Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The apophatic theologian - again

REVISED VERSION - in lght of your helpful comments, thanks.

Some theists will be unmoved by the kinds of argument discussed in this and the previous chapter. They may say something like this:

“The god that you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either! You are working with an outdated and unsophisticated conception of God. My understanding of God is different. When you say, “There is no such thing as God” I agree with you! For God is not a thing or entity that can be said to exist or not exist. Nor can God be categorized as belonging to this kind of thing or that kind of thing. I define God as something wholly other, something ineffable, unknowable, beyond our understanding. I cannot say what God is, only what he is not.”

The view that God is unknowable is sometimes termed apophaticism. The apophatic view has its attractions, perhaps the most obvious being that, if you never actually make any positive claim about God, you can never be contradicted or proved wrong. Indeed, at first sight, apophaticism appears to make atheism impossible – if no positive God claims are ever made, there can be none to deny.

The theologian Denys Turner is a leading exponent of this type of view. In his inaugural lecture as Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University (entitled "How to be an Atheist"), Turner says to the atheist:

It is no use supposing that you disagree with me if you say “There is no such thing as God’. For I got there well before you. What I say is merely: the world is created out of nothing, that’s how to understand God. Deny that, and you are indeed some sort of decent atheist. But note what the issue is between us: it is about the legitimacy of a certain very odd kind of intellectual curiosity, about the right to ask a certain kind of question.” P19.

Note Turner’s parting suggestion, here, that the issue between atheists and theists like himself is whether a deep curiosity about such questions as, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is even legitimate. Turner goes on to characterize the atheist is someone who pooh-poohs such questions, as someone who remains steadfastly unamazed by the fact that there is anything at all.

But if that’s what an atheist is, then I am not an atheist, and neither are most philosophers (which will come as a surprise to many of them).

Of course, most apophaticists aren’t just expressing wonder and advocating philosophical reflection. Turner himself says above that the world was created from nothing, rather than just appeared from nothing. But as the thought that something is created tends naturally to lead one on to the thought that it has a creator, so it looks suspiciously as if Turner is here gesturing towards something at least analogous to a transcendent agent. In which case, he is gesturing towards something atheists can get their teeth into.

Of course, most apophaticists also deem this mysterious, transcendent whatever-it-is worthy of our worship and gratitude, which raises the question of how, if it’s unknowable, they could possibly be in a position to know that worship and gratitude are appropriate attitudes for us to have towards it.

Indeed, if Turner is right and the world is created, doesn’t the appalling amount of suffering it contains give us excellent grounds for adding two more characteristics to the list of characteristics Turner says his God is not – his God is not worthy of either our worship or our gratitude.

40 comments:

Makarios said...

The Christian God, Creator God has not left us the option of "not knowing." In fact He appeared as one of us so that there would be no reasonable debate as to His character. There can be acceptance and there can be denial, but not debate.

Creator God is Love.
Creator God is Just.

If you want to know what ultimate love and ultimate Justice look like, look at Creator God.

Nicholas said...

You forgot to capitalize "Love" in your last sentence - making the sentence seem completely meaningless!

Makarios said...

Because the word love did not have a capital L you're rendered unable to comprehend its meaning?

I don't think so. You're just feeling a little snippy that someone didn't completely agree with the great Stephen Law and are desperate for something to complain about.

Nicholas said...

Sorry. I admit I was being snippy, although not for that reason.

Paul P. Mealing said...

I think, what is left out of this debate, is that God is purely subjective. Anyone who believes in God has their own idea of what that God is. So, at some level, God is a projection, especially when one attaches a personality to it. The idea that this projection is also ‘The Creator’ of the universe is the great leap that the 3 prominent monotheistic relgions make. But I would argue how can that be if everyone’s God has its own personality?

The laws of the universe are effectively the metaphysical God that these believers believe in, only they add sentience to it. I tend to agree with Mario Livio in his book Is God a Mathematician? that Pythagoreans would argue that 'God is not a mathematician, God is the mathematics'. In fact, I made the exact same point (about Pythagoreans) in an essay of my own once. (Livio’s book, by the way, is more about mathematics than about religion.)

In Armstrong’s The History of God (as opposed to her latest book, The Case for God) she made the salient point, that throughout history, theologians have argued about whether God should be rationalised intellectually, or whether God can only be experienced as a mystical phenomenon. I think this dichotomy still exists and goes to the heart of this discussion. God is subjective not objective. If that was recognised then maybe this debate would go away, and maybe that’s why this debate doesn’t exist in many parts of the world, because, if God is subjective, then arguing about Him, Her or It is both irrelevant and unimportant.

I believe that is what most people think: it’s unimportant. Certainly, in my part of the world, this debate is virtually non-existent, for which I’m grateful. People simply don't care what others believe.

Regards, Paul.

Anonymous said...

What "god" is or is not, obviously depends on "his" believers' psychological needs.

"God's" (only) strenght is that "he" can be attributed convenient names, characteristics, functions, motives, needs... you name it. At a whim.

Somewhere, deep into the dark, protecting mists of theological noncognitivism, you'll find the tailored "god" of your needs.


"- Nothing in religion makes sense except in the light of psychology..."

(the flipside of apophaticism must be ignosticism...?)

Makarios said...

Or, God is objectively real but our experience of Him, our description of our experience of Him is of necessity subjective.

theObserver said...

"Indeed, if Turner is right and the world is created, doesn’t the appalling amount of suffering it contains give us excellent grounds for adding two more characteristics to the list of characteristics Turner says his God is not – his God is not worthy of either our worship or our gratitude. "

Don't ‘sophisticated’ Christians argue that worshipping God is for our benefit, the effect of which can be demonstrated by the practical effect upon an individual’s life (insert anecdotes here). As opposed to worshipping God out of gratitude or fear, worship that God might somehow enjoy or appreciate.

Bill Snedden said...

"Note Turner’s parting suggestion, here, that the issue between atheists and theists like himself is whether a deep curiosity about such questions as, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is even legitimate. Turner goes on to characterize the atheist is someone who pooh-poohs such questions, as someone who remains steadfastly unamazed by the fact that there is anything at all.

But if that’s what an atheist is, then I am not an atheist, and neither are most philosophers (which will come as a surprise to many of them)."

Perhaps not, but it seems obvious to me that the question "why is there something rather than nothing?" is in fact a nonsensical question involving an internal contradiction.

The contradiction lies in putting "something" and "nothing" on an equal basis in terms of existence. But it seems to me that "nothing" is the negation of "something" and thus the negation of existence itself.

I don't see it as possible that "nothing" as a putative state of affairs could ever have been or could ever be possible. If it were, then "nothing" as a state of affairs would still be in effect, for even "the possibility of something" is itself SOMETHING and thus without "something" we would still have "nothing".

As "something" now exists, it seems to me impossible that "nothing" should ever have been the state of the universe and thus the question seems moot. Rather it seems to me the question should be "why THIS particular something instead of something else?"

Paul P. Mealing said...

I don't know if any of you have read Don Cupitt's book Above Us Only Sky, but I would highly recommend it. He makes the point that all our ideas and knowledge comes 'language-wrapped'. In fact, that's the core of his thesis. More than that, he effectively argues that without language there would be no 'reality'. The unstated corollary to that is that wihout humanity there would be no reality. He doesn't say that, but it's the only inference one can make.

In regard to Bill Snedden's comment, which is relevant to Cupitt's thesis (as explicated above) without consciousness there might as well be nothing, because without consciousness any existence would be entirely pointless.

Now most people say the universe is pointless, which begs the question: why have consciousness? I'm simply rephrasing Bill's point because nothingness and consciousness are completely antithetical, yet most people seem to ignore that fact, or the ramifications of that fact.

Regards, Paul.

Tom Morris said...

Just reading the first quote from Denys Turner: he says he cannot say what God is, but only what God isn't. I have no idea what he means by God not being "a thing or entity that can be said to exist or not exist". Does that mean that God neither exists nor doesn't exist, or does it mean that we cannot know whether God exists or not? I mean, it may be that God does exist, but because of shortcomings with all human languages, we cannot say God exists. The epistemic version of apophaticism seems pretty reasonable: I'd still want to ask how, on this reading of Turner, we can know that we can't say anything about God. I have no idea what a metaphysical reading of Turner would mean: literally something like "there exists x and does not exist x such that x is God". That's too weird for my narrow-minded, analytical Western brain. It may be what he means, in which case it just sounds, as Christopher Hitchens would say, like 'white noise'. You could read it as saying there isn't some thing or substance called God, but there are bits of Godness, some sort of property instantiation that just hovers in existence somewhere but without a metaphysical underpinning.

There's another problem with the apophatic thing: the apophatic can say what God is not, but surely, if you can make a claim that (∃x)(¬Fx), and you come to believe that (∀y)(Fy ∨ Gy), then you can synthesise a positive claim about God, namely (∃x)(Gx). This would affect both a metaphysical and an epistemic conception of apophaticism: unless you invoke a special opt-out claus for God, there would seem to be a set of properties which God could possibly have if it's true that God essentially lacks the various properties the apophaticists deny. But the problem also applies to the apophaticists themselves: whatever technique they use to come to accept as true that "God isn't F" can also be used to accept that "because all not-F's are G's, and God isn't F, God is G", they then quite possibly have to accept a positive statement about God. To give an example, let's take a property that all theists would probably assent to: "God is active in the world". What does the apophatic dodge buy us? "God isn't inactive in the world"? Big deal. If there is a God, it is either active or inactive in the world.

The apophaticists are saying something about God because they put together a cluster of negative properties. If I said "there is this thing in the spatio-temporal world that doesn't belong to anyone other than me, isn't human or animal or mineral, isn't a natural product, isn't set up to work in any non-English language, isn't manufactured by Sony and doesn't play the FLAC audio format". I haven't said anything about it, but you can infer a lot about it based on the act of me saying it: if you were to say 'iPod' you would be right, but if you were to say 'the Atlantic Ocean', you wouldn't. Each member in the cluster allows you to hold to whatever guess you make with more certainty as you can rule more things out. Build up enough negation statements and from the very fact you are making them, you can infer the positives. If we find someone who has been badly beaten up, and the police interview the prime suspect for beating them up, and they say "I didn't kill her!", they haven't got enough to convince a court that they did do it, but the fact of it is that if he didn't beat her up, he probably wouldn't have said "I didn't kill her!".

Apophatic theology seems like makework: just shunting around all the statements you make about God so they contain the word "isn't" rather than "is" seems to have all the intellectual respectability of the old playground game where you go up to a guy and say "Aren't you not not not not not not not [insult of the week]?", and then when they lose track of how many 'nots' you have said and say the wrong answer, you go off and giggle and tell the rest of the class that So-and-So admitted that they really are [insult of the week]!

Tom Morris said...

(continued...) As a rhetorical strategy, sometimes it works. When a politician is asked "are you planning to do x?" and they say "we haven't ruled out doing x", then they don't make any strong commitment to either x or it's negation.

A separate part of Turner's statement seemed to be that he claims adherence to another sort of vague modern theology that's different from his commitment to apophaticism: a sort of strange 'God of the glue' - the 'ground of all being' or something. This is said in opposition to "God is some particular being". This would seem to break the intuitions a lot of theists want to make about God: that God is necessary and universal while the existence of people or the universe or whatever is just contingent. If the Big Bang had never happened and there was no universe, there would still be God. But if God is just the ground of all being, then God is a relation of some kind. That seems strange: if there was just God, and then somehow all these things which have some relational tie into existence are created by a relation. I mean, we have events that cause relationships to start and end - there is some point at which I start being in the relationship "having a phone call", and another point at which I cease being in that relationship. But the relationship of me having a phone call with someone doesn't cause me to have a phone call with someone - it doesn't cause, it just is, it obtains - maybe it links to whatever metaphysical machinery you prefer (a particular state of affairs, say). This kind of thing is very strange, and I would love it if people like Turner would actually explain what their ideas would entail. They seem more interested in mystery making than philosophical problem solving.

Jonathan West said...

It seems to me that the key point about apophatic concepts of God is that if God is as unknowable as all that, then it follows that any assertion about God's nature, no matter how vague, must have been made up, since by definition there cannot be any supporting evidence for it.

Followers of apophatic theology seem to want to have their cake and to eat it. They want to tell the atheists that there is no way to disprove the existence of an unknowable God, while keeping very quiet about the fact that there cannot be any evidence in support of such a God.

As such, apophatic theology falls into the same category as Bertrand Russell's "5-minute hypothesis". It is a proposition designed from the outset to be unfalsifiable, and its lack of falsifiability is the only reason to believe it to be true - there is no other.

wombat said...

"...without language there would be no 'reality'. The unstated corollary to that is that without humanity there would be no reality."

Doesn't this imply that "If humans can't describe it it doesn't exist"?

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Wombat,

You raise a good point. I actually take issue with Cupitt's point in an essay I wrote on my own blog.

I believe he confounds epistemology with ontology.

The best I can do is to provide some quotes (as I did in my essay) to attempt to clarify his position.

“You can have more-or-less anything, provided only that you understand and accept that you can have it only language-wrapped – that is, mediated by language’s secondary, symbolic and always-ambiguous quality.” (Emphasis in the original.)

The following is the quote that I'm specifically referring to in my previous comment. The corollary to which is my own logical deduction.

‘…there is no meaning, no truth, no reality, and no knowledge without language.’

Cupitt's book is nothing if not provocative, and his stance on religion is unorthodox, as the following illustrates. I actually agree with him fully on this point:

“The only ideas, thoughts, convictions that stay with you and give you real support are ones you have formulated yourself and tested out in your own life… In effect, the only religion that can save you is one you have made up for yourself and tested out for yourself: in short, a heresy.”

Towards the end he makes the following confession and declaration:

“…any philosopher who is serious about religion should avoid all contact with ‘organized religion’. …Which is why, on the day this book is published, I shall finally and sadly terminate my own lifelong connection with organized religion.”

It's a good book even if you don't agree with him, which is what you expect from philosophy.

Regards, Paul.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Just to clarify my own position, when I talked about consciousness.

There is no 'reality' without consciousness in the sense that we talk about reality. Something may exist without consciousness, but it may as well not exist. In other words, ontology is dependent on consciousness - I can't see anyway out of that.

And maybe that's what Cupitt meant but he doesn't articulate it as such.

Regards, Paul.

wombat said...

Paul

Thanks for the Cupitt quotes. Another one to add to my ever growing booklist perhaps!

Tony Lloyd said...

"But note what the issue is between us: it is about the legitimacy of a certain very odd kind of intellectual curiosity, about the right to ask a certain kind of question."

I think the problems are here. What sort of question cannot, in principle, be answered?

There is, surely, a right to ask such questions. There is also the corollary right on others to say "you're talking bollocks, please shut up". It seems to me that the apophatic theologians deny that second right: we are to take their meaningless musings seriously. (This seems to me to be most of Terry Eagleton's criticisms of Dawkins' "The God Delusion").

The next thing the apophatic does with the unanswerable question is to answer it. Not only to answer it but to act as if the answer is blindingly obvious and you are a nincompoop if you fail to agree.

Here it becomes clearer that apophaticism can be a, dodgy, debating tactic. If nothing can be said about X then any counter arguments the chap disagreeing with you can come up with can be dismissed. The apophatic is then free to make things up without being criticised.

With that in mind are you not allowing yourself to be "sucked in" with talk of the problem of evil? "God neither exists nor does not exist" is a flat out contradiction and the conversation should stop there. It's just a neat formula to shut you up (no proposition you put forward can conflict with a contradiction), not followed by the apophatic but wrapped up in faux-sophisticastion and snears.

Tony Lloyd said...

"Language wrapped and reductionism"

We can commonly shorten a reduction of P to Q by saying that "P is just Q". In this way "heat" is just the vibrations of molecules because a description of the heat of a substance can, in principle, be replaced by a description of the constituent molecules' vibration. This allows us to say both that without vibrations of molecules there is no heat and without heat there is no vibrations of molecules.

Cupitt's claim that there is no reality without language appears to be a claim that reality is "just" language. We can leave the claim "without reality there is no language" as read and Cupitt does make the claim that "without language there is no reaity".

But a full description of reality cannot be reduced to a series of statements about our language and/or our consciousness. There are statements we can make that are not true. "The sky is pink" is perfectly sayable in our language, just as proper a statement as "the sky is blue", yet it is false. "Pink" is false not because of our language but because of reality independent of our language.

That is trivial and is apparent if we are reasonably clear in how we talk about it. But Cuppit isn't clear, he talks about "language wrapped". Taking this one way ("everything we say we use language for and language limits what we can say") it will be readily assented to. Taking it another way ("reality can be reduced to a description of our language") it is obvious rubbish.

The Cupitt argument seems to be a slide: get you to agree to the first meaning and then use the second.

wombat said...

Armstrong mentions, in "The Great Transformation", a very old ritual practice from India where two holy men would engage in a sort of verbal combat by making paradoxical pronouncements about the divine nature thereby working themselves up into a heightened (and presumably desirable) state. Got the crowd going as well probably - a bit like two rap artists having a battle.

Then again is seems that this sort of saying is quite common amongst Buddhist teachings as something to be meditated on. Again its simply(!) a route to a particular metal state.

Is it simply that apophaticism is a degenerate form of these, having been adopted by people who don't really understand whats going on. Maybe it is a sort of cargo cult to more established psychic technologies?

[ Apologies for not citing a proper reference - KA's book is quite thick and I cannot remember the Sanskrit term used so the index didn't help.]

wombat said...

Found it - the term was brahmodya

Armstrong K. "The Great Transformation" (2006) pp. 24-25

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Tony,

I don't know if you've read Cupitt's book, but his argument is probably a lot deeper than my few sparse quotes indicate.

I take issue with that specific point as well, but please don't write him off just over my selection of quotes.

I believe Cupitt is coming from the obvious point that we all think in a language, therefore all our ideas, including our ideas of truth, reality, God, whatever, only exist as 'language-wrapped'. He's trying to make a point that without language, it would not only be impossible to articulate them, we wouldn't even be able to 'think' them.

In that context he makes a very valid point. If I haven't passed on his thesis accurately, then please don't misjudge him because of my ineptness.

Regards, Paul.

dsurber said...

Paul said: I believe Cupitt is coming from the obvious point that we all think in a language, therefore all our ideas, including our ideas of truth, reality, God, whatever, only exist as 'language-wrapped'.

Cupitt may well have said this, and it may well be true for philosophers, but it is most certainly not true for everyone. I train dogs as a hobby. Much of my thought while working with a dog is not couched in language. I can't even describe how I think about a dog while training because the words don't exist. I know the academic vocabulary and can use it to describe a shadow of what happened in training, but that is post hoc. Other examples are chess players, athletes, dancers, musicians, or anyone who performs a non-linguistic skill. Cupitt may say that such acts do not employ "thought". If so, that is an idiosyncratic definition and well into Humpty Dumpty land. While I might have accepted this notion twenty years ago, the more experience I have training dogs the more obviously false it is.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Hi Dsurber,

I probably agree with you. I have had a lot to do with dogs as well over many years and I feel I have an empathy with them that other people don't (also cats). Have you seen the movie, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill? There is no better film that depicts the potential relationship between humans and animals of higher intelligence - with no language required.

It's difficult to impart someone else's views second-hand, especially when you partly agree, partly disagree. A more lengthy and detailed analysis of Cupitt's book can be found here, which probably better imparts the differences between his ideas and mine.

Regards, Paul.

Tony Lloyd said...

Hi Paul

I haven’t read Cupitt’s work, which naturally means that I might have got him all wrong. But I am only partly working on the basis of your summary (and a quick look at his web-site). Mostly I am reacting to his argument’s similarity to others: philosophers of science talking about the theory-laden nature of observations, post-modernists banging on about how we cannot “escape the text”, and presuppositional apologists talk about our “worldview”.

He may go deeper, but on his website he has:

For a realist Truth exists ready-made out there; for a non-realist we are the only makers of truth, and truth is only the current consensus amongst us.

This is junk. Truth is “out there” un-made by us. The sky is not pink, you cannot transgress the law of gravity by jumping out of Alan Sokal’s window, Ravens are not purple etc. There is nothing we can do to “make” these things true, whatever the consensus.

I may be being unfair to Cupitt as I haven’t read his work, but on a quick perusal this seems pretty central to his thought.

Mike said...

Tony,
I got a kick out of your line, "...you cannot transgress the law of gravity by jumping out of Alan Sokal's window..."!

Despite this, I'm not sure I can agree with your idea that truth is "out there" un-made by us. As a realist myself, I trust that there is a reality independent of my judgements, but whether a proposition is true or false depends on how well our ideas correspond with our observations. And in objective discourse that very much is a matter of consensus.

With the law of gravity, for instance, the truth of Einstein's law (like Newton's before it) is a matter of consensus. And even if you discard the theoretical formulation and simply note that a jumping person always moves downward toward the center of the earth, you run up against Hume's problem of induction. (Just as the sun may not rise tomorrow, a post-modernist may someday jump out of Sokol's window and fall up!)

I'm not speaking about Cupitt's ideas. (I'd never heard of him before.) I'm simply saying that reality is not made by us, but "truth" is. Reallity may be "out there" but truth is "in here." That is, it is in our minds.

Tony Lloyd said...

Hi Mike

(The Sokal crack was pinched from Sokal himself - http://physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/afterword_v1a/afterword_v1a_singlefile.html note 3)

Our propositions, naturally, depend upon ourselves for their formulation and expression. I wouldn't go as far as to say that their truth does. How well Newton's laws correspond to reality is dependent on whether or not they in fact correspond to reality rather than any consensus. Whether it is generally held to be true is a matter of consensus, whether it is true is a matter of fact.

There can be a consensus in favour of false propositions. So truth and consensus are different things.

If a post modernist were to float up out of Sokal's window it would refute theory of gravity. The consensus would have to change and it would have to change because we became aware that it was false. If the truth of the theory was produced by consensus then the theory would be true and, if the theory were true no counterexample would occur. The problem of induction is a sceptical viewpoint, and scepticism can only arise if there is a cleavage between the world and our knowledge of it.

Mike said...

Tony,

I guess all I was saying was that truth is distinct from reality. Truth is a value judgement whereas reality simply is.

Your sentence, "Truth is 'out there' un-made by us" would make sense to me if you replaced the word "truth" with "reality." But you seem to conflate the two.

Paul P. Mealing said...

I tend to agree with you Tony that 'truth and consensus are different things.'

However, what is the difference between truth and reality is another question.

I've often argued that mathematical 'truths' are the most reliable if not the most absolute. Truths in regard to science or anything else, like legal disputes, are evidence dependent.

When arguing about whether evolution is a fact or not, I give the following analogy with an earlier argument concerning Copernicus's proposition of the solar system. Either the sun goes around the earth or the earth goes around the sun - one is true and the other is false, and the one that is true is a fact.

So where you have a clear delineation between true and false, then one can talk about 'truth' with some confidence. In fact, this is what science is based on, where one attempts to create experiments that give undisputable true and false results.

Reality is always there no matter what we think, and 'truth' is an attempt for us to understand it. I tend to think that Kant was right: that we may never know the 'thing-in-itself' but only our perception of it, where perception includes all the instrumentation at our disposal.

Regards, Paul.

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anticant said...

My philosophical Sufi friend in Minnesota, Bodwyn Wook (Emmett Smith), has modestly refrained from posting a comment here and has put it on my blog if anyone is interested:

http://antarena.blogspot.com/2009/09/archbishop-adrift.html

Tony Lloyd said...

Hi Mike and Paul

(This is a long one – you’ve got me thinking)

On this truth business I’m denying that it is and assertion/judgement/consensus. It’s an actual relation of proposition to reality rather than an assertion/judgement/consensus about the agreement of a proposition to reality.

I apologise but….I’m just going to have to refer to Popper. To be more precise Popper’s explanation of Tarski’s theory of truth, Tarski’s theory of truth per se being too mathematical for me to cope with. (Popper’s explanation is in addendum 1 to Vol 2 of “The Open Society and it’s Enemies”)

Tarski put forward the idea that whilst propositions talk about reality “Truth” is a property of propositions and their relation to reality. So when we talk about truth we talk about propositions, we formulate meta propositions.

Popper’s genius idea was to formulate statements about reality in one natural language (say, French) and statements about those statements in another natural language, (say, English). In this way it becomes very clear what makes a statement, for example “l’herbe est verte”, true or false. “L’herbe est verte” is true if and only if the grass is green. Whether the grass is green or not is a question about reality. If (reality) [the grass is green] then (proposition) [l’herbe est verte] is true and if (proposition) [l’herbe est verte] is true then (reality) [the grass is green]. Truth is here adequately defined without reference to a knowing subject, a judgement or a consensus.

The Truth is “out there” only in inverted commas, to remove the inverted commas would be to conflate Truth with reality. What is actually, without inverted commas, out there is that which makes propositions true or false.

Whilst thinking about this I have come up with a draft of a “proof” that, if cogent, shows that if we accept a correspondence theory of truth we have to dispense with consensus/judgement/whatever being necessary for truth.

The “proof” starts with the following meta-statement outlining the correspondence theory of truth:

1. The proposition “X” is true only if the reality is X.

We add another criterion, say judgement:

2. The proposition “X” is true only if the reality is X and we judge X

And then re-arrange the meta-statement (excuse the brackets)

3. It is not the case that ((the proposition “X” is true) and ((reality is not X) or (we judge not-X)))

Now take something (“P”) that we judge to be true and is false. Negate it and, from the Law of the Excluded Middle, it’s true. As we judge P we have judge not-not-P.

Plug that into “3” and note the truth values
4.a the proposition “not-P” is true = true
4.b reality is not not-P = false
4.c we judge not-not-P = true

Now the disjunction to the right of “and” in “3” is true. As “we judge not-not-P” is true “reality is not-Porwe judge not-not-P” is true. As the first part (“not-P is true”) is true and the second part is true the “…and…” is true and so “it is not the case…” is false. So “2” is false and judgement (or consensus or whatever) is not needed for truth.

We can, of course, abandon the correspondence theory of truth and go for Paul’s “’truth” is an attempt for us to understand (reality)” or Mike’s “(t)ruth is a value judgement”. But both those leave the relevance of the correspondence theory of truth (however we name it) intact. Our attempts to understand reality are successful or unsuccessful in how far we produce propositions that correspond to reality. We make the correct, or incorrect, judgements about propositions dependent on whether we judge a proposition to correspond that does correspond or judge a proposition to not correspond which does not correspond.

anticant said...

Tony, in order to make sense of your latest contribution, I need you to define "reality".

You seem to assume that it is somehow connected with language, but I am inclined to agree with Paul that reality is always there, whatever we think - and whether or not we as individuals exist.

To say "the grass is green" or "the sky is blue" is merely linguistic convention. We may see the grass as green and the sky as blue (whatever 'green' and 'blue' are: and how do we know that what you and I call "green" is the same colour?) but that does not mean that the grass and the sky are actually green and blue.

Tony Lloyd said...

Hi Anticant

“Define reality”? Going for the easy questions? :)

One elucidation could be that it is a state of affairs that makes things false. Now (by the Law of the Excluded Middle) reality would also make things true, but negative is easier. And, of course, going all Via Negativa on reality fits in with a thread that started about going all Via Negativa on gods (although I am not going to embrace the “its not existent and not non-existent” contradiction).

There is something on the table in front of me. It’s not nothing, because nothing would look a certain way, and this doesn’t look that way. Strangely for me it is not a pint of Real Ale (I’m at home and, scandalously, Brakspears have stopped doing bottled conditioned “Oxford Gold”). It’s not a live animal, it fails to move. It’s not a dead animal, it fails to smell. In fact it’s not a lot of things. Now I can make up a lot of stories about it, or produce a lot of conventions about it but I can’t make up stories about it (without lying) that involve it being Real Ale, “nothing” or an animal etc.

I can’t make up those stories because of what it is, what is really out there. (It’s a glass of wine, actually). I don’t know that it is a glass of wine, it could be a bloody good illusion of a glass of wine. I judge it’s a glass of wine, but could be wrong. But it is a non animal, non-nothing non-pint of Real Ale. If I could add a whole load of non-descriptions to it, in fact negate every possible non-description I would end up at the one description that gave rise to no conflicts. This is akin to Peirce’s “End of Enquiry” http://stephenlaw.blogspot.com/search/label/Pierce reality is that which, at the end of enquiry, we would all agree on (but with the difference that it is not the description we all happen to agree on but the one description we cannot disagree on). This description would be true and what it described would be reality (not that the description would be reality, just that it would describe reality).

Another attempt:

If reality didn’t exist we could make it up as we go along, we can’t make it up as we go along, thus reality exists.

What is reality? (In part) that which prevents us making it up as we go along.

anticant said...

Thanks for that, Tony. But how can I be sure that the "something" on the table in front of you which you say is a glass of wine is what I would recognise as a glass of wine?

The most I deduce from your statement is that there is something rather than nothing. So "reality" consists of something which might be anything, depending on how each of us perceives it.

Forgive me - I'm not a professional philosopher - just a curious seeker after more certainty than I manage to muster most of the time. "Truth" is certainly a slippery one, and "reality" is quite a slippery customer too.

I find one of the most insightful posts on this thread is Bill Snedden's explanation of the impossibility of there ever having been Nothing as opposed to Something. Surely the root of a lot of the theological and philosophical debates we have here and elsewhere is the desire of so many people to know how Something came out of Nothing. The more I think about this, the more meaningless I find the presupposition that there ever was Nothing. Time, after all, is merely a human concept. Was it Einstein who showed that it is circular, without a beginning and an end? "The music goes round and around, and comes out here" = Reality.

Paul P. Mealing said...

Tony's example of colour - 'the grass is green' - is a good example of Kant's thing-in-itself being different to our perception of it.

Colours only occur in the mind, they don't exist out there. What exists out there, the thing-in-itself, is electromagnetic radiation of a particular wavelength.

We can say that something is a certain colour is a 'truth' only if everyone agrees on it (this brings back Mike's argument about truth being a consensus). My point is that it's a truth that only exists in our minds - it's our perception of reality - the reality is actually something else: reflected light.

Regards, Paul.

Mike said...

Tony:

I'm struck by how carefully reasoned your response is compared to my hasty and sloppy comment. Basically I am in agreement with you now.

So I suppose it is the height of foolishness to venture another hasty comment. Perhaps I can shield myself by phrasing it in the form of a question: In your response to Anticant you say that reality is that which can make a proposition false. Isn't this a bit circular? And thus meaningless?

It's funny how, the more fundamental the concept, the shorter the circumference of its definition. (Reality is what is true/truth is what corresponds to reality.) Meaning only emerges with complexity.

Tony Lloyd said...

I’ve been scribbling notes all day, you might end up with an essay (once I’ve finished the one on truth-likeness).

I think there is a major difficulty in making sure you keep elucidation of the concepts of truth and reality separate from actually statements about what is true of reality. If you treat “reality is that which makes things false” as more than a definition then you probably get drawn towards ontological-arguments (which might not be circular but are dodgy).

And it is extremely tempting to try and establish true propositions about reality without remembering that “what makes a proposition true?” is a different question to “what specific propositions are true?”.

I shall have to flesh this out. I’ll get back to you all if I do it in a reasonable time!

theObserver said...

Slightly off topic again, but Gordon Glover has made a nice parody of intelligent design arguments in a video called Alien Intervention Institute":

Tony Lloyd said...

Hi

I hope some of you have subscribed to this thread. I have been busy and, only two an a half months later, I have a very rough draft of some of an essay on this objective/relative business about truth.

It's here:

http://liberalrationalism.blogspot.com/2009/12/sceptical-absolutism.html

Or : http://tinyurl.com/yz58qrd

I would be very grateful for comments.