3 votes

After the end of truth Part 1 : John Searle defends objective truth (2015)

9 comments

  1. [8]
    skybrian
    (edited )
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    For a historian this is a matter of interpreting documents. I don't know how well documented this is or how trustworthy the documents are in this case, but often historical birth dates are a...

    If I say Rembrandt was born in 1606, that statement is epistemically objective because its truth can be settled as a matter of fact.

    For a historian this is a matter of interpreting documents. I don't know how well documented this is or how trustworthy the documents are in this case, but often historical birth dates are a matter of conjecture and can't be definitively settled.

    And it looks like for Rembrandt, there is some debate over the year?

    Also, although fresh-fallen snow is generally white, dirty snow can have other colors, and snow can take on a blue tint depending on the surroundings..

    3 votes
    1. [7]
      lou
      Link Parent
      Some interpretative charity is required for this kind of philosophical argument. The author is not saying that it is incontrovertibly true that Rembrandt was born in 1606, but rather that it "can...

      Some interpretative charity is required for this kind of philosophical argument. The author is not saying that it is incontrovertibly true that Rembrandt was born in 1606, but rather that it "can be settled as a matter of fact", which is to say: while not necessarily actual, it is possible to provide sufficient objective evidence to demonstrate that Rembrandt was born in 1606. That is not to say that such proof would be necessarily absolute, but the example is used to draw contrast to other kinds of propositions that he considers to be less objective, such as, for example, the opinion that "Rembrandt was the greatest painter that ever lived".

      3 votes
      1. [6]
        skybrian
        Link Parent
        Well, it might not be possible to prove in practice, due to lack of evidence. It's not like anyone can go back in time and check. Occasionally a new document turns up putting a different light on...

        Well, it might not be possible to prove in practice, due to lack of evidence. It's not like anyone can go back in time and check. Occasionally a new document turns up putting a different light on things.

        My main point here is that even basic facts often aren't as simple as they seem. Nobody's going to blame you for going by whatever Wikipedia says, but if you dig into the sources, you'll find that often "objective" facts are a matter of conventional agreement on how to interpret shaky evidence. After all, it doesn't matter all that much exactly when Rembrandt was really born, and that's true for most people.

        Sure, there's a difference between this sort of historical fact and entirely subjective statements. But there's also a big difference between historical facts and mathematical statements. A historical justification (by referencing source material and making some kind of argument about its interpretation) doesn't seem much like a mathematical proof to me, so calling them both "proofs" is somewhat metaphorical. And therefore I find it somewhat dubious for Searle to treat non-mathematical statements as logical propositions.

        I'm not a relativist; I think there is some underlying fact of the matter about what day someone was born. But often our observations are indirect and rely on social trust, so in practice, many statements in ordinary conversation and nearly everything discussed online isn't simply "objective."

        1 vote
        1. [5]
          lou
          Link Parent
          Yeah. It's common for STEM folks to think that logic is somehow subsumed by STEM, but that was not the case when Aristotle created western logic to analyze philosophical discourse around 300 BC,...

          Yeah. It's common for STEM folks to think that logic is somehow subsumed by STEM, but that was not the case when Aristotle created western logic to analyze philosophical discourse around 300 BC, and that is certainly not the case now.

          1 vote
          1. [4]
            skybrian
            Link Parent
            I would put it another way: logic found its best uses in STEM. In part it's because we deliberately design systems to work by the rules of logic, and we rely on those aspects of nature that are...

            I would put it another way: logic found its best uses in STEM. In part it's because we deliberately design systems to work by the rules of logic, and we rely on those aspects of nature that are the most mathematical.

            It's been very successful, but other parts of nature are more nebulous and less cooperative. This includes human language; strictly logical approaches don't work very well for analyzing most language use and that's why machine translation (for example) switched to statistical approaches.

            1 vote
            1. [3]
              lou
              (edited )
              Link Parent
              Well, philosophical logic doesn't really analyze language, it analyzes arguments that can also be expressed in natural language form (without being limited to that). Logicians in the field of...

              Well, philosophical logic doesn't really analyze language, it analyzes arguments that can also be expressed in natural language form (without being limited to that). Logicians in the field of philosophy generally don't work with natural language at all (I mean, they do, but much in the same way that a mathematician would), and often have a mathematical background. And then there are things like this.

              2 votes
              1. [2]
                skybrian
                Link Parent
                This reminds me of what are sometimes called "word problems" or "story problems" when teaching math. Just as you can describe situations in English that are best analyzed using math, there are of...

                This reminds me of what are sometimes called "word problems" or "story problems" when teaching math. Just as you can describe situations in English that are best analyzed using math, there are of course word problems that you can analyze using logic. It's a useful skill to learn.

                But this conversion from natural language to either math or logic isn't straightforward; there's a fair bit of taste and interpretation involved. After you're done with the logic, you might not have learned something relevant. You have to go back and see if it applies, and that's a judgement call.

                Getting back to Searle's essay, he's not clear about the difference between natural language (what someone actually said or wrote) and his logical interpretation of what they wrote. It's as if people were going around making logical statements all the time, and I'm not sure that's true. Maybe they're not doing logic at all, or it's just a small part of what they're doing when they say something?

                1 vote
                1. lou
                  Link Parent
                  Speech act theory is useful to understand the pragmatics of utterances in natural language.

                  Speech act theory is useful to understand the pragmatics of utterances in natural language.

                  2 votes