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Author Topic:   How do you know truth?
Inactive Member

Message 6 of 114 (26023)
12-09-2002 10:46 AM
Reply to: Message 5 by Quetzal
12-09-2002 4:06 AM

To say that there isn't any such thing as truth doesn't make sense to me. Perhaps someone can explain that. That's not the same thing as saying we have no access to it.
I take the view that the physical world is "formalistic" (or mathematical)in nature and that our common sensical, sense-data view of the world is misleading.
The problem with philosophy (or religion) is the inability of language to express any proposition other than vaguely. In my attempts to define "consciousness," say, or "mentality," no matter what I come up with, the terms in the definition beg the question.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 5 by Quetzal, posted 12-09-2002 4:06 AM Quetzal has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 7 by John, posted 12-09-2002 11:36 AM robinrohan has replied
 Message 12 by Quetzal, posted 12-10-2002 3:20 AM robinrohan has not replied

Inactive Member

Message 8 of 114 (26032)
12-09-2002 11:56 AM
Reply to: Message 7 by John
12-09-2002 11:36 AM

Originally posted by John:
Another way to think of truth is as a perfect description of how the universe functions-- a perfect chain of causes predeeding effects. Well, quantum physics suggests that there isn't such a perfect chain. At small enough scales there is an element of randomness. If this apparent randomness turns out to be what it seems, there is no formula that can completely describe how things work. Think about writing a formula to describe the roll of a die. If that roll is truly random, there is no formula that can describe it. You can describe it as a an expectation over a certain number of throws. In other words, you can calculate probability and have a statistical definition, but there is no formula that will predict each and every roll.
I suppose you are talking about total truth, and I suppose you are saying that if you don't have total truth then you have no truth at all. Particular truths, a statement that corresponds to reality ("The sun will set at 5:15 CST") are dependent on total truth. Is that what you are saying? Suppose the events of the universe are random. Why isn't "The events of the universe are random" a truth?
{Quote structure fixed - AM}
[This message has been edited by Adminnemooseus, 12-09-2002]

This message is a reply to:
 Message 7 by John, posted 12-09-2002 11:36 AM John has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 9 by John, posted 12-09-2002 3:02 PM robinrohan has replied

Inactive Member

Message 10 of 114 (26065)
12-09-2002 3:37 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by John
12-09-2002 3:02 PM

In order to answer Quetzal's other question, "Why is it important to seek the truth?" I wanted to find out if he meant total truth or particular truths.
There are obvious practical reasons why it is important to seek particular truths, but I assume that Quetzal is referring to total truth. Actually, come to think of it, total truth might be just as practical.
Suppose Christian doctrine is a candidate for total truth. It would be very important to find out if Christianity is true so that one would know how to behave in this world (for example, if one should be baptized or not--and so on).
But let's assume for a moment that orthodox religion, with doctrines of an afterlife dependent upon one's behavior in this world, is not a serious candidate. There is no practical difference between agnosticism and atheism. There is, I suppose, no practical reason for believing in evolution or not believing in it (apart from possible careers, but I suppose we can ignore that aspect). So the reason for finding it important is non-practical. Still, to my mind, it is important to find out the truth. And the reason is that one wants to know if one's little stay here on Earth has any meaning or
not. If not, life is a tragedy.
[This message has been edited by robinrohan, 12-09-2002]

This message is a reply to:
 Message 9 by John, posted 12-09-2002 3:02 PM John has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 14 by Quetzal, posted 12-10-2002 3:43 AM robinrohan has replied
 Message 19 by John, posted 12-10-2002 9:59 AM robinrohan has not replied

Inactive Member

Message 18 of 114 (26185)
12-10-2002 9:35 AM
Reply to: Message 14 by Quetzal
12-10-2002 3:43 AM

[QUOTE]Originally posted by Quetzal:
It seems like you're saying Truth is the same as Purpose. Is it? Also, I disagree with the quoted statement - I think you are presenting a false dichotomy. There is a third option (at least): that one can make their own "meaning", thus making purpose intrinsic rather than extrinsic. Your life is what you make of it (all other things being equal), for "good" or "ill". [/B][/QUOTE]
Truth is not the same as Purpose but if we had the Truth we would know the Purpose, if any. It is all very well to talk about making one's own meaning but that made-up meaning shrinks when you take death into account. If you do not take death into account, then of course one's intrinsic meaning makes sense as an overall purpose.
I suspect that is what is at the back of the whole religious urge, to make death make sense. We live out our lives trying to accomplish some little something and after it is over, that vain striving is hardly any more account than of some dog that died in a ditch. Your friends might raise a monument over your grave, and say some fine words, and then in a few days you are as forgotten as though you had never existed. Some one else takes your place and the world moves on in its meaningless struggle. Man's life consists of struggling to grow up, struggling to find a place in adulthood (many fail), licking a little of the honey that life offers, and suffering, and growing old, and dying. That's what it all amounts to.
[This message has been edited by robinrohan, 12-10-2002]

This message is a reply to:
 Message 14 by Quetzal, posted 12-10-2002 3:43 AM Quetzal has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 20 by Quetzal, posted 12-10-2002 11:10 AM robinrohan has replied

Inactive Member

Message 21 of 114 (26336)
12-11-2002 5:28 PM
Reply to: Message 20 by Quetzal
12-10-2002 11:10 AM

Quetzal, thanks for the reply and I hope your young 'uns are well and happy.
What I said above barely stratches the top of the horror that exists just below the surface tension of social life. You said it yourself in our discussion about the brain/mind issue: "It's all physical."
It's all physical, Quetzal. What this means is that all of our legal and moral systems are a complete charade. The mighty judge pontificating with all his solemnity in his chambers is engaging in an activity that is about as intellectually respectable as a witch hunt.
But I would not advise you to inform the judge of that. That would not be wise. You might be "held in contempt."
Why? Because we can't afford to let this dirty little secret out, can we? Let's keep the charade going. Let's keep pretending that we are moral agents.
In reality, the more we learn about us, the more we realize that all sorts of behavior--in fact all behavior--is determined by certain physical conditions in the brain and perhaps the glands. Chemical imbalances and the like create paranoid schizophrenics and murderers. We speak of their lack of moral fiber. It's really the lack of something physical--because everything is physical.
I sure hope you or somebody can tear this to shreds.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 20 by Quetzal, posted 12-10-2002 11:10 AM Quetzal has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 22 by Quetzal, posted 12-12-2002 3:58 AM robinrohan has replied

Inactive Member

Message 24 of 114 (26402)
12-12-2002 8:39 AM
Reply to: Message 22 by Quetzal
12-12-2002 3:58 AM

[QUOTE]Originally posted by Quetzal:
. We ARE a species able - through use of our highly developed cognitive faculties - in most instances to overcome our purely biological programming. We are rational agents (with apologies to Kant, because I stole his term but don't mean what he meant*). We are NOT simply suites of instinctual, pre-programmed behaviors.
What is it that is going to "overcome" the biological programming? Sounds to me like it has to be more biological programming. If everything is physical, there is nothing else around to overcome the biology. You can call it "cognitive faculties" but it is still physical and still programming.
If morality is to make sense, we have to have a Will to "overcome" all this programming. But the Will itself, being physical, is more programming.
Suppose a person is born with a tendency toward addictive behavior (I believe there's evidence this tendency is inherited). So there's a tendency in him to become addicted to, say, alcohol. Suppose this person, yielding to this tendency, wrecks his homelife and kills people while DUI and is convicted of manslaughter. Obviously the court thought him morally culpable. The court is saying he could have "overcome" his biological programming. So why did he not do it? He wanted to do it and feels terrible that he did not. Is it his fault that his "cognitive faculties" were not sufficient to overcome the biological tendency? The view of him by others is that he is weak--that he lacks moral fiber. Where is he supposed to obtain this "fiber"?
Oh, well, says the jury, he should have sought help before all this happened. Should have? He had not the Will to seek help. How is he supposed to empower this Will that he was born with?
Bad person, says the judge. It's your own fault.
Nonsense. It's all physical. He couldn't help it. This is the case with all crime.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 22 by Quetzal, posted 12-12-2002 3:58 AM Quetzal has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 25 by robinrohan, posted 12-12-2002 2:42 PM robinrohan has not replied
 Message 26 by Quetzal, posted 12-13-2002 6:27 AM robinrohan has replied

Inactive Member

Message 25 of 114 (26431)
12-12-2002 2:42 PM
Reply to: Message 24 by robinrohan
12-12-2002 8:39 AM

Quetzal, I would like to add that this argument here is not an indirect way of getting back to the mental/physical issue. Suppose there was such a thing as mentality--as I have suggested--and that it was different from physicality. It would not matter as to our ability, or rather our inability, to be rational or moral agents: because our mental make-up would be dependent on our physical make-up, and so we would have mental limitations or strengths insofar as we had physical limitations or stengths. The problem is that there is no way to "overcome" those limitations in cases where they in fact are not overcome.
People have different levels of will power. Some have more than others. If we regress from biological weaknesses (tendency to be an addict) to will-power weaknesses (inability to overcome being an addict), the moral situation has not changed at all. And you can substitute any tendency you want--say the tendency to be violent. It also does not matter if he who has a tendency to be violent wants or does not want to change. If he doesn't want to change, his biological make-up is ultimately responsible for his not wanting to change.
It's not that the physical is "bad"--it's that it is morally meaningless. You might as well blame a person for having a heart attack.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 24 by robinrohan, posted 12-12-2002 8:39 AM robinrohan has not replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 28 by Quetzal, posted 12-13-2002 8:09 AM robinrohan has not replied

Inactive Member

Message 29 of 114 (26503)
12-13-2002 11:53 AM
Reply to: Message 26 by Quetzal
12-13-2002 6:27 AM

[QUOTE]Originally posted by Quetzal:
BUT, and this is a big but, is the genetic predisposition to alcoholism the cause of the problem (a biological problem), or is an inability to correctly identify the consequences (a cognitive failure), or even an inability to recognize the behavior in his/herself (also cognitive failure) at fault? Or are there other environmental factors, say, that come into it? Consider that this person’s behavior is abnormal (self-destructive) from the standpoint of individual fitness. Consider also that the tendency for addictive behavior, if indeed inheritable, is undoubtedly possessed by thousands if not millions of other individuals who do NOT exhibit this behavior. Whose fault could it be? Given that alcoholism and other addictive behaviors can be treated through behavior modification (I know a few reformed alcoholics and one reformed gambler), I would say that the biological tendency to addiction is easily overtrumped — in this case by learned behaviors that compensate for the biological addiction.
Whose fault could it be? The answer is, it's nobody's fault. My point is that it does not matter that there are thousands who have the tendency of addiction and who overcome it, but this person in the example does not. Why? Because that's the way he is. He could no more choose to be different than he can will his eyes to change color.
Would you agree that in order for morality to be meaningful, the agent has to have the ability to autonomously choose between the cultural norms of right and wrong? One can't choose autonomously if one is hampered by physical limitations. The reason he gives in to his tendency toward addiction is that his cognitive faculties are not sufficient to overcome the tendency. Is that his fault? Well, in a legal sense it is--he's the one who committed manslaughter--and in a legal sense there are no extenuating circumstances--but in a moral sense? In a moral sense, all actions have extenuating circumstances, so extenuating in fact that his physical make-up determines what it is that he will choose.
The reason I mentioned mentality/physicality issue was to dismiss it as irrelevant.
I am agreeing with you that "it's all physical" and I am trying to point out that, being the physical creatures that we are, it does not matter that we have cognitive faculties (the ability to self-program, so to speak). Those cognitive faculties are not autonomous but are limited to whatever physical make-up we are born with. Therefore, these moral choices we supposedly make are mirages--they are not choices at all in a moral sense.
You accuse me of "harping" on something or other, but what you seem to be fixated on is that right and wrong are culturally dependent. You talk as though the whole problem is solved because our definitions of right and wrong are relative. So what? It doesn't matter if you are choosing between right and wrong or up and down.
Say "up" is defined by our culture as "right" and "down" as wrong.
I am born with a tendency to go down, but I have been taught that up is right. My cognitive faculties, due to a deficiency of blue-colored quarks, lead me to keep coming up with rationalizations as to why down is not so very bad, and it's not like I go down all the time, only in the evenings, and after all I deserve some pleasure in life, don't I, and going down every now and then gives me pleasure, etc. And before you know it I have committed manslaughter. Legally, I'm guilty, but not morally due to the extenuating circumstances of my deficiency of blue-colored quarks.
But if the court system were honest, there would not be this aura of moral guilt hanging over the courthouse. It would not be a court, it would be a clinic. We would not speak in terms of guilt and innocence, which smacks of morality, but in terms of sickness and health--no matter what the crime.
Because morally it is impossible for us to be guilty, since our choices are not made autonomously.
You, however, refuse to admit this because you want to have your cake and eat it too. We are natural products of the universe. We are complicated combinations of star-stuff which knows nothing and prefers nothing and has no morality. We are natural machines. Ah, but that's ok, say you. My culturally dependent morality tells me that in my small way, if I add a little light to stave off the darkness, if I help one fainting robin back to its nest again, I shall not live in vain. Sweetness and light! True, my morality is meaningless since I could not help but think the way I do, but who cares?
My nihilism is more honest.
I suppose you want me to define nihilism.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 26 by Quetzal, posted 12-13-2002 6:27 AM Quetzal has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 33 by Quetzal, posted 12-16-2002 3:24 AM robinrohan has replied

Inactive Member

Message 40 of 114 (26843)
12-16-2002 3:27 PM
Reply to: Message 33 by Quetzal
12-16-2002 3:24 AM

My point is that materialism and moralism do not mix. Materialism precludes free will and moralism demands it.
I can't believe you reacted so emotionally.
It's not a matter of what makes us feel good or what is good for us or any other sentiment--it's a matter of what's true.
[This message has been edited by robinrohan, 12-16-2002]

This message is a reply to:
 Message 33 by Quetzal, posted 12-16-2002 3:24 AM Quetzal has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 41 by forgiven, posted 12-16-2002 7:09 PM robinrohan has not replied
 Message 44 by Quetzal, posted 12-17-2002 2:53 AM robinrohan has replied

Inactive Member

Message 43 of 114 (26898)
12-16-2002 8:12 PM
Reply to: Message 42 by forgiven
12-16-2002 7:13 PM

ok thinking... *making half-way intelligent expressions... or painful*... sorry Q it just seems to me that if life is an accident, so are the things that make up our individual lives... and if this is all there is, there is no purpose... the serial killer and the pope are both ecstatic to be doing what they want in life and in the end it doesn't matter one whit...
You are right about that, and in some ways your view is more consistent.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 42 by forgiven, posted 12-16-2002 7:13 PM forgiven has not replied

Inactive Member

Message 49 of 114 (27047)
12-17-2002 2:54 PM
Reply to: Message 44 by Quetzal
12-17-2002 2:53 AM

Quetzal,I am amazed by your tone, but I will give it another try. I apologize if I have offended you.
My claim: Materialism precludes free will.
materialism--the belief that the only reality is physical reality, that there is no such thing as soul, spirit, or mind.
support for the claim that materialism precludes free will (a deductive argument):
If everything is physical, there is no distinction between "me" and "my body" (this is only a way we have of talking). Physical laws--laws of physics, chemistry, etc--are amoral. They do not operate according to any "oughts." A physical law is simply a description of how objects do in fact behave. If there is nothing but the physical, then all events in the universe are dictated by these physical laws. There is nothing else to dictate them.
Nobody chooses what they do with a free act of will. Their body operates according to physical laws. There is no choice involved (we think there is, but this is an illusion that has evolved in us).
If there is no entity (such as "soul") that is separate from the body, then it is not possible for a person to make a free choice because his choice is dictated by the physical laws of his body (he is his body).
As regards the influence of environment: the environment can be traced ultimately to physical laws. "Culture" is just as physically dictated as everything else--there is nothing but the physical. The same can be said for man's cognitive faculties. These faculties are also dictated by the physical make-up of the body. A man can no more control how he thinks and what he thinks than he can control how tall he is.
Therefore, materialism precludes free will.
(In my next post I will demonstrate how free will is necessary for morality).
[This message has been edited by robinrohan, 12-17-2002]

This message is a reply to:
 Message 44 by Quetzal, posted 12-17-2002 2:53 AM Quetzal has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 50 by robinrohan, posted 12-17-2002 3:58 PM robinrohan has replied
 Message 56 by Quetzal, posted 12-18-2002 10:30 AM robinrohan has replied

Inactive Member

Message 50 of 114 (27060)
12-17-2002 3:58 PM
Reply to: Message 49 by robinrohan
12-17-2002 2:54 PM

Claim: Free will is necessary for morality.
Perhaps this is a matter of definition, but I would claim that my definition of morality is the usual definition and therefore the proper one for this discussion.
Morality: a set of rules about right conduct generally accepted by a group. From an evolutionary point of view, these rules developed because they, in Quetzal's words, "facilitated survival in the face of predators" (One can imagine a moral rule such as "Thou shalt not stray from the group").
As time passed, the idea developed that if a person is to be said to be "guilty" of bad conduct, that person must have had the ability to refrain from such conduct. For example, if a gun accidentally goes off in a person's hands and kills someone, that person is not guilty of murder either in a moral or a legal sense. If a person who is blind accidentally carries something in a bag out of a store, placed there by another, the blind person is not guilty of theft either in a moral or presumably in a legal sense. This idea about fairness in distinguishing between willed and unwilled behavior is generally practiced in theory if not in fact in much of the world and is reflected to some extent in a country's laws (for example, the distinction between involuntary manslaughter, which assumes only partial blame on the part of the agent, and murder).
This is the sense of morality that I mean and that I think most people would agree with. If I am wrong, please correct me.
However, in the earlier part of our evolution, that would presumably not be the case. People (and groups)who did the right thing survived and those who did the bad thing died. It did not matter if you intended to do the bad thing or not, or whether you had any choice in the matter. So we can see that the morality involved in evolution is somewhat different from the morality as we usually speak of it today and that it is misleading to compare the two.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 49 by robinrohan, posted 12-17-2002 2:54 PM robinrohan has replied

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 Message 51 by robinrohan, posted 12-17-2002 5:10 PM robinrohan has not replied

Inactive Member

Message 51 of 114 (27065)
12-17-2002 5:10 PM
Reply to: Message 50 by robinrohan
12-17-2002 3:58 PM

On Nihilism
Quetzal claims the following: "Nihilism honest? Nihilism is defeatist, utterly selfish, supremely arrogant, intellectually vacuous, and morally bankrupt."
my definition of nihilism: the belief that life is meaningless, either in an objective or subjective sense.
Is nihilism honest? If it is the truth, it is honest to proclaim it. I honestly believe it to be the truth, although my belief is provisional. However, what Quetzal is reacting to is my statement that my nihilism was more honest than his views of subjective meaning in life. I used the wrong word when I said "honest." What I should have said is "consistent." My apologies.
Is nihilism defeatist? There's a difference between being a nihilist in theory and a nihilist in a practical sense, and this I suspect holds true for many "labels." Being a nihilist doesn't mean necessarily that you shoot yourself. You act in a practical sense as though life did have meaning (because you never know--you might change your mind tomorrow).
Is nihilism utterly selfish? There is no specific connection between nihilism and selfishness. It is true, a nihilist does not believe that morality is valid in the long run, and I assume that "selfishness" here is being used in a moral sense. But because one does not believe in morality, this does mean that one engages necessarily in what are called vices. I myself do not believe that marajuana is more harmful than beer, but I still don't smoke marajuana.
Is nihilism supremely arrogant? On the contrary, I would call it humble.
Is nihilism intellectually vacuous? On the contrary, it is intellectually respectable in that nihilism does not give in to the temptations of a creed that make one feel good but for which there is no evidence.
Is nihilism morally bankrupt? A curious phrase. One has no moral money? One is morally in debt? Actually, to be perfectly frank, I do feel a great deal of guilt for being me, even though I know I tried--to some extent. I suspect a lot of people feel that way. One's feelings and one's theories do not always mesh.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 50 by robinrohan, posted 12-17-2002 3:58 PM robinrohan has not replied

Inactive Member

Message 57 of 114 (27214)
12-18-2002 11:58 AM
Reply to: Message 56 by Quetzal
12-18-2002 10:30 AM

Quetzal, you keep asking me for "evidence" for what is purely deductive. My statements are merely a matter of tracing out the logical extension of the definition of materialism.
I wrote, "nobody chooses wwhat they do with an act of free will. Their body operates according to physical laws."
You say, "this is an assertion without evidence."
My point is, we are our bodies. If materialism is true, there isn't anything else we can be. If there is anything else to us besides our bodies, then materialism is not true. There's no "me" choosing which physical laws are going to be operative and which are not in a given case.
You say, "you have not made a connection between the existence of an entity such as soul and free choice."
I don't have to because there is no such thing as soul. This was an "if" statement-and purely definitional. If there is to be free will, there must be something autonomous that is not dictated by physical laws. The traditional name for such a mythical entity is "soul."
Now, as to your point about prediction: Just because we can't predict somebody's actions, that does not mean that those actions are not determined.
I cannot predict if my car is going to start tomorrow or not (I've been having problems with it), but that does not mean that the car is going to choose whether or not it wants to start.
We are like the car.
Now if you are invoking a quantum idea, I don't think quantum physics is suggesting that particles are choosing what they want to do and so that's why they cannot be predicted.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 56 by Quetzal, posted 12-18-2002 10:30 AM Quetzal has not replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 60 by forgiven, posted 12-18-2002 9:29 PM robinrohan has replied

Inactive Member

Message 64 of 114 (27507)
12-20-2002 3:51 PM
Reply to: Message 60 by forgiven
12-18-2002 9:29 PM

Forgiven, thanks for your reply. I hope I don't offend you.
My point is that materialism precludes free will because there is nothing for us to choose with, so to speak. We have a brain which is a physical object which runs according to physical laws. If order for free will to be possible, there would have to be something else that could control those brain functions a little (decide what to think about, for example). We don't have that if materialism is true.
As regards your point about the invalidity of relative morality, I agree that culture-specific morality is meaningless in a moral sense though not in a practical sense. We have pretend-moralities. What's good for Nazis is bad for us. Of course the reason for the differences in moralities really has to do with what we accept as facts rather than what we accept as moral. If we accepted the Nazi premises---what they think are "facts"--then we might make a case morally for what they did.
We no longer believe in witches but the morality hasn't changed. If we still believed in them, we would punish them. That's what I mean when I say the difference is an understanding of the facts.
Quetzal wants to have it both ways. He wants a meaningful morality and he even hints at some trans-cultural "norms," but he doesn't want to give up materialism.
You were also right in saying there are 2 choices--nihilism or some belief in something beyond the physical.
As far as my views, at the moment I don't believe in free will or soul or God. I was thinking that the concept of "mind" might help me. Mind would be what gives us free will. But I don't see how it could have evolved.
I hope I haven't offended you.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 60 by forgiven, posted 12-18-2002 9:29 PM forgiven has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 68 by forgiven, posted 12-20-2002 7:24 PM robinrohan has replied

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