Doing the due diligence to be truthful could be the single greatest act one can undertake. Part 1: What is truth?
A moment ago I was speaking with Joel on Facebook. I remarked that we can never claim to know truth, but rather only claim to have done the due diligence to be truthful (this is a Doolittle Diddy by the way). Joel’s reply made solid points about truth claims and deduction from axioms.
Joel is a bright boy. Yoda says “Respect is due with this one”, so I began writing a fairly long post.
A phone call combined with Facebook’s auto-refresh sent this post into the void.
Below is my attempt to revivify my layman’s account of topics I really have no business to be writing about.
Joel writes with an articulation which I don’t possess. I will try to paraphrase below, but for the sake of doing justice, his account is in this thread.
We can make truth statements which are self-evident in that they are true and not false (not provisional). These are known as axioms. We can then deduce from these self-evident truths new truths, and then other truths from there. A ladder of concepts can be derived from these axioms. As long as these concepts can eventually be traced back to the axioms, we can claim they are true. (Trust me: read Joel’s account. It is much better than what I’ve written here).
Truth as a semantic axiom for statements of fact
There exists a set of conflated concepts which pertains to truth. These being the fact-value-truth distinctions. Simply, we tend to confuse facts with truth or collapse values with facts. Let’s dive in.
What’s the problem? The Fact-Truth Distinction
Confusing truth and fact: what we’ll call Big T truth, regards truth as an object which can then be found out in the world, existing independently of the mind seeking it.
The alternative to this, we’ll call little t truth regards truth as a relationship between the claim made and how well it corresponds to reality. In other words, truth is a matter of the claim matching reality. Truth as a Semantic Axiom or Semantic Theory of Truth refers to this idea in philosophy of language.
Think of this difference as a finger pointing to the moon. Big T truth concerns itself with the moon. Little t truth concerns itself with the pointing finger and if it actually points at the moon. In this example, the finger represents the claim, the moon represents what the claim refers to.
The moon only becomes a matter of truth if there is a claim made about its presence. “Is the moon there (where the finger points?)”
The claim becomes the object of truth testing, not the moon.
Truth only becomes relevant after making a claim about the moon.
What most people consider truth actually pertains to fact.
Fact/truth claims have the property of being subjected to testing for falsehood. Little t truth refers to this property.
Keyword – property. (Something which exists in an object, but not an object itself – like color, or shape.)
Truth distinguished from fact clarifies truth as the linguistic property of a statement which can be tested for falsehood.
Fact distinguished from truth clarifies fact to be a reference to the existence of an object. Fact refers to an item’s membership in reality.
Simple observation provides certainty about facts (we can be certain about facts – we can have knowledge about facts), but the truth always remains necessarily conditional and provisional to sentences made about reality (we can’t be certain of truth claims – knowledge of “truth” is like saying knowledge of statements and their accuracy to the world… not really knowledge when you think about it).
Why are you splitting hairs, Bill?
I harp about this, motivated by what I call unwarranted certainty. Collapsing the distinctions of fact and truth can lead to a certainty which is not warranted by the claim itself.
Conclusions about fact-patterns (claims with many facts) or more complicated, higher-order concepts (conclusions built upon other concepts and facts) often declare unwarranted certainty. The inherent uncertainty of truth remains hidden behind the certainty which relates to the facts (not the claim.) We mistake the factual certainty for the veracity of the claim.
Claims may be comprised of only factual statements, contain internally consistent logic and yet convey a completely false interpretation of the fact pattern. In other words, a claim can be sound, valid and still false.
Often I will see conclusions asserted, which when challenged, raise defenses of “check the facts”, “do the research” or “citation please”.
What happens here, the claim of certainty about the conclusion find its basis on the certainty found in the facts. “Truth” steals a sense of certainty from the facts.
This deception, truth dressing up in fact’s robes, remains rampant in the world today.
Many conclusions about a single fact pattern can be valid, many fact-patterns can be interpreted to fit a conclusion.
There must exist a gap between soundness and validity in our assertions about reality.
Houston, we have a problem.
Claiming provisional truth provides a solution (or a cop-out.)
Provisional Claims encourage the use of probability statements or avoiding language which implies absoluteness about the claim.
It sounds like this: “Given the facts at hand, this conclusion is most likely to be correct” or “Based upon our best empirical methods, this explanation is more probable than any other“.
Well, these statements really convey this: “we’ve done everything we know to vet this claim against error, bias, conflation, equivocation…” [add anything from the list of things which may go wrong- Curt Doolittle has a good list].
“…the elimination of error, bias, wishful thinking, overloading, pseudoscience, and deceit…”
– Curt Doolittle
Therefore, we really can’t make truth claims, but rather only claims to have done the due diligence to be truthful.
In operational language (language which focuses on functions and actions), when we asked someone to support their claim, really they go down the list of things they have done to try and eliminate errors and biases. (These are my citations, this is my research, this is how I conducted the experiment etc)
No certainty? Well, that sucks! Now what?
This is a big one. It apparently is a big issue among academics.
It starts with this: A fact is that which we choose to measure.
The decisions in what to measure find guidance by implicit value judgments. Many factors play into these decisions.
Consider this scenario: a scientist, in devising an experiment, inevitably has to decide what might or might not be relevant to the experiment. “Is this data point important i.e. valuable, to the research?”. These judgments can be influenced by many, many things: directly, such as the domain of research, available instrumentation; and also indirectly, such as existing knowledge, adopted frameworks for understanding the topic (are you Jungian or Freudian), even social standing or personal upbringing.
Some may assert a dragnet approach could fix this by collecting reams of data, broad in scale and deep in scope hoping patterns emerge which will then dictate the focus. From there, just follow the pattern to the logical conclusion.”It must be pure, it is what the data told us!” But these patterns remain vulnerable to value assessments as well. Changing the value assessment often changes the observed pattern. The data we choose influences the fact-pattern which we see, often reflecting our choice rather than reality.
Given the myriad of ways that a mind remains bias, in spite of our efforts otherwise, we most likely can not escape the tight overlap of facts with value judgments.
(Oh, sh!t – facts are socially constructed! What does that say about the moon!)
No Facts are not social constructs
Facts are facts: a statement of fact asserts the existence of something. The section above describes, not so much a statement on the “reality” of facts (like some humanities professors and social scientists would have you believe), but rather it pertains to the selection of data; which data contain relevance, which do not. The selected data then constructs our fact pattern.
Whether you choose to include a data point in your analysis doesn’t mean its ceases to exist, only that it isn’t worth consideration. We do, after all, need to hone in on relevance.
Facts can not be called into question as social constructs. Data selections, however, remains vulnerable to bias and error.
Included below, Thomas Sowell discusses how fact-selection affects conclusions (note his first assertion on this particular matter, the wage gap, was in 1973): https://youtu.be/8EK6Y1X_xa4
Oh my, this is a mess
Yup, it is a messy business. Humans do not naturally do this truth-seeing/truth-telling stuff. If we could do this naturally, we’d have no need of science, philosophy or logic (more on human fallibility in part 2, oddly pertaining to free will.)
By what criteria can we ensure we have the right facts and all the facts? The keyword -> criteria.
Well, facts relate to fact patterns by how they operate upon or within the whole pattern. This operational relationship between the data point to the whole determines the relevance as a fact. Another keyword->operate.
If being internally consistent (logical validity) and factually accurate (soundness) remains inadequate then what would fill the gap?
Let’s put our keywords together – Operational Criteria.
Operational Criteria ensures facts of the matter truly do relate to thinking on the matter.
If our notions about a topic do not find an operational connection to the fact, then we can say the fact is not evidence for the notion.
If the included facts do not have clear operational connections, then you may be making selection errors (conflating, equivocation or breaking categories).
Lastly, if the notion depends upon operations which do not have related facts, the notion fails or you lack critical facts.
Note: Operational criteria looks at what relationship, function or operation the individual fact has to the whole fact pattern, how the fact pattern operates upon the particular, and if your claim aligns with those OBSERVATIONS. If your claim aligns operationally to your fact pattern, you can be reasonably sure you’ve addressed bias, conflation, cherry-picking etc.
Operational Criteria ensures existential consistency of assertions by including operational or functional language within the claim. This allows the listener to observe how the facts relate to conclusions, their importance and link the conclusion through the relationships of facts to reality.
Essentially, operational analysis ensures your facts truly show evidence of the conclusion, not just random facts (think of studies based on correlation without causative explanations.) If this operational explanation can not be included in the claim then your claim remains subject to deception or might be perpetrating one.
In short, if your claim does not have operational connections to the facts then the facts fail to be evidence of the claim. The claim doesn’t exist.
Essentially a fact does not become evidence of your claim unless it passes this operational test.
[Do you see another distinction creeping up? Data -> when considered relevant becomes fact -> if operationally proven becomes evidence]
Well, what the hell am I to do with that?
Testing for this consists of finding statements which use words of existential assertion (is/are/was/were) and replace these instances with function words.
The sky is blue. It is blue because of how light scatters.
The sky appears blue because the atmosphere scatters the light in a way which only the strongest and shortest wavelengths can penetrate the atmosphere; wavelengths at this end of the visible light scale being associated with blueness.
The first set of statements asserts a fact with no warrant included in the statement, followed by an operational assertion with no functional value. The second, by using functional or operational words wherever existence claims occur, includes the relevant information to see how the fact relates to the assertion. The first set of statements asserts only, the second set asserts with the warranties provided by explanation. It tells the user you really do understand the assertion, how you understand it and what warrants the assertion.
This method prevents deception in argumentation and also prevents self-deception in the warrants for our beliefs.
So, really, “knowing truth” refers to “knowledge that a claim fits reality”, not much substance in this notion. We can, however, know if we or others have communicated Truthfully, in that they have done the work to not deceive themselves or us.
Pretty importance stuff.
Back to Self-Evident Truths
We started with self-evident truths and made our way through a few pitfalls (and one solution – yay!). There exists another mess-maker in this truth business and it pertains to axioms.
Axioms function as starting points in deductive reasoning. Self-evident truths which need not be questioned because of their obviousness.
When looked at a bit closer, a caveat raises its gnarly head.
Here it is: Axioms result from induction.
Even if self-evident, their classification falls into the provisional category, meaning there may or may not be certainty about their strength.
For instance, Existence Exists begins to lose its certainty at, say, a sub-particle level where masslessness of objects calls up notions like “HOW do things exist”. A massless object, after all, may not be an object (it is massless and defined as an action, a “spin”)…
Or temporal considerations where maybe an object has passed out of time – does it still exist? …if all of the effects of its existence no longer impact the universe, no trace is left, does the notion of its existence even matter? If not can we say it ever existed? How would we know? If there is something out there, in the universe, which has no effect on anything and is affected by no other item – does it exist? How do you know? How can you know?
Now to be fair, Existence Exists pertains to reality as knowable and intelligible. It exists independent of the mind which views it (the world is real and not in my head) – opposed to a brain in a vat.
From this notion, we begin to build our deductions until a 21st-century philo-abuser proposes ideas like e-zombies or someone questions if ‘possibility’ deserves privilege over ‘actuality’….or a linguistically minded orator points out the tautology of it all. The result being a questioning of our most basic, obvious and pervasive self-evident truth i.e. Existence Exists.
The axioms, after all, really just pertain to assumptions which won’t be questioned because we agree it is trivial to do so (a value judgment.)
Up next, the Existential Axiom enters… This will provide connections between self-evident truths, operationalism, why Quantum Theory may be wrong, PLUS an earth shattering moral axiom which, according to Dr. Jordan Peterson, makes “[doing] the due diligence to be truthful”, the single greatest act one can undertake…. but this will have to wait until another day.
- More on operationalism can be found here – a-short-course-on-propertarianisms-testimonial-truth/
- e-prime – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-Prime
- Semantic theory of Truth – Wiki: Semantic theory of Truth
- Gary Edwards on Truth and correspondence