Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ponderings on Truth

Truth is something that can never be attained. That's obvious to me. Mathematical and logical truths are not truths, they are tautologies. Two and two equal four in the same way that the reverse is "true."

I'm instead focusing on what a proposition must have in order to be true. We can not achieve a complete account of a true statement, but we can at least say that a statement is definitely not true if such-and-such a requirement is not met.

I actually go way back to the verification principle. Remember, this is only a metric we're using to toss out things that are necessarily not true. If a proposition cannot be verified, it is not true. It isn't false, and it might actually turn out to be true, but until it is verifiable, we cannot label it as "true."

The proposition must be both internally and externally consistent. Internally means that the basic elements of the statement do not contradict. Externally means that other statements outside of the proposition that have not been shown to be necessarily not true do not contradict the proposition.

The statement must be meaningfully believable. By this, it must fulfill the first two requirements and also be understandable in some linguistically non-nebulous way. Two types of propositions can be meaningfully believable: internal and external. External propositions correspond to something in empirical reality. "Dog," or "el perro" correspond to dogs. "The dog is running" corresponds to the sight of a dog running. "The dog is an odd number" is not meaningfully believable because no dogs are odd numbers. All external propositions must be empirically verifiable to be called true.

Internal propositions correspond to things that are only apparent to the logical entity speaking the proposition. "me so horny" has two meanings. The speaker means that they are experiencing certain things that they associate with the word horny. The listener is seeing certain behavior that they associate with the word horny and other people. As such, propositions that don't appear to be logically tied with something actually are, it just depends on where that thing is. For example, when I declare "oh shit!" that statement is logically tied and represents sensations that I am feeling.

This is where other minds come in. We make the assumption that other people's internal worlds are at least similar to our own. As such, we project our internal world on other people. There are likely very many evolutionary reasons for this, not the least of which is empathy. So when somewhen says "me so horny," we don't say that this person is behaving in a way that I usually behave when horny, or in a way that frequently ends up with them copulating. No, we say, with great assurance, that they feel horny. We state that we know what's going on inside their head.

But even here, it's an unfounded assumption. For example, if someone frequently said "me so horny," but sex was never correlated with this statement, it might take awhile, but we would stop assuming that their internal world was the same as ours. The empirical information would reveal itself to be the true determinant of our assumptions about someone's internal world.

As you can see, I dodge neo-Wittgenstein by not regarding atomic elements of propositions as directly corresponding to "things," only the propositions themselves. All propositions correspond to something. Unlike words, we can definitely define a proposition.

Where the disconnect happens is the internal/external difference. Sometimes, we as listeners can never truly be sure of to what a proposition corresponds. "Oh shit!" could correspond to fear, or elation. We rely on context to help make this determination, but the speaker knows precisely to what the proposition corresponds.

Obviously, I can say this with confidence because I am making an assumption. I am assuming that other minds exist and that they are similar to me. I say "oh shit" very frequently, and I am quite aware of what this statement logically represents, even though other people are not. That does not change the fact that it does definitely represent something, and I know what that is. That means, under my assumption, that other people's statements who's logical foundation is not available to me nonetheless have a logically specific foundation, even if I don't know what that is.

As such, if a statement cannot be shown to represent something internal or something external, it cannot be true.

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