a decision based off of those beliefs, the consequences are maximally predictable and desirable for me anyway.  Likewise, any time I commit a single "true" belief to action, the outcome is never predictable or desirable for me at all.  Now let’s ask ourselves - given such a world, is it even meaningful to call any of my beliefs "false?”  And if so, why would I ever want to believe anything that was true?  I could spend my entire life being completely wrong about absolutely everything and actually be better off for it. 

This simple thought experiment represents the core principle behind a system of truth assignment generally known as pragmatism.  All this system has to say is that the only meaningful reason why anyone would ever bother believing anything at all is so that we can eventually use that information as a guide for our actions.  Decisions based on “true” beliefs will therefore manifest themselves in the form of controlled, predictable experiences, while decisions based on “false” beliefs will eventually fail in that goal.  Any beliefs that refuse to drive any actions whatsoever, even in principle, are thus effectively reduced to useless rhetorical gibberish.

To illustrate how this system might work in practice, simply imagine yourself standing at a busy intersection when suddenly you decide that you'd like to walk across to the other side.  Sure, you can axiomatically declare premises and logically deduce conclusions all you want, but sooner or later you're going to have to translate that information into a real, committed action.  So while you may think you're being very clever with all your intellectual presumptions and sophisticated rhetoric, I have yet to encounter a single philosopher who could successfully argue with a speeding bus.  Everyone, everywhere, is therefore universally bound to the same pragmatic process in our daily epistemology.  We collect empirical data, we formulate it as a rationally descriptive model of objective reality, we exercise a decision accordingly, and then we empirically observe the outcome.  If our understanding of traffic behavior is indeed "true," then we can expect to safely cross the street without incident.  However, if our model contains flaws or inconsistencies, then it's only a matter of time before we eventually find ourselves getting plowed by oncoming traffic.

This is what makes pragmatism the only epistemology with any viable sense of “connection” to the external world beyond our senses.  Because even if my entire reality is little more than a glorified matrix simulation or demon-spawned hallucination, then even that reality is still objectively real, and apparently operating in accordance with causally predictive patterns.  So if on the off-chance that my actions have any influence on the outcome of future events, then I can use those outcomes to gain real information about the rules governing my reality.  Beliefs drive actions, actions have consequences, and consequences are objective.

We can give this process a nice, technical-sounding name like pragmatic empirical rationalism, but really, it's all just a glorified way of saying science.  Because really, that's all science fundamentally boils down to; a formalized system of gathering empirical data, expressing it within a rational, predictive framework, and then testing those predictions against quantifiable actions and consequences.  We like basing our beliefs on scientific methods because it ultimately allows us to make real decisions in the real world with real, empirical consequences.  Mental incorrigibility and axiomatic formalism are not mere ends unto themselves, but essential tools for the greater purpose of pragmatically navigating the world. 
Notice also how the pragmatic framework implicitly captures many other familiar principles of both science and scientific method.  For example, consider the principle of fallibilism, which simply states that no synthetic propositional model can ever be assigned a value of "true" with any kind of perfect, universal certainty.  At best, we only know what to expect from such models if and when we ever happen to find them.  Consequently, all knowledge claims about objective reality must always remain open to possible revision when faced with any newer and better information.  Likewise, the principle of falsifiability states that we can indeed be perfectly confident in assigning certain models a value of false.  That's because the very definition of a false propositional model is one whose empirical predictions fail to come to pass.  Likewise, we can even use pragmatism to quantify the principle of Occam's Razor (also known as the principle of parsimony): given two propositional models that happen to make perfectly equivalent predictions, then the model containing fewer assumptions is automatically preferable.  After all, if both models are empirically equivalent either way, then you might as well just go with the one that takes less work to think about.
But hey, maybe that's being too presumptuous.  Maybe you think pragmatism is a terrible principle of truth assignment, and that we should all replace it with some "higher" form of understanding.  But let's be clear about what that entails. Without some ultimately pragmatic purpose by which to measure our beliefs, then they are effectively disconnected from any empirically predictive decision we could ever hope to make.  I could therefore openly concede every last proposition you have to say about reality, and literally nothing in my life would ever have change as a result.  That's why no one cares how many angels can dance on the head of pin.  Any answer we give is necessarily going to be trivial and vacuous.  We do, however, care a great deal about what medicines work best for treating cancer and why.  That's because any decisions we might hope to make on the subject are necessarily dependent on the final answers we give.  So unless your truth assignment can somehow facilitate my desire to solve actual problems and reliably predict the outcomes of my actions, then by definition and admission, it is irrelevant and worthless.  Pragmatic scientific method therefore is the ultimate measure of all philosophical truth. 

NOTES:

  1. Usually denoted as {T, F}.
  2. See tri-state logic
  3. See fuzzy logic
  4. Hodel, R. E, "An Introduction to Mathematical Logic," Dover Books (2013)
  5. Priest, G. "An Introduction to Non-classical Logic," 2nd Ed, Cambridge University Press (2008)

35 comments:

lreadlResurrected said...

I think you are essentially correct. Simply put, to quote Richard Dawkins, "Science, bitches; it works." And as a corollary, my favorite quote from Philip K. Dick, "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, does not go away." In my opinion if you lead your life in the light of those two maxims, you are properly grounded. Not to pat myself on the back or anything... :-)

Martin Sandbach said...

This was a awesome piece, thank you.

I would love for someone to write this post out where the general public wouldn't feel discouraged by the difficult language. If someone was writing this post but easily readable by say a 14 year old and had lots of examples to explain each point. Seriously, I want my kids to understand this stuff and understand as young as possible. This is meaningful information as to why and how we should go about formulating beliefs.

Anonymous said...

Part1

Hi anticitizenx, i enjoyed your video on truth. It was very informative and interesting. So thank you for making that video. I am not a philosopher and i haven't read much philosophy. I do consider this to be an interesting topic and I am considering reading philosophers who adress this topic. Though i am not sure if i am intelligent enough to understand there writings. If you have any recomendations of philosophers that i should read i would love to hear those recomendations.

Correct me if i'm wrong but if I understand your possition correctly than a proposition is true if it helps you guide your actions. You said
"(...) the only meaningful reason why anyone would ever bother believing anything at all is so that we can eventually use that information as a guide for our actions." So basicly what you're saying is that if beliefs don't provide you with information to guide your actions than these believes are pointles. While if believes do help you guide your actions, even if they don't correspond to reality, it is usefull to believe these believes. Thus instead of trying to find out which propositions correspond to reality, we should determen what propositions are usefull to guide actions. Our methodology to determen what propositions are usefull to guide our actions is science, "(...) a formalized system of gathering empirical data, expressing it within a rational, predictive framework, and then testing those predictions against quantifiable actions and consequences."

Correct me if i am wrong but are you arguing that all our knowledge should be obtained true the Scientific method? Because that doesn't make much sense to me. Allow me to elaborate. You will probably agree that science presuposes the laws of logic. Lets take the law of non-contradiction for example, let's say this law doesn't describe the reality we experience. Than scientists couldn't falsify hypotheses, because observations that contradict the hypothese wouldn't disprove it, contradictions wouldn't matter if the law of non-contradiction doesn't apply to the reality we experience. So we need to assume the law of non-contradiction to be applicable if we want to be able to do science. If the law of non-contradiction is applicable than obviously deductive arguments can also provide us with information about the reality we experience. Take the following argument for example

P1 If A than B
P2 A
C Therefor B

If p1 and p2 are both true than c must be true otherwise the law of non contradiction would be violated.
I fail to see why deductive arguments can't be useful in guiding actions if they can describe our experience.

Anonymous said...

Part 2

My second objection to pragmatism is that it suffers from the same problems as correspondense theory. How do we know that the scientific method will help us guid our actions?
Your response might be that we know because it has done so in the past. There are two problems with this.

1- you can't know that. How do you know that a God didn't create you two seconds ago with false memories of applying the scientific method to guide your actions. Maybe you just think that it worked in the past because a demon is messing with your head, and using the scientific method will actually have desasterous consequenses.
2- how do you know that the scientific method will still be useful in the future?

Pragmatism relies on your experience. If you say that believes are supposed to guide our actions i assume you're not claiming that you know for sure that we are preforming any actions in the real world. You are actualy talking about our experience of acting. So even if we are a brain in a vat we would still experience a world in which we act in certain ways and science is supposed to inform us how to act in this reality that we're experiencing.
In your video you mentioned the problem of external world sceptisism. But why stop there. How do you know that we are even experiencing anything? How do you know that you exist and that you experience doing science, that you experience using information that you gathered through the scientific method, and how do you know that you experience actions that are guided by your believes. How do you even know what you believe? Al these thing can't be proven, all these things can't be known. Therefor you can't know anything that requires knowledge of your experience, therefor you can't know anything. Including the usefulness of any believe including the likelihood of any believe. You can't even know whether or not you know anything.

Thank you for reading my comment. I appologize if i made to many grammar and spelling mistakes, my english isn't that good (i'm Dutch lol)

AnticitizenX said...

Hello. Thanks for responding. Let's talk about your comments a bit.

"So basicly what you're saying is that if beliefs don't provide you with information to guide your actions than these believes are pointless."

Basically, yes.

"While if believes do help you guide your actions, even if they don't correspond to reality, it is usefull to believe these believes."

Of course. Newtonian mechanics is demonstrably false, yet also accurate to within 9 decimal places for ordinary activities. Do you therefore throw it away simply because it doesn't perfectly "reflect" reality? Or do you seriously run your daily life in accordance with both relativity and quantum mechanics?

"Thus instead of trying to find out which propositions correspond to reality, we should determen what propositions are usefull to guide actions"

I would say that the propositions with empirically predictive power ARE the ones that "correspond" to reality.

"You will probably agree that science presuposes the laws of logic"

No, science doesn't "presuppose" anything. It's a process. You either do science or you to not do science. However, part of doing science is the logical expression of your ideas. Logic is not something that is "presupposed" but rather invented to express ideas in a rigorous manner.

"Lets take the law of non-contradiction for example, let's say this law doesn't describe the reality we experience"

It doesn't. LNC is a rule imposed on language and propositions. Nothing more. Failure to abide by LNC is simply a failure to put words together properly.

"I fail to see why deductive arguments can't be useful in guiding actions if they can describe our experience."

You need to understand that logic is a human invention that governs the manipulation of propositions. Logical rules are thus analytic in nature, and do nothing to describe objective reality. They only dictate the rules by which we TALK about reality.

AnticitizenX said...

"How do we know that the scientific method will help us guide our actions?"

It doesn't. The scientific method is a set of rules for evaluating propositions. The method itself doesn't predict or explain anything. It's just a convention that defines what "true" synthetic propositions look like. Any propositions about the scientific method itself are analytic in nature, and thus not subject to the same rules.

"How do you know that we are even experiencing anything?"

Because if we weren't experiencing anything, we wouldn't be here to ask the question if we are experiencing anything.

"All these thing can't be proven, all these things can't be known."

Sure they can. Mental incorrigibility is a perfectly valid truth assignment function.


Anonymous said...

Part 1

Hi Anticitizenx, thank you for responding. I really appreciate that.

"Of course. Newtonian mechanics is demonstrably false, yet also accurate to within 9 decimal places for ordinary activities. Do you therefore throw it away simply because it doesn't perfectly "reflect" reality? Or do you seriously run your daily life in accordance with both relativity and quantum mechanics?"

I don't know much about fysics but Newtonian fysics seems accurate enough to be useful. However if newtonian mechanics is demonstrably false than you wouldn't believe it, would you? Even if it is useful. I wouldn't consider it true.

"I would say that the propositions with empirically predictive power ARE the ones that "correspond" to reality."

Doesn't this claim face the problem of external world skepticism?
I mean, how do you know that claims with emperical predictive power correspond to reality? Maybe emperical observations are just hallusanations.

"You need to understand that logic is a human invention that governs the manipulation of propositions. Logical rules are thus analytic in nature, and do nothing to describe objective reality. They only dictate the rules by which we TALK about reality."

I am not sure if i understand you correctly. If logic doesn't describe reality than does that mean that reality can 'behave' illogically. So for example, if the law of non contradiction doesn't describe reality, than wouldn't that mean that it is possible for reality to contain objects with contradictory properties? And if that is possible than why should analytic propositions be coherent?

Anonymous said...

Part 2

My question: "How do we know that the scientific method will help us guide our actions?"

Your response:

"It doesn't. The scientific method is a set of rules for evaluating propositions. The method itself doesn't predict or explain anything. It's just a convention that defines what "true" synthetic propositions look like. Any propositions about the scientific method itself are analytic in nature, and thus not subject to the same rules."

At 14:53 in your video 'What is truth' you discribe a thought experiment where all actions based on false beliefs lead to predictable and desirable outcomes while all actions based on true beliefs don't have any predictable outcome, and they lead to undesirable outcomes.
Then (at 15:26) you ask the question: "why would i ever want to belief anything that is true?"
So based on this i conclude that the purpose of beliefs is to guide our actions and to predict outcomes. It doesn't matter if these believes correspond to reality.
So a useful method of truth assignment will lead to believes that guide our actions and that have predictive power.
So the method doesn't explain or predict anything, but the knowledge that you gain by using the scientific method needs to have predictive power and it will need to guid our actions. And because you don't know if the scientific method has ever produced useful knowledge, (because you don't know if your memory of using the scientific method is a real memory) you can't know if using the scientific method will lead to useful believes. You said that propositions about the scientific method are analytic in nature, but isn't a claim about the usefullnes of believes that you hold based on scientific evidence, a synthatic proposition? The consequences of actions based on beliefs that are informed by science are consequenses that happen in the real world after all (assuming that we are experiencing the real world).

Anonymous said...

Part 3

My question: "how do you know that we are experiencing anything"

Your answer: "Because if we weren't experiencing anything, we wouldn't be here to ask the question if we are experiencing anything."

How do you know your reasoning is valid? Your reasoning might be corrupted by a demon. In that case things that make sense to you, like the idea that asking a question entails being aware, might be wrong. And how do you know for sure that we are here asking the question if we are experiencing anything?

"Mental incorrigibility is a perfectly valid truth assignment function."

Mental incorrigibility seems to assume that your reasoning is vallid but this can't be proven

On wikipedia (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incorrigibility) they gave the following example of an proposition in incorrigibil form: "consider Descartes': I think, therefore I exist. Stated in incorrigible form, this could be: "That I believe that I exist implies that my belief is true.""

That the believe that i exist implies that my belief is true, is an unfounded belief. There argument would basicly be
1- belief in your own existence entails your existence
2- i belief in my own existence
C i belief

You can't prove 1 and 2. And you can also not pro that your reasoning is valid, so you can't prove C.

You can't know anything because every methodology to determen what is true would need to be justified by an other methodology and that other methodology would also need to be justified and so on. This will create an infined regress. Using the same methodology to determen if this methodology is reliable is circular. Things can't be self evidently true because there are people who claim that they could be wrong about everything they claim to know. But if they can be wrong about self evident truths than everyone could be wrong about self evident truths, thus you can't know these claims to be true, which means that they're not self evident.
Because we can't know anything, every assumption is baseless and arbitrary. Thus any assumption made to base your epistomology on is equaly valid. If i make the assumption that the bible or the koran or the thora, are the most usefull sources for believes to guide my actions than i would be just as justified as someone who beliefs that science is the most usefull source for believes that guide there actions.

AnticitizenX said...

"I don't know much about fysics but Newtonian fysics seems accurate enough to be useful. However if newtonian mechanics is demonstrably false than you wouldn't believe it, would you? Even if it is useful. I wouldn't consider it true."

If you want to get strictly technical, then no, I do not consider Newtonian mechanics to be a "true" theory. However, the same can be said for quite literally all synthetic propositions. There are no true synthetic propositions, but only predictable behaviors that we expect from them accordingly, as well as distinct contexts where they fail to function.

"I mean, how do you know that claims with emperical predictive power correspond to reality?"

Because that's how I've defined the word "correspondence" to be recognized.

"Maybe emperical observations are just hallusanations."

And maybe we're all brains in a vat. So what? Life is uncertain. Deal with it. It is philosophically impossible to do any better. Randomly assuming that all of my experiences are wild, self-induced delusions doesn't help me navigate them any differently.

" If logic doesn't describe reality than does that mean that reality can 'behave' illogically."

Reality can do whatever it wants. You still have to use language propositions to describe reality, and we have rules for manipulating those propositions. It's not that reality is logical or illogical. YOU have to DESCRIBE reality using logic.

"wouldn't that mean that it is possible for reality to contain objects with contradictory properties?"

No, because the very question itself is meaningless. You literally put words together wrongly by asking that question.

AnticitizenX said...

"So based on this i conclude that the purpose of beliefs is to guide our actions and to predict outcomes. It doesn't matter if these believes correspond to reality."

It does matter, because I can define "correspondence" to mean that a belief has empirically predictive power. The better the predictive power, the more correspondent that belief is.

"And because you don't know if the scientific method has ever produced useful knowledge, (because you don't know if your memory of using the scientific method is a real memory)"

The only way for science to fail is if reality itself has no patterns or correlations to it that I can influence via actions and consequences. If you want to live your life assuming that nothing matters and everything is random, then go ahead. That assumption doesn't do anything, and necessarily gets you killed if you happen to be wrong. So you'll pardon me if I'm a little more optimistic about life.

AnticitizenX said...

"How do you know your reasoning is valid?"

Because my reasoning is, itself, the standard for "valid" thinking.

"Your reasoning might be corrupted by a demon. In that case things that make sense to you, like the idea that asking a question entails being aware, might be wrong. And how do you know for sure that we are here asking the question if we are experiencing anything?"

The only thing a demon can do is corrupt my experiences. It cannot take away from the experiences themselves. And if by some fluke the demon is giving me the illusion that my actions have consequences, then oh well. Who cares? That's like saying I handed you million dollars and gave you free reign to spend it, but the money isn't really "yours."

"Mental incorrigibility seems to assume that your reasoning is vallid but this can't be proven"

Mental incorrigibility is not "proven." It is asserted. It is a category of propositions that I WANT to be true, because it is meaningful to think of them as being so.

Your response is like asking me to prove that proofs prove things. By definition, a "proof" is what proves thing, and mental incorrigibility is a valid mechanism of proof, by definition.

"You can't know anything because every methodology to determen what is true would need to be justified by an other methodology and that other methodology would also need to be justified and so on."

Yes. Eventually you hit bedrock, wherein certain things just have to be asserted. In mathematics we call these "axioms." In philosophy, you can call them "maxims." That's fine. We're just defining things and stating the rules by which we want to operate.

Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks for your response.

You made some convincing arguments, i still have some objections though:

"Reality can do whatever it wants. You still have to use language propositions to describe reality, and we have rules for manipulating those propositions. It's not that reality is logical or illogical. YOU have to DESCRIBE reality using logic."

If you have to describe reality using logic than it seems to me that logical arguments must be a way of getting knowledge about reality.
For example if you agree that everything that begins to exist has a cause, and that the universe began to exist. Than you must conclude that the universe also has a cause right. Otherwise you believe in a contradiction.

I said:"wouldn't that mean that it is possible for reality to contain objects with contradictory properties?"

Than you responded with: "No, because the very question itself is meaningless. You literally put words together wrongly by asking that question."

If contradictions can't occur in reality because contradictions are meaningless than the claim: "contradictions are imposible" would be an correct description of reality, wouldn't it be?

Anonymous said...

"That assumption doesn't do anything, and necessarily gets you killed if you happen to be wrong."

That is an unjustified assumption, maybe asuming that everything is random will actually help you. If all knowledge is based on assumptions than every truth claim is unfounded including the claim you just made.

"Because my reasoning is, itself, the standard for "valid" thinking."

Has your reasoning ever produced false beliefs, becouse that would disprove your claim.

"The only thing a demon can do is corrupt my experiences. It cannot take away from the experiences themselves."

Maybe you're just thinking that because a demon is corrupting your mind.

"Mental incorrigibility is not "proven." It is asserted. It is a category of propositions that I WANT to be true, because it is meaningful to think of them as being so. "

You can't know whether you want mental incorrigibility to be true either, and you can't know if it's meaningful to think of them as being so.

Anonymous said...

"Your response is like asking me to prove that proofs prove things. By definition, a "proof" is what proves thing, and mental incorrigibility is a valid mechanism of proof, by definition."

A definition is a description of the meaning of a word. If you define mental incorrigibility as a valid truth assignment function than you haven't done anything to proof that it actualy tells you anything about what is true and what isn't. Mere definition can't be used as evidence for anything.

"Yes. Eventually you hit bedrock, wherein certain things just have to be asserted. In mathematics we call these "axioms." In philosophy, you can call them "maxims." That's fine. We're just defining things and stating the rules by which we want to operate."

So if i make the assumption that a holy book is the most usefull sources for believes to guide my actions than i would be just as justified in making that assumption as someone who beliefs that science is the most usefull source for believes to guide there actions.

Also the question you asked at 15:26 :"why would i ever want to belief anything that is true?".
If i could present evidence that believe in a God is beneficial would you then start believing in God? It seems to me that if you aply this line of reasoning consistently then you would become a theist.

AnticitizenX said...

"If you have to describe reality using logic than it seems to me that logical arguments must be a way of getting knowledge about reality."

Nope. Logical arguments are just manipulation of propositions through connetives and rules of inference. It cannot generate "original" propositions on its own without you asserting them from elsewhere. That's why we have truth assignment functions.

"For example if you agree that everything that begins to exist has a cause, and that the universe began to exist. Than you must conclude that the universe also has a cause right. Otherwise you believe in a contradiction"

All you've said is the following:

1) All As are Bs (things that begin to exist are things that have causes)
2) C is an A (the universe is a thing that began to exist)
3) Therefore, C is a B (the universe is a thing that has a cause)

This is a "correct" template for reasoning, but you still have to fill in real information for the premises, and then justify them somehow. So what is your truth assignment function for premise 1 and 2? Logic didn't generate those premises. YOU did.

""contradictions are imposible" would be an correct description of reality, wouldn't it be?"

Again, no. Contradictions are not allowed to mean anything in our use of language. The only reason contradictions don't "exist in nature" is because contradictions literally "don't describe anything." They are words put together wrongly.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response

"All you've said is the following:

1) All As are Bs (things that begin to exist are things that have causes)
2) C is an A (the universe is a thing that began to exist)
3) Therefore, C is a B (the universe is a thing that has a cause)

This is a "correct" template for reasoning, but you still have to fill in real information for the premises, and then justify them somehow. So what is your truth assignment function for premise 1 and 2? Logic didn't generate those premises. YOU did."

I don't know much about philosophy of time but if i'm correct this argument relies on the a theory of time. The messianic manic explains why premis one relies on the a theory of time and why that is a problem in this video: http://youtu.be/crk0KAnp5FQ. Again i know very little about this topic. I wasn't trying to argue that the kalam cosmological argument has true premises. I don't know how you could demonstrate premise 1 if the a theory of time is correct, maybe you can show that it is incoherent for something to begin to exist without an efficient cause. And premise 2 can maybe be proven with things like the cosmic microwave background. I'm not sure because i don't know much about astronomy. I wasn't trying to argue that you get all your knowledge about synthetic propositions from logical arguments. I was just trying to show that deductive reasoning can help you expand your knowledge. So if you have somehow proven p1 and p2, than with this knowledge you can expand your knowledge by concluding that c is also true trough deductive reasoning. Let's do a thought experiment. Lets say you have 2 people q1 and q2. q1 has the capability of using deductive reasoning and q2 doesn't have this capability. If both q1 and q2 know that premise one and two are correct than q1 would also know that c is correct while q2 doesn't know this because q2 can't use deductive reasoning to conclude c. Thus deductive reasoning helped q1 to know more about reality, meaning that deductive reasoning can be used to expand your knowledge about reality.

"Again, no. Contradictions are not allowed to mean anything in our use of language. The only reason contradictions don't "exist in nature" is because contradictions literally "don't describe anything." They are words put together wrongly."

Oke, good point.

So i've thought a bit more about it and, i have concluded that it doesn't make sense to deny having an experience. However i did make an other point that you didn't adress. In your video about truth you seemed to be saying that knowing the truth isn't really important. Your beliefs should be useful. But if belief in God is proven to be beneficial for the person who beliefs it and the people around that indiviual, than wouldn't it be better to make promote religion?

AnticitizenX said...

"If both q1 and q2 know that premise one and two are correct than q1 would also know that c is correct while q2 doesn't know this because q2 can't use deductive reasoning to conclude c."

That's an interesting thought experiment. The problem is that conclusion C is already implicitly contained within the meaning of P1 and P2. Concluding C didn't actually generate any "original" information about the universe. It just helped you extract that information from propositions you already had. For example:

P1: All bachelors are unmarried.
P2: Tim is a bachelor.
C: Therefore, Tim is unmarried.

The conclusion C is technically a synthetic proposition, so in a sense you can say that logic is helping you to prove it. However, it only worked because P1 and P2 already contained the information you needed. The only thing that logic did was reword the information you already knew. So to say that q2 can't do logic is to basically say that q2 doesn't understand how definitions work and is incapable of making simple language substitutions.

"Your beliefs should be useful."

I never once used the word "useful" in this script. You can even search for it right now. The correct phrase is "empirically predictive." What predictive power does your model of reality contain. What actions will lead to what consequences under what conditions?

Anonymous said...

"That's an interesting thought experiment. The problem is that conclusion C is already implicitly contained within the meaning of P1 and P2. Concluding C didn't actually generate any "original" information about the universe. It just helped you extract that information from propositions you already had. For example:

P1: All bachelors are unmarried.
P2: Tim is a bachelor.
C: Therefore, Tim is unmarried.

The conclusion C is technically a synthetic proposition, so in a sense you can say that logic is helping you to prove it. However, it only worked because P1 and P2 already contained the information you needed. The only thing that logic did was reword the information you already knew. So to say that q2 can't do logic is to basically say that q2 doesn't understand how definitions work and is incapable of making simple language substitutions. "

I guess you're right about that. Still i'm not convinced that emperical evidence is the only source for information about the world. I believe that if there is no evidence for imaterial objects that materialism is more likely than it's negation, because the claim that immaterial stuf exists would change our understanding of reality way more drastically than the claim that immaterial stuf doesn't exist. In your video absence for evidence is evidence for absence you gave a mathematical argument for your claim. And you can also determen sertain things about the brain by looking at your own consiousnes. For example, i can know that my brain processes aren't random (things happen without a cause) because if brain processes would be completely random than my thoughts and feelings would be random, this isn't the case though. Thoughts and feelings generally relate to observations. Don't you think that introspection is a valet way of knowing things about your self. If draw conclusions about your brain from the way that your mind workd than you can't really call that emperical evidence right? So the likelyness of synthatic propositions can still be determent using non-emperical evidence.

"I never once used the word "useful" in this script. You can even search for it right now. The correct phrase is "empirically predictive." What predictive power does your model of reality contain. What actions will lead to what consequences under what conditions?"

Oke my bad, i didn't mean to straw man.

Anonymous said...

Also,

Proponents of the kalam argument define the universe as all of material reality. The argument that appologists use to establish the existence of a deity is: if al of physical reality had a cause than this cause must be immaterial because if the cause would be physical than it would have created itself which is incoherent.
This is a logical proof that something immaterial exists.

AnticitizenX said...

"For example, i can know that my brain processes aren't random (things happen without a cause) because if brain processes would be completely random than my thoughts and feelings would be random, this isn't the case though."

Formulate that as an argument and show me the truth assignment functions for every premise. I will formally recognize at least three:

1) Mental incorrigibility
2) Axiomatic assertions and logical rules of inference
3) Testable empirical predictions based on actions and consequences.

Anonymous said...

"Formulate that as an argument and show me the truth assignment functions for every premise. I will formally recognize at least three:

1) Mental incorrigibility
2) Axiomatic assertions and logical rules of inference
3) Testable empirical predictions based on actions and consequences."

I guess your argument from the video absence of evidence is evidence of absence fits into catagory 2. And introspection is mental incorrigability. And the argument used to prove God also fits into these three categories. My argument for materialism can be phrased the deductive argument below. After thinking about it for a while i guess premise one isn't justified at al. So this argument can be dismissed.

P1 propositions that change our understanding of reality significantly are more improbable than claims that do not change our understanding of reality significantly.
P2 the claim "an immaterial supstance exists" would change our understanding of reality more significantly than the claim "an immaterial substance doesn't exist"
C the claim "an immaterial substance doesn't exist" is probably true

Anonymous said...

Here is my argument for causality in the brain:

P1 if mental states are caused by the brain and there is a causal link between mental states and the enviroment an agent is in, than there must be causality in the brain.
P2 mental states are caused by the brain
P3 there is a causal link between mental states and the enviroment an agent is in
C there is causality in the brain


P1 if mental states are caused by the brain and there is a causal link between mental states and the enviroment an agent is in, than there must be causality in the brain.

If anything is effecting mental states than it must effect the brain aswel because mental states don't exist by themselves. They're just things you experience because off brain processes. So because mental processes are dependend on the brain, you will need to affect the brain to affect these mental processes. So if the enviroment affects mental states than it must be affecting brain processes aswel.
So in short if mental states don't exist separate from the brain than you can't affect them separately from the brain, by definition.

Anonymous said...

P2 mental states are caused by the brain

I will justify this premise with the following argument:

P1a) if the mind is dependend on the brain than mental states are caused brain processes
P2a) your mind is dependend on your brain
Ca) therefor mental states are caused by the brain

Justification for the premisses:

P1a
This is true by definition

P2a
I find mind-bodydualism to be nonsensical (this statement isn't intended as evidence for physicalism, the view that mind is dependend on the brain). so maybe i am missunderstanding their view, but if i understand mind body dualists (i will be refering to them as dualists) correctly than they believe the awareness (thoughts and feelings and so on) are an other fundamental immaterial substance, however they still believe that physical reality exists. Idealists believe that your mind is all that exists. So

Physicalism = mind is dependend on the brain.
Dualism = mind is an immaterial substance but physical reality exists
Idealism= mind is an immaterial substance and physical reality doesn't exist.

These are the only three options i am aware off, so if this is a false trichotomy than feel free to point that out. But unless you can provide alternative possibilities, I will treat the negation of 2 off the proposed possibilities as evidence for the third possibility. So to prove physicalism i will disprove dualism and idealism.

There are a lot of reasons for rejecting both vieuws but i will just present one argument that can disprove both views. This argument is from knownnomore's video against idealism part one, his video has been taken down because of a copyright claim from the bbc, so i won't link his video but here's his youtube channel: https://m.youtube.com/user/KnownNoMore i don't know if you know him but i would definately reccomend you to check out his channel. I will be presenting the argument differently because my memory isn't that good and i won't be spelling it out as much as knownnomore did.

Anonymous said...

P1b) If your mind is not dependend on the brain than brain damage wouldn't lead to a change in metal functioning.

In physicalism mental states are caused by the brain and if you change the cause (the brain) the effect (mental functioning) will change aswell.
But in dualism and Idealism mental funtioning doesn't rely on the brain by definition. So there isn't a causal link between the brain and mental functioning in there view. But if brain damage effects mental processes, than there is a causal link (cause = brain damage, effect = change in mental processes) so this would contradict dualism and idealism.

P2b) brain damage does lead to a change in mental functioning

There is lots of emperical evidence for this. For example:
Phineas Gage suffered from severe brain damage after an iron rod destroyed much of his left frontal cortex, this had a tremendous effect on his personality.
source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phineas_Gage
If you look at the brain of altzheimer patients and healthy people than you will see a big difference between the two. So a causal link between the brain damage and the memory loss of atzheimer patients is plausible.
Prions, Naegleria fowleri, Treponema pallidum, tumors, and so on can change your mental functioning by damaging the brain.
There is way more evidence for this premise but i think this will do.

Cb) the mind is dependend on the brain.

So physicalism is true.

So Mental states are caused by the brain.

Anonymous said...

This is premise three in my argument for causality in the brain
P3 there is a causal link between mental states and the enviroment an agent is in.

Let's say i'm eating icecream. When i'm eating ice cream, i'm experiencing the taste of ice cream, i experience the cold tempeture of ice cream and so on. (Mental incorrigibility?)

So in this example, ice cream caused me to experience certain feelings and sensations, like temperature and taste of ice cream. If it didn't cause these experiences than you wouldn't see such a strong correlation between eating ice cream and experiencing the taste and temperature and so on of ice cream. It would (by definition) be a mere coincidence that these experiences are experienced when you're eating ice cream if these experiences aren't caused by the act of eating ice cream. Yet everytime i eat ice cream, i experience the taste of ice cream, the temperature of ice cream the feeling of ice cream and so on. And when i'm not eating ice cream, I tend to not experience these things. What are the odds that this is just a coincidence?
So i have to admit I don't know how to calculate how probable it is that the sensations of eating icecream just happends to correlate with the act of eating ice cream by mere coincidence. But to me it seems way more likely that there is a causal link between the sensations of eating ice cream and the act of eating ice cream.
Btw i consider ice cream to be part of the enviroment the agent is in.
So in this example i used eating ice cream as an example. But you can apply this line of reasoning to other situations aswell. If you watch an adam sandler movie for example, than it isn't a mere coincidence that you want to shoot yourself right? That feeling is caused by the movie.

C there is causality in the brain.

So if i'm correct all of the premisses are consistent with the truth assignment functions you proposed apart from premise three, so would you argue that we can't consider premise 3 to be accurate?

Anonymous said...

Btw when i said: "So this argument can be dismissed."

I was talking about this argument:

"P1 propositions that change our understanding of reality significantly are more improbable than claims that do not change our understanding of reality significantly.
P2 the claim "an immaterial supstance exists" would change our understanding of reality more significantly than the claim "an immaterial substance doesn't exist"
C the claim "an immaterial substance doesn't exist" is probably true"

Not that i outlined in the other comments

Anonymous said...

In a previous comment I asked: would you argue that we can't consider premise 3 to be accurate?
Now i think a better question to ask is: to which of these catagories that you proposed:
1) Mental incorrigibility
2) Axiomatic assertions and logical rules of inference
3) Testable empirical predictions based on actions and consequences."
Do probability calculations belong, and if you agree that they don't belong to any of the three categories than do you agree that we can know things just by using mathematics, namely the probability of an event or the probability of a proposition?

Anonymous said...

So i thought about this conversation and the question that i asked in my last comment a bit more and i have concluded that the answer to that question is that calculations about the probability of syntathic propositions also belong to catagorie 2 (axiomatic assertions and logical rules of inference). Anyway i want to thank you for responding to my comments it was very informative and helpfull, and convincing. Keep making great videos.

Anonymous said...

Just curious, are you a foundationalist, a sceptic, or a coherentist, or something else?

AnticitizenX said...

I prefer the term "pragmatic, empirical rationalist." But the shorter term "scientist" will do.

Anonymous said...

So do you agree that there are basic beliefs?

AnticitizenX said...

A "basic belief" is nothing more than a philosophical shorthand for "things I want to be true but don't want to bother proving or justifying." So no.

Anonymous said...

Oke, thanks for answering

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see you respond to this video:
http://youtu.be/tRGIo6m5wVg