Wednesday, September 26, 2012

helpful lies or unhelpful truths

I like to think that a Pragmatist-like concept of truth is incisive and appealing. Isn't it tidy to connect a proposition's level of truth more or less directly with the methods or actions for confirming it? But objectors understandably prefer a simpler concept of truth that disconnects the subjective role even further: they'd rather say that real is real and truth is truth. What about helpful lies or unhelpful truths? Don't these two categories show the limitations/weaknesses of Pragmatist-like truth?

My immediate reply is to admit that I'm not presenting an infallible path to truth, and if the alternatives claim such an infallible path then the alternatives are mistaken. My longer reply is a Pragmatist-like analysis of those two categories. In practice, how are specific propositions classified as helpful lies or unhelpful truths?

Obviously, the secondary classifications "helpful" and "unhelpful" indicate that the propositions are either aids or hindrances for accomplishing particular goals. However, the primary classifications "lies" or "truths" force the follow-up question of how we know to sort a given proposition into one of those two. Although the original argument merely assumes that the relevant propositions can be definitely classified as lie or truth, this tactic won't work in general because personal assumptions are so often wrong. The sensible conclusion is that there must have been some primary procedure for us to know for certain that the proposition under consideration is lie or truth, and we must have gained that knowledge independently from the proposition's secondary classification of helpful or unhelpful.

Hence classification of actual propositions as helpful lies or unhelpful truths presumes two procedures with conflicting results, a primary and a secondary. An occurrence like this surely demonstrates that the secondary procedure, i.e. that single "helpfulness" test, is a flawed test for truth. But the invalidation of one procedure by another doesn't invalidate the overall concept of Pragmatist-like truth.

I don't argue that true implies "always helpful for all goals" and false implies "always unhelpful for all goals". Reality is too complicated. Propositions are too numerous. Goals are too flexible. That's exactly why more than one confirmation procedure is a good idea anyway and the human judge resolves or prioritizes conflicting results. Moreover, helpful lies and unhelpful truths can be essential mid-points on the journey to propositions of greater refinement. A partial answer could be helpful for some purposes regardless of its ultimate disqualification, and the unhelpful nature of a puzzling piece of data could challenge incorrect preconceptions. The dread of (temporary) contradictions isn't part of Pragmatist-like truth, which is intended to evolve. Intolerance of contradictions is more emblematic of fastidious otherworldly concepts of truth.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

the most honest of supernatural beliefs

In the previous entry I pointed out that the result of someone's "search for meaning" can only be as valid as its answers to "the demand for meaning" which everyone else applies to it. Two central questions of that demand for meaning are 1) "What exactly do you know?" and 2) "How do you know it?" I judge that beliefs in the supernatural offer irrelevant and/or illogical answers to such questions.

But recently I found a specimen that fares better than most: Ietsism. Ietsism asserts that "Something" supernatural exists with some of the characteristics which traditional religions assign to gods, but The Something is also almost wholly unknown. Hence Ietsism answers the two central questions from before as follows: 1) virtually nothing and 2) an inarticulate emotional sensation. Ietsism doesn't invent complicated theology and then insist on the reality of those unconfirmed inventions. In that way, Ietsism must be one of the most honest of beliefs in the supernatural.

That doesn't imply that I converted, of course. Despite its honesty, Ietsism is nevertheless too flimsy.

I confess that I've felt an impulsive connection to my surroundings. I've been in a humble mood of gratefulness for my existence. I've marveled at immensity and complexity. I've observed fortunate coincidences that evoked the hope that the cosmos is helping me. I've observed unfortunate coincidences that evoked the anger that the cosmos is thwarting me. I've striven to accomplish ideals.

Don't these ephemeral intuitions qualify as religious experiences? No, in my estimation. To draw the conclusion of Something is to lend far too much credence to my own caprices. Humans are too easily influenced. How often do we jump to the unlikely explanation that fits our preconceptions of the moment? If we're feeling mistrustful, then hissing whispers are about us. If we're feeling fearful, then unexpected noises are coming from dangers. If we're feeling proud, then our failures are mere accidents. If we're hungry, then food is wondrous; if we're nauseated, then food is ghastly. Feeling is a pragmatic starting-point, not a pragmatic clinching fact.