Objectivism and the Correspondence Theory of Truth

Dan Edge's picture
Submitted by Dan Edge on Fri, 2006-04-14 04:02

Introduction

This essay is a discussion of the Correspondence Theory of Truth (CTOT) and how the theory fits into the philosophy of Objectivism. I will argue that properly understood, the CTOT is compatible with Objectivist epistemology. I will also discuss pitfalls that must be avoided to keep the door closed to skepticism.

Readers should note that I am writing here for two distinct audiences. The first is the Objectivist community at large, those who are already familiar with the philosophy. I am also presenting this essay to my Senior Seminar in Philosophy class at the University of South Carolina for peer review.

To the Objectivist community: Some have expressed dissatisfaction with an unqualified acceptance of the Correspondence Theory, and with good reason, as I hope to demonstrate. A proper understanding of the Correspondence Theory is necessary to defend against Juggernaut of skepticism that has been sweeping the academic community for the past century.

To my classmates: This paper is based on information contained in my in-class presentation of Objectivist Epistemology, and it assumes the truth of Objectivism. I will glaze over some technical aspects of Objectivist principles. I encourage any of you to approach me with questions about these principles as you are working through the text.
----------------

The Correspondence Theory of Truth

The first formal expression of the Correspondence Theory of Truth (CTOT) can be traced back to Aristotle, who wrote: “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true” (Metaphysics 1011b25), though Plato wrote very similar formulations (Cratylus 385b2, Sophist 263b). Kant considers the issue so obvious that it doesn't even deserve arguement, writing "“The nominal definition of truth, that it is the agreement of [a cognition] with its object, is assumed as granted.” (Critique of Pure Reason, 82). The Correspondence Theory has endured over the centuries, in part because it is seemingly so axiomatic, so elegant in its simplicity.

According to the CTOT, a statement is true iff (if and only if) it corresponds to reality. If I make the statement "Dr. Donougho is the Professor of my Philosophy class," this statement is true iff Dr. Donougho is, in fact, the Professor. If anyone else is the Professor (or if I don't have a Professor), then my statement is false. According to most interpretations of the CTOT, my statement would be false even if I have every reason to believe that Dr. Donougho is the professor, but he is not in fact because some impostor has taken his place. One's context of knowledge is irrelevant. Please keep this in mind, as we will have reason to return to it in a moment.

The Correspondence Theory of Truth is an alluring philosophical principle on many levels. At root, it is an epistemological expression of axiomatic metaphysical principles. Two such axiomatic principles in Objectivism are the Law of Identity and the Primacy of Existence. The Law of Identity states that "A is A," or "a thing is what it is." The Primacy of Existence states that "existence has primacy over consciousness," implying that consciousness has no effect on the identity of entities. If one accepts these metaphysical principles, then the task of man becomes to discover the identity of the world around him. His consciousness does not have the capacity to create, only to identify reality.

The Standard of Omniscience

The biggest problem with the common interpretation of the CTOT is that it sets a standard of omniscience for truth, making certainty impossible. If we accept that certainty is impossible, then we leave the discipline of philosophy open to skeptics (who will gleefully agree that reality is unknowable) and mystics (who offer a supernatural source for certainty).

As mentioned earlier, one's context of knowledge is deemed irrelevant when determining the truth value of his statements. If I say that "Dr. Donougho is my Professor," then my statement is false even if I have every reason to believe that it is true. These kinds of situations are not uncommon. The history of man is marked by an ever-expanding degree of knowledge about the nature of reality. In the realm of science, when new data is discovered that contradicts old theories, then the old theories are discarded, and new ones devised. Does this mean that the old theories were always false? How can we ever be certain that our theories will not be contradicted by new evidence at some point in the future? This creates a problem. If truth is determined without regard to context, then one's context must be all-encompassing (i.e., omniscient) to make a claim of certainty. An omniscient standard of truth is incompatible with Objectivism.

Knowledge As Contextual

Objectivist epistemology lays the foundation for a bridge between subject and object, and the reconciliation between the CTOT and certainty. Objectivism states that absolute certainty is possible within a specified context of knowledge. Any statement made by a human being necessarily implies the preamble "within my context of knowledge." This preamble is necessarily implied because man, by his nature, is a being of limited consciousness. He is not omniscient.

For example, Newton's Laws of Motion are true, and will always be true, given Newton's context of knowledge at the time. Einstein has access to better technology and higher levels of mathematics, and was able to expand man's understanding of Physics. He discovered new data that could not be explained by Newton's Laws, and he was able to construct a new theory which did account for the data. It would be false for Einstein to state that Newton's Laws will always always be true regardless of context, but Einstein could agree that, give Newton's context of knowledge at the time, his theories are still true.

The contextual nature of knowledge allows man to continually expand his understanding of the world around him, while at the same time avoid being paralyzed by uncertainty. The rational man forms principles on the basis of evidence, and treats them as absolute unless and until he discovers new evidence that would require him to restructure those principles. This methodology can be applied to ethics, politics, and esthetics, as well as science.

The Implied Conditional of Absolute Principles

Another helpful way of viewing absolute principles is in the form of a logical conditional. One can assert "If there are no aspects of reality outside the context of my knowledge which come into play, then principle X will always hold true." If one has properly formed his principle, and integrated it with all of the evidence available to him, then this statement will always be true, forever and ever.

One can view this logical conditional the same as any other, in terms of truth value. We can represent the statement as:

p-->q

Where

p = there are no aspects of reality outside the context of my knowledge which come into play

And

q = principle X will always hold true

Note that the truth value of this statement follows the same format of any other conditional statement. If 'p' is true, then 'q' must be true. If 'q' is false, then 'p' must also be false. And if 'p' is false, then the truth value of 'q' is indeterminable.

Let's return to Newton to demonstrate this method in action. Newton makes the claim that "if there are no aspects of reality outside the context of my knowledge which come into play, then The Laws of Motion will always hold true." If Newton acquires evidence that his Law of Motion does not apply to a particular case (for example, when entities approach the speed of light), then he knows that an element outside his context of knowledge has come into play. Now, he is challenged to integrate the new data with his old principle, modify it, or discard it favor of a new one. Note that, while 'p' and 'q' in the above example can have varying truth values, the logical statement p-->q is itself an absolute principle.

A New Perspective on CTOT

I have argued that theories and principles can be held with absolute certainty within a specified context. How then can one marry this with the CTOT?

When one formulates a theory based on evidence he has gathered, and integrates it without contradiction into the whole of his knowledge, then his theory does indeed correspond with reality. He has properly identified a relationship between his consciousness and some specified aspect of reality. It is important to keep in mind that a conceptual consciousness is an entity in reality, and an understanding of that consciousness is an instance of correspondence. One's integration of data into concepts and principles corresponds to the reality of his conceptual consciousness, and the contents therein.

One will never be able to step outside of his consciousness and make propositions based on information unavailable to him, but that does not mean that his limited theories do not correspond to the aspects of reality within his contextual range. It is unfair, and indeed irrational, to demand that man define "truth" in terms of the metaphysically impossible, i.e., omniscience.

The Importance of Semantics

An understanding of epistemological concepts is critical to maintain the integrity of philosophy as a discipline. In academic circles, classrooms, journals, online discussion forums, and even private philosophical conversations, the defenders of rationality must insist on the precise use of epistemological terms like "truth" and "certainty." The reason why there is so much misunderstanding about the proper application of the CTOT is that many just assume that the CTOT requires a standard of omniscience. This misunderstanding must be identified, clarified, called out, and rooted out of existence.

When engaged in discussion with an intellectual opponent, especially on issues of epistemology, take care that your opponent is not demanding that you step outside your context of knowledge in order to make a claim of certainty. A flaccid refrain of rationalistic "what ifs" does not take the place principled, logical, evidenced-based discussion. In the of spirit of Socrates, define your terms, and challenge your opponent to define his.

Communication

I must anticipate a challenge to my argument with respect to communication. If all knowledge is contextual, and each individual is working from his own context, then how can one defend against the charge of relativism? Is it reasonable to assume that one can effectively communicate with other individuals, and that the ideas being communicated are understood in the proper context?

My answer to this last question is 'yes!', given that one goes to the effort of defining his terms. This is why the precise definition of philosophical terms within one's own mind is so important. Individuals may define concepts in subtly different ways, so when a misunderstanding arises, the first step is to make sure that participants in a discussion understand each others' context of knowledge with respect to the issues being discussed. Misunderstandings are always possible, but can be limited through proper discourse of ideas.

Also, while individuals may have different contexts of knowledge at any given time, as men we all have access to perceptual concretes. Another method of clarifying interpersonal communication is to logically reduce ideas as close as possible to the perceptual level.

Looking Forward: A Complete Theory of Induction

There are many challenges in the field of epistemology that must still be overcome. The most important of these, in my view, is a more complete theory of induction. Logical induction is man's method of forming rational principles based on evidence of the world around him. Ayn Rand presented a powerful theory of induction with respect to concepts in her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, but some questions remained unanswered.

First, what degree of evidence is required to form a (contextually) absolute principle? In Objectivism - The The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff discusses degrees of certainty with respect to principles (p67). He classifies theories on a graduate scale, from "possible," to "probable," to "certain." But what delineates these degrees of probability? More importantly, at what point can one settle on any given principle as "certain?" One clue offered by Peikoff is that in order to settle on a principle, "all evidence points in one direction, there is no evidence in any other direction, and no contradictory evidence." This idea is helpful, but insufficient.

If philosophers can agree on the CTOT and proper standards of rational discourse, then I believe these questions are answerable within our lifetimes. The only way to defeat the specter of skepticism in the academic community is through our consistent and determined effort to define our terms in philosophy with the most rigorous logical integrity.


( categories: )

I prefer 'aspects of existents'

Ed's picture

The reason that I like the term 'existent' more than alternatives -- is that it encompasses all that is. Here's Rand again (from Ye' Ole' Lexicon):

 

Under 'Entity' ...

==============

... entities are the only primary existents. (Attributes cannot exist by themselves, they are merely the characteristics of entities; motions are motions of entities; relationships are relationships among entities.) ...

... An entity means a self-sufficient form of existence--as against a quality, an action, a relationship, etc., which are simply aspects of an entity that we separate out by specialized focus.

==============

 

Under "existence" ...

==============

Existence and identity are not attributes of existents, they are the existents. ... The units of the concepts "existence" and "identity" are every entity, attribute, action, event or phenomenon (including consciousness) that exists, has ever existed, or will ever exist.

==============

So, existents are one of the following 5 things ... 

1) entity,

2) attribute (of an entity),

3) action (of an entity),

4) relationship (between entities), or

5) phenomenon (such as the immaterial phenomenon: 'consciousness' -- a phenomenon arising from a specific entity: man).

What do you think about that?

Ed 

Thanks Ed

Dan Edge's picture

Thanks for doing that bit of research for us.  I can accept that use of the concept 'fact' and use it appropriately from now on.  It does make sense.  Now, from the section Ed quoted, Rand says:

"And it serves another function: it delimits the concept "existence" or "reality." For instance, you may have noticed I often use in writing the expression "facts of reality." What have I added to the term "reality" by saying "facts"? I have narrowed it. I have said: whichever aspects, events, or existents you happen to know, these are the facts of reality--meaning: these are the things which actually exist."

Here, Rand says that 'fact' denotes only "whichever aspects, events, or existents you happen to know."  I am assuming that this implies that unknown aspects of reality are *not* facts.  I think that if we're going to define 'fact' as a metaphysical term, it *must* include unknown aspects of reality.  Am I looking at this right?

Again, here's my tentative definition of the (metaphysical) term 'fact', which leaves out any notion of context or a conceptual consciousness. :

"characteristic(Drunk of the identity of an entity, or of the interrelationship between entities."

--Dan Edge

terminology

Rowlf's picture

Ed:

~~ I'd say that your ITOE quotes pretty well establish the use of terminology that Rand/O'ism consistently (THAT's the tricky part!) sticks to.

LLAP
J:D/Rowlf (I'll fix this soon)

There you have it ...

Ed's picture

Facts not created by human action are metaphysical. And truth is the recognition of facts (whether man-made, or metaphysical).

Ed

One more ...

Ed's picture

From page 299 ...

AR: ... Anything pertaining to actions open to human choice raises the question: "Is it necessary or is it volitional?" But in regard to facts which are metaphysical--that is, not created by a human action--there is no such thing as necessity--or, the fact of existence is the necessity.

Ed

ITOE quotes ...

Ed's picture

Here's some quotes (p 241-):

Prof B: What is the difference between the concepts "fact" and "existent," and is "fact" an axiomatic concept?

AR: No. "Fact" is merely an epistemological convenience. The term "fact" can apply to a particular existent, to an aspect, to an attribute, or to an event. An existent is a concrete. ...

... Now, "fact" is merely a way of saying, "This is something which exists in reality"--as distinguished from imagination or misconception or error. So you could say, "That the American Revolution took place is a fact," ...

... Prof B: Is "fact" a concept like "necessity" in the following respect? The referent of "necessity" is the same in a sense as the referent of "identity"; but "necessity" is a concept which comes much later in the hierarchy and derives from our particular form of consciousness ... It is a concept we need to distinguish things outside our control from things in our control.

AR: Correct.

Prof B: [makes first assumption, goes on to make the second ...] Or is it that "fact" is a concept which we need because we are capable of error?

AR: It is the second.

Prof E: Which would not be true of the concept "existent."

AR: No.

Prof B: So "fact" then designates existents, but it is used in a context in which it is relevant to distinguish knowledge from error.

AR: That's right.

Prof B: It's not that the fact refers to the knowledge; it refers to the reality known, or possibly known.

AR: That is correct. It is a concept necessitated by our form of consciousness--that is, by the fact that we are not infallible. An error is possible, or a lie is possible, or imagination is possible. And, therefore, when we say something is a fact, we distinguish primarily from error, lie, or any aberration of consciousness.

And it serves another function: it delimits the concept "existence" or "reality." For instance, you may have noticed I often use in writing the expression "facts of reality." What have I added to the term "reality" by saying "facts"? I have narrowed it. I have said: whichever aspects, events, or existents you happen to know, these are the facts of reality--meaning: these are the things which actually exist. So it is like concretizing a very wide abstraction, such as "reality," but it isn't adding any new content.

Ed

fact

Chris Cathcart's picture

Dan Edge on Thu, 2006-04-20 00:47:
Hey Guys,

My friend Chris mentioned to me that the issue of 'fact' qua methaphysical or epistemological concept is covered in OPAR and the Lexicon. I don't have these books with me here at school. Would any of you be willing to look this up for us?

I know I'm supposed to be getting back to the other points in this thread as time and interest allow, but right off I don't see a Lexicon entry. There is, however, an interesting discussion of "fact" going on in the workship appendix to ITOE. Pretty clear that she means fact as a metaphysical (existential) concept and not an epistemological (cognitive) one. Browsing through the appendix after a few years' break is fascinating.

As to truth as metaphysical or epistemological, long story short, I don't have issue with saying that it's an epistemological category, but we should be careful about where our saying such leads. (Such as whether it makes sense to say "true given a context," or "truth is contextual.") I don't have it all worked out yet, but truth and falsehood exist where propositions exist and propositions exist only where there are conscious beings; so the existence of truth and falsehood depends on the existence of conscious proposers. We need to be careful about where we go with this, though....

Dan, AR covers the

Mike_M's picture

Dan,

AR covers the distinction in ITOE. Look in the index under "truth." She there defines truth as a type of awareness. In Galt's speach she writes, "Truth is the recognition of reality; reason, man's only means of knowledge, is his only standard of truth."

I think the use of the word "recognition" clearly implies consciousness, indicating that truth is an epistemological concept.

Fred

Dan Edge's picture

You Write:

"Surely you don't want to maintain the view that things come into existence only upon our discovering them."

My (tentative) view is that the term 'fact' applies to true statements. Eariler in this thread I offered this definition for 'fact': "a statement/principle which truthfully identifies some aspect of reality."

If there were no conceptual beings, there would be no statements or principles, there would just be entities. I am open to the view that fact could be defined this way: "a characteristic of an entity or relationship between entities," or something like that, removing the conceptual consciousness from the equation. This definition is confusing to me, though, because we do not normally refer to entities as facts. Rather, we refer to statements as facts.

I gotta go, 9pm and time for the OAC exam!!!

-Dan Edge

OPAR? Lexicon?

Dan Edge's picture

Hey Guys,

My friend Chris mentioned to me that the issue of 'fact' qua methaphysical or epistemological concept is covered in OPAR and the Lexicon. I don't have these books with me here at school. Would any of you be willing to look this up for us?

--Dan Edge

Facts

Fred Weiss's picture

Dan, the view you express here, "I have never thought of facts existing independent of consciousness, or that facts would exist even if there were no such thing as a conceptual consciousness" is considered Idealism. Nudged a bit more - viewing all facts as only existing in *your* consciousness - is Solipsism.

These are views diametrically opposed to Objectivism which regards reality (and the facts which reside in it) as independent of consciousness.

Surely you don't want to maintain the view that things come into existence only upon our discovering them. How - and what- are we discovering then? There is obviously a difference between a fact and a *known* fact.

An originator

Ed's picture

Mike,

Yep, I originated that sucker. It took a little vodka though, but I "got 'er done".  Smiling

Ed

Good Discussion

Dan Edge's picture

Hey Guys,

It's great how quickly we have logically reduced this disagreement to its fundamentals: the proper definition and referents of the term 'fact.' (Eat your heart out, Socrates!) Rowlf Smiling you are correct that the discussion can't move forward until we've cleared up this issue.

When you use 'fact' as a metaphysical term, I know what you're talking about, and one could see this as a non-essential semantical disagreement. Still, I'm concerned that using the concept in this way could lead to confusion. I have never thought of facts existing independent of consciousness, or that facts would exist even if there were no such thing as a conceptual consciousness. The way I understand the term 'fact,' your declaration would lead me to believe that facts are some kinds of Forms existing seperately from entities. I know that this is not your position, but can you see how one could easily come to that conclusion? 'Fact' is used almost exclusively as an epistemological term in the history of philosophy.

Rowlf writes:

"IF it is not 'facts' we discover when we discover, oh, 'something new', what is it that we do discover, WHEN we discover...whatever. Is there a proper term for such (where we have been mis-using the term 'fact')?"

I would say that we discover some aspect(Drunk the identity of entities.

--Dan Edge

good counterfactual

Mike_M's picture

"If no thinking beings existed, would there be any falsity in the universe? No."

Ed,

That seems like a very good way to illustrate the fact-truth distinction to someone who is not getting it. Very nice. Did you originate this?

- Mike

Fact and Truth --- '1st page'

Rowlf's picture

Dan:

~~ Ok; we got some terms 'defined' to establish whether we're 'on the same page' or not. Das is goot. Unfortunately, I got a prob with your 1st page.

~~ You ask: "If 'fact' is a metaphysical concept...then what distinguishes it from the term 'identity'? Why do we need the term 'fact' at all?" --- My answer is: the term 'identity' seems primarily (granted, not 'only') apropos to specific, concrete entities, and may encompass, but not necessarily refer to, 'gestalt situations' (which can include dynamic relationships amongst multiple 'entities'). Depending on one's specific criteria re labeling something an 'entity', the Solar System is...or is not...an 'entity', BUT, its ongoing dynamics are, ntl, a 'fact.' (I'll definitely not get into Relativity here). --- Merely in the usage (proper or not) of the terms 'fact' and 'entity', a difference re referentialability seems to me to be...worth keeping in mind, and, like 'cats' and 'animals', keeping disparate in using and referring. In short, *I* do not see 'fact' and 'entity' as synonomous, as in 'cars' and 'automobiles.'

~~ Ok. Back to establishing the 1st page: You say, "The way I define it, a 'fact' is a statement/principle which truthfully identifies some aspect of reality." --- I have little prob there, but for apparently needing 'identify' as a criteria for talking about 'facts'; KNOWN facts, yes; but, there are no 'UNKNOWN' ones? Yet to be discovered?. You do realize that this perspective makes useless the idea of discovering, or even 'confirming alleged' (such as Einstein''s future-'fact' of the observation of Mercury) ones? A 'fact' is non-existent until 'observed'/established? Methinks something's off here.

~~ You add, "'Truth' I define as 'the identification of a relationship between one's consciousness and reality." --- I got no prob there.

~~ You add, "In my way of thinking, there would be no facts or truth if no conceptual beings existed, there would simply be entities with a specific identity." --- Scratch the term 'facts', and I totally agree. Don't scratch it, and we disagree. Facts exist, whether we're aware of them...or not. If we need be aware of them for them to be a 'fact', we're talking Berkley here, where no one can be shot in the back of their head by an unbeknownst assassin.

~~ 'Facts' exist apart from our awareness of them. That's what 'discovering' facts is all about, non? --- Methinks that THIS is the place we probably start our disagreement from/at. If so, then, I have a question for you: IF it is not 'facts' we discover when we discover, oh, 'something new', what is it that we do discover, WHEN we discover...whatever. Is there a proper term for such (where we have been mis-using the term 'fact')? Or, maybe we should drop the term discover?

~~ A 'fact' is not a 'truth'...until discovery. A 'truth' is a statement about a (need I stress, 'known/discovered' ?) fact. A truth has to do with statements/propositions. A fact has to do with what is, regardless there being any statements or knowledge about such. --- To speak about 'fact's is to speak in terms of metaphysics/ontology (more or less); to speak about 'truths' is to speak about referring statements/propositions ABOUT metaphysical stuff, and hence, is to speak in terms of epistemology.

~~ Hope I clarified our (and, hope I'm speaking for Chris) 1st-page difference probs. We really gotta get the 1st page cleared up before going any farther.

LLAP
J:D

P.S: I'll try Jason's suggestion, but, I've come to like the nick 'Rowlf' so, I'll probably start closing with THAT instead of 'J:D"          Laughing out loud

In agreement with Dan; truth is epistemological

Ed's picture

A simple thought experiment lies behind a correct conception of the nature of truth, by imagining its opposite (falsity) ...

If no thinking beings existed, would there be any falsity in the universe? No. Truth (as is falsity) is epistemological in nature. It is the conformity OF A MIND with an actuality.

Ed

Identity not grasped perceptually ...

Ed's picture

Chris, if identity were grasped perceptually, then how would you explain a dog that continually barks at himself in the mirror?

Also, how would you explain the stock-in-trade illusions -- like sticks in water being perceived as bent? Or railroad tracks that, perceptually, appear to converge in the distance?

The explanation of (read: solution to) the bent-stick illusion is the conceptual identification of 2 identities (stick + water) at play, and not one -- wherein we integrate further facts regarding refraction of light as it passes through water.

We become aware of identities via our conceptual powers of awareness (acting alongside our perceptual powers, of course).

Ed

A ("tentative") suggestion for definitions

Chris Cathcart's picture

I'd distinguish "fact" and "identity" by the way in which they are grasped. A fact is a state of the world, something that we grasp, identify and express in propositional form, tying together concepts. "It is a fact that . . . ." Identity, we can grasp at the perceptual level, and express any instance of such via a single concept.

"The cat is on the mat" is a propositional expression. The cat's being on the mat is a fact. The cat's being a cat is just simple identity - very basic, metaphysically speaking.

(Also, it may help to distinguish between "A" in two different usages. "A" can be the entity, such as a cat, and identity is expressed as "A is A." "A" can also be a stand-in for a proposition, as in "The cat is on the mat.)

John

Dan Edge's picture

Good to know your name now  Laughing out loud

If 'truth' is "the identification of facts", and 'facts' are "the state of being (identity) of some aspect(Drunk of reality," then what qualifies as a fact?  Any statement made by a conceptual being could not be included, because statements about an entity are separate from the entity itself.  If 'fact' is a metaphysical concept, as you and Chris have argued, then what distinguishes it from the term 'identity?'  Why do we need the term 'fact' at all?

It looks like we are defining out terms differently, so it may be best if we back up a step and provide some definitions.  The way I define it, a 'fact' is "a statement/principle which truthfully identifies some aspect of reality."  'Truth' I define as "the identification of a relationship between one's consciousness and reality."  In my way of thinking, there would be no facts or truth if no conceptual beings existed, there would simply be entities with a specific identity.

How do you define these concepts, and could you provide examples of referents of them?  That could help us towards a meeting of minds.

--Dan Edge

Username Change

Jason Quintana's picture

John you can change your username here by going to "my account" -- "Edit".

Truth and Fact

Rowlf's picture

Dan:

~~ I gotta go with Chris on this. A truth is the real identification OF a 'fact' AS BEING a fact (as well as identifying an alleged fact as NOT being one), no? It's the identification which is the discovery (else, a prob comes up as to there being any actual meaning to 'discovering' something.) --- Possibly, there may be a necessity here for distinguishing the discovery of something in nature, versus checking out someone's allegation of having made a discovery (by doing the former)?

LLAP
J:D

P.S. My name is John Dailey, but, in attempting to change over from 'Rowlf' (which I use when merely checking out new areas I may not stay in), I ran into a prob: "Sorry, that e-mail address is already used", so... --- Most here know me (from RoR-check my 'profile' there) since most are familiar with my...usual...closing, Live-Long-And-Prosper.

P.S: I still think Aristotle's prob with the future ship is more relevent to solution-determining of this semantic-epistemological situation than you think.

Just checked back on the Lexicon

Chris Cathcart's picture

After posting my lengthy article I wanted to refresh my recollection of the Lexicon entry on the arbitrary. And there are some things to be said about it, which I'll do when I've got more time. I see something of a problem when he gets around to likening the arbitrary to utterances of noise. Is the savage uttering "2+2=4" uttering something arbitrary, or is it the epistemological equivalent of noise? Can you have assertions of the arbitrary where the asserter and assertee alike both understand what is being asserted? The entry seems to go both ways. He does say that the savage didn't utter truth or falsehood, which correctly framed he might well not be. But is it because it's arbitrary under a general encompassing definition of "arbitrary," or because properly understood, he's not uttering a meaningful proposition?

More later....

Some definitions & explanation

Chris Cathcart's picture

Fact is not identification of reality. Fact is a state of the world, or actuality, or reality. Facts are not identifications; they are what are identified.

Truth is the relation of correspondence between a proposition and reality.

So its being a fact that the sun is so large, just means that the sun is that large. Its being true that the sun is that large just means that a proposition stating that the sun is that large, is true.

When we say that a proposition is true if and only if what is proposed is in actuality the case (which is what the CTOT says), then "context" just isn't the kind of thing that enters into it. Either the specific content proposed by the statement corresponds to actuality, or it doesn't. That's the law of excluded middle. It follows from (A v ~A), all disjuncts of such form being true; we don't say (A v ~A), "given or depending on context."

I'm reasonably familiar with the OPAR position (can't say I've read it in a while, but when I did, I familiarized myself with it pretty well), and I would say that this is one of the points where I disagree with the OPAR position. (I don't remember whether it's the very same as the '76 lecture position, and haven't the funds to buy the course . . . and dig out the location in the course . . . in order to find out. See a problem here with stowing away the official position in the oral tradition?) Actually, I don't know that your position on truth is quite the same as that stated in OPAR, being that the specific place where I know I disagree with OPAR (and which, again, may or may not be consonant with the '76 lectures; the Lexicon entries don't exactly support it) is when he talks about the arbitrary being neither true nor false. The Lexicon entry discusses the epistemological grounds for assessing whether a statement is true or false, and that the whole nature of the arbitrary is that it doesn't give us any grounds for assessment. And context is crucially relevant to our grounds for assessment. The OPAR position goes beyond that, though, and effectively abandons the CTOT; it says that the arbitrary is neither true nor false, which is really to say that even in the case of meaningful propositions (we know what is being claimed), the aformentioned law of excluded middle doesn't always apply.

If you closely and carefully compare the Lexicon entry on "Arbitrary" with the OPAR position, there are distinctions, subtle as they may be, that nonetheless show that the OPAR position goes beyond what's stated in the '76 course. Not having all the relevent primary sources at hand (namely the '76 course; personal conversations with Rand that Peikoff may have had do not qualify as materials presented that Rand publicly endorsed), and given the inconclusive character of the Lexicon entries reflecting Rand's understanding of the CTOT, I'm not ready to say that the OPAR position amounts to a departure from the Objectivist position. But the only thing reasonably available showing the official position (and putting forward a reasonable position) is that the arbitrary gives us no grounds for assessing truth-value (given the traditional understanding of truth on TCOT), but not that the arbitrary is neither true nor false.

The best position, and that consistent with TCOT, is that the arbitrary is an epistemological designator, and is where considerations of context are applicable. The arbitrary can't be rationally assessed as either true or false -- i.e., that we don't have a basis for assigning a truth-value one way or the other. But by the law of excluded middle and TCOT, the arbitrary is either true or false - just that we don't know which.

I realize the sort of alarm bells that go off with a statement like that, especially when one sees the logic behind the rest of the OPAR position on things like context, certainty, the arbitrary and omniscience. How can something be true without our knowing it to be true? But that's not really a troubling issue at all under the traditional CTOT and the law of excluded middle, and by the definitions given above. Frankly, I don't see what of import is actually being gained by insisting on speaking of truth the way that Peikoff does; there is already everything he needs of relevance to epistemology in his discussion about knowledge, hierarchy, context, etc., that doesn't run into the slightest conflict with the traditional understanding of TCOT. And the traditional (non-OPAR)understanding of the concept of "truth" is pretty straightforward and easy to understand.

The CTOT uses the "if and only if" conditional form. And it means that any proposition is true, if and only if what the proposition states is an actuality. It means that "John is wearing a blue shirt today" is true if and only if John is wearing a blue shirt. It doesn't depend on whether I know what he's wearing.

Truly Eye, there is nothing to get worked up over here as far as valid epistemological points are concerned. (Hey, we tend to like to say here that Rand's philosophy is true, right? Even if the rest of the world hasn't exercised their context of knowledge to make that discovery?) The CTOT traditionally stated fits perfectly well with the Objectivist theory of knowledge. Aristotle's discussion of the sea battle concerns the problem of assigning truth-value to where there isn't actuality. (Tomorrow isn't yet an actuality.) That's a thoroughly distinct matter from contexts of knowledge.

BTW, I have what I think is a rather knock-down proof of the absurdity of the "arbitrary is neither true nor false" position: Since assessments of arbitrariness are conditioned by every individual person's context of knowledge, you can have, on the OPAR position, a proposition that is at once true, and not-true. Someone may be in a position to know that a proposition is true, while another person would only be in a position to assess the proposition to be arbitrary, hence not-true.

That would turn traditional Aristotelian logic right on its head. It would be, as you aptly put it, to mix metaphysics up with epistemology, and to pretty disastrous effect.

Undiscovered Facts?

Dan Edge's picture

Howdy,

Rowlf (What the heck is your name?) writes:

"[W]hat is one to make of 'facts' which have yet to be discovered/established?"

I would argue that there is no such thing as an "undiscovered fact." Facts are identifications of reality as understood by a conceptual consciousness. When it comes to the totality of discovered and undiscovered characteristics of an entity, I think the word you're looking for is identity, not undiscovered facts or truth. These semantic issues are very important, because the use of the phrase "undiscovered fact" contributes to a misunderstanding of epistemological principles and an improper blending of metaphysics and epistemology.

You write:

"I'd suspect the answer therein lies somewhere in where Aristotle argued about the presumed actual nature of the 'future possible' and how one should properly regard/discuss it in terms of 'knowledge'..."

Aristotle talks about this at length in Prior or Posterior Analytics, I can't remember which. He talks about a boat that is supposed to arrive the next day, and he asks: what is the truth value of the assertion "The boat is coming tomorrow" before the boat arrives? He goes back and forth for a while and never settles on any definite answer. He obviously had a difficult time with this issue, which is understandable. Unfortunately, I don't think Aristotle can be much help to us as we delve deeper. Aristotle is dear, but proper semantics dearer still!

--Dan Edge

Knowledge and Truth / Truth and Fact

Rowlf's picture

Dan:

~~ Well done article, but, a quibble...or two.

~~ Chris does make a point worth considering, though as he phrases it, it DOES sound like he's talking about 'context-independent' truths, which, by your argument, implies an omniscient perspective. Regardless, what is one to make of 'facts' which have yet to be discovered/established?

~~ Consider a tentative hypothesis put forward, such as, for example, Einstein's 1st inspirational 'vision' of General Relativity...BEFORE he mathematically made it necessarily acceptable. Assuming we, now, accept it as a 'fact', was it's status BEFORE being thought-of/established that of being a 'fact' or not? If 'yes', then we're talking about things as facts (not truths) outside of our knowledge. The problem seems to then come down to statements/propositions about 'tentative' facts (if that's not mixing epistemology and metaphysics). O-t-other-h, if not...but, that's probably for a different thread. --- Anyways, given the 'if so...', then some might argue that until 'established' such statements are to be considered arbitrary, hence ignorable until established; I find that this seems to be lacking something in total logical force.

~~ I'd suspect the answer therein lies somewhere in where Aristotle argued about the presumed actual nature of the 'future possible' and how one should properly regard/discuss it in terms of 'knowledge' (haven't read it in a while), but...

~~ Anyhoo, 'thought-provoking', as most of your posts are.

LLAP
J:D

P.S: A tip, if I may: Where you say (re a helpful way of viewing absolute principles) "One can assert 'If there are no aspects of reality outside the context of my knowledge which come into play, then principle X will always hold true," I'd add, as a more commonly know caveat-saying, "Or, in other words, 'All other things being equal [ie: unchanged].'"

Mixing Metaphysics and Epistemology

Dan Edge's picture

Chris,

I believe you are using the word "truth" in place of "identity," inappropriately mixing metaphysics and epistemology. Truth is not a metaphysical concept denoting "things in themselves," without reference to a conceptual consciousness. Truth, knowledge, and fact are all interrelated epistemological terms. Knowledge is knowledge of truth, of facts.

The contextual nature of truth and knowledge is discussed at length in the OPAR. Have you read this (if not, I recommend it, it's great)? There's a section called "Knowledge as Contextual" that may clarify some things.

--Dan Edge

In response to Dan's

Chris Cathcart's picture

In response to Dan's response:

Chris,

You write:

"[T]ruth in the classical formulation pertains to (context-independent) fact."

This is the very idea that I challenge in my paper. I argue that there is no such thing as context-independent "truths" or "facts." How can a rational being with a limited context of knowledge assert "non-contextual truths?" If one defines truth in this way, the he sets a standard of omniscience for truth.

The first very obvious problem to me is the last part: "...sets a standard of omniscience for truth." I think this is simply mixing categories. "Omniscience" is a term applying in a discussion about *knowledge*. It simply doesn't apply to the concept of truth.

A second very obvious problem is that you say that you don't accept such a thing as [scare quotes Dan's] context-independent "truth" or "facts." I don't know what the scare-quotes around "facts" are supposed to mean. "Facts" are just those things that *are*, independent of human awareness and human context of knowledge. (Truth is propositional content that corresponds to fact.)

Anyway I don't see what's the problem with saying that truth or facts are context-independent. Indeed, I don't find the term "context" even applicable; again, we're back to mixing categories.

I'm not clear on whether you accept the classical statement of the CTOT or not. It's very straightforward and I don't find it at all controversial. A proposition is true if and only if it corresponds to reality. Bringing in stuff about context is to address other matters.

Rand said that truth is the recognition of reality. In the next breath she says that this is the correspondence theory of truth. At best, there's not enough clarification in her original text to show how her definition of truth fits with the traditional correspondence theory.

Context-Independent Truth?

Dan Edge's picture

Chris,

You write:

"[T]ruth in the classical formulation pertains to (context-independent) fact."

This is the very idea that I challenge in my paper. I argue that there is no such thing as context-independent "truths" or "facts." How can a rational being with a limited context of knowledge assert "non-contextual truths?" If one defines truth in this way, the he sets a standard of omniscience for truth.

I argue that a true statement is one which corresponds to a relationship between a conceptual consciousness and reality. There is no way to step outside one's consciousness to directly experience "things in themselves." All knowledge is contextual.

Chris, I think the context-independent notion of truth is a semantical trap that must be disarmed in everyday speech. I consider this to be very important, so please, folks, let's continue the dialogue if this is unclear.

--Dan Edge

Ed

Dan Edge's picture

I read the first essay you posted, and I'll get back to you when I read the second one. Thanks for the props on the article. The "Implied Conditional" section of the paper was something I threw in there because I had been thinking about it for a long time. It doesn't really fit, though. If I were going to publish this article, it could use some editting to make it flow better.

Peikoff's possible->probable->certain set-up in OPAR is a really good way of looking at it, I think, but it's incomplete. From what I've read, Peikoff has always wanted to go back and expand that idea. He's supposed to address it in his work on Induction that's going to be published at some point. I'm really looking forward to it! I thought he was going to talk about it in "Oism Through Induction," but no such luck. Maybe I'll get to it before he does Smiling

--Dan Edge

Basic Assumptions

Marcus's picture

Great thread and great discussion.

I think Dan and Chris C have really covered the topic well.

However, I will just chime in that all "physical laws" have underlying assumptions (or content of the proposition as Chris C says) that are often dropped or forgotten about.

Take for example the second law of thermodynamics about the overall increase of entropy in the universe. This is often taken by creationists to mean that life cannot have evolved naturally to become ever more complex.

However, they neglect to consider that the law states that it only applies to a "totally isolated system in thermal equilibrium". And life did not evolve in a totally isolated system in a thermal equilibrium.

Further note...

Chris Cathcart's picture

I made reference to "Newton's context of knowledge" being a statement about Newton -- just as much as it is a statement about what his knowledge was knowledge *of*. My basic point is that truth is about what knowledge is knowledge *of*. If we bring in "context of knowledge" as having bearing on the *truth*, then Newton's Laws are [employing the language I disagree with] true not just given Newton's context of knowledge but Einstein's context of knowledge, Ayn Rand's context of knowledge, and, heck, *my* context of knowledge.

Does that sound strange in its formulation? I say it does, but if the Laws are true "given [X]'s context of knowledge," they're just as true "given [Y]'s context of knowledge." After all, one person's context of knowledge isn't going to come into *conflict* with another person's context of knowledge, reason being that the *contents* of various people's bona fide knowledge is not going to change. The content is reality. (We wouldn't speak of anyone's knowledge as changing; we would speak of it as expanding.)

So how would we even say that Newton's Laws are *true*, *given my (Chris C.'s) context of knowledge*? I say that this is just a misapplication of concepts in describing the concept of truth. I think the basic valid intended gist of the original (mistakenly formulated) "true given Newton's context" idea is that Newton's Laws are true, *when the scope of application of Newton's Laws* has been specified. But again, that pertains specifically not to "context of knowledge," but to the specification of the content that the Laws are proposing. These are definitely distinct matters. The truth of what's being proposed stands or falls *only* with whether the content of the proposition is an actual state in reality. That's the only correct rendering of the classical CTOT, and hence its use of the "if and only if" formulation as Dan mentions.

"True, in a given context"

Chris Cathcart's picture

I think that Aristotle's formulation of the CTOT is right on, but the question is *in what way* the idea of "context" is supposed to fit into that. "Context" pertains to our state of awareness; truth in the classical formulation pertains to (context-independent) fact. What's wrong with simply saying, about Newton's theory, that "under such-and-such *conditions*, the predictions of the theory hold true"? Newton hadn't observed any conditions under which his theory didn't hold true, but the truth of the matter had to do with the nature of the conditions, not with Newton's context of knowledge. (By "conditions" I mean the set of circumstances in reality that causally necessitate others.)

If it is stated as a predictive theory with *universal* application across all conditions (we're speaking here of the *scope* of application, not the *extent* of someone's knowledge), Newton's theory is not true as a whole. That's not due to, or dependent upon, anyone's "context of knowledge." It's due to whether the facts of such obtain in reality. It is true only as applies to such-and-such conditions, and a theory of more universal scope is going to subsume that.

Dan writes:

Let's return to Newton to demonstrate this method in action. Newton makes the claim that "if there are no aspects of reality outside the context of my knowledge which come into play, then The Laws of Motion will always hold true." If Newton acquires evidence that his Law of Motion does not apply to a particular case (for example, when entities approach the speed of light), then he knows that an element outside his context of knowledge has come into play. Now, he is challenged to integrate the new data with his old principle, modify it, or discard it favor of a new one.

Take the first part, "If there are no aspects of reality outside my context of knowledge...then the Laws hold true." Thing is, the Law either holds true or it doesn't, whatever the new knowledge that comes to bear. You're not going to have, all of a sudden, a true theory turning into something not-true, depending on whether some new aspect of reality now comes into play in my context of knowledge. You could just as well have said, and with just as much actual bearing on the truth of the Laws, "If I decide against having oatmeal for breakfast tomorrow, then the Laws hold true." Your context of knowledge says something about *you and your mental state*, not the Laws or their truth-status.

If Newton finds an instance where the Law is not applicable, then the relevant issue to the truth of the Law is not Newton and his mental state, but to *what the Law proposes*. Now, before, you say that the Laws of Motion are true, "given Newton's context of knowledge." We also know, though, that bona fide truth is not going to be proven false with any future discoveries. So let's put it this way: once discovered to be true, it will always be true. The question, then, is: what does the Law propose? What is its propositional content? Is it restricted in its scope of application to *all known conditions*, or to some person's context of knowledge? Further, if it's not proposed to be restricted in scope but rather claimed to be universal, then is its truth or falsity dependent on future discoveries, or is it dependent on whether it actually holds to be the case universally?

Now the last sentence: "Now, he is challenged to integrate the new data with his old principle, modify it, or discard it favor of a new one."

But I don't see what "discard" is doing here at all, if the Laws are true. They would only be discarded if they're not true, and they're not true only if they're formulated as having universal scope (i.e., of the sort "All X are P"). But again, this has to do with the way the content of the Law is specified and formulated, not with one's context of knowledge.

Specifically formulated in the correct way, Newton's Laws are true, period. They're "true, given Newton's context," just as much as they're "true, given that Newton bathed regularly."

Excellent essay, Dan!

Ed's picture

It's great how well you dealt with "SOO" (the Standard of Omniscience) and the contextuality of knowledge (firmly grounding knowledge into thinking agents existing in reality). And I really like what you did with Newtonian Mechanics -- as these laws of motion really are always true FOR US ON EARTH, at least in our regular, everyday lives.

I also like how you took issue with Peikoff's rubric for certainty -- I had trouble with that, myself. On this note, I'm having trouble with your Implied Conditional of Absolute Principles, which may boil down to simply some issues with its wording (a communication problem, instead of a problem of substance).

I've written a couple of epistemological pieces that I invite you to comment on, perhaps contrasting what I wrote then with what I'm writing right here, or with what you wrote. If interested, here are the links ...

http://rebirthofreason.com/Articles/Thompson/The_Veridicality_of_Conceptual_Discernment.shtml

http://rebirthofreason.com/Articles/Thompson/The_Philosophic_Validation_of_Inductive_Inference.shtml

Ed

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