[lit-ideas] Re: Bertrand Russell

  • From: Robert Paul <rpaul@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 30 Sep 2012 15:29:39 -0700

Much of what's said here deals with the dispensable. Russell is chided for thinking that 'facts' determine or 'bear out' the 'truth.' This seems to be a perfectly innocent, if naive, way of thinking about how 'facts' might determine (whatever that means) what is true. It's also unduly cumbersome.

Smith wants to know if Hobbs killed Boggs. This is a complicated case, and a statement from Hobbs himself that he did kill Boggs, won't be enough; he may trying to take the fall for his son Nob. So, Smith investigates further. He comes up with new 'facts,' which strongly suggest that Hobbs is lying. The District Attorney agrees and convenes a Grand Jury, which like most Grand Juries takes her word for it and agrees that Hobbs should be indicted. 'They've indicted Hobbs,' says Smith. 'Is that a fact?' says Jones.

Of course, nothing would have been lost had Jones said, 'Really?' or 'Is that true?' or simply, 'Did they?' (with an emphasis on 'did,' to express surprise. The trouble of talking of facts and truth as if facts were one thing and truth another, is that nothing is added to any proposition, P, by embellishing it with 'It's true that---,' or 'It's a fact that---.'

And, when the Smith is said to come up with 'new facts,' each 'new fact,' will be subject to the same otiose requirement that it be shown to be a fact, and answerable to the same redundant criterion that it be true (that x is a fact). This sort of nonsense, as Wittgenstein said, leads the philosopher into complete darkness.

Stella wants to know if chocolate makes snails smarter.


Stella wants to know if it's a fact that chocolate makes snails smarter.

Stella wants to know if it's true that chocolate makes snails smarter.

Take your pick.

Robert Paul

First thought: OMG, thought he died a while back.
Bertie's comments are well-intentioned but somewhat naive.
If the first comment is taken as opposed to looking as issues in
ideologically-driven terms, and of stressing the importance of seeking
"the truth" irrespective of wishful thinking and self or group interests
etc., then it is not only well-intentioned but important; but Russell's
expression of his POV is quite naive - for example, in thinking that
"facts" determine or "bear out" the "truth" - this may or may not be
true, depending for example on whether the range of what we admit as
"facts" is co-terminous with the range of "truth". For example, is it
true that there is a God? True or false, what "facts" could determine it
aside from the "fact" 'God exists' or 'God doesn't exist' - in which
case the "fact" would constitute the "truth" but would not determine the
"truth" in the sense of being evidence of it - for the fact "God exists"
[or "God doesn't exist"] is not /evidence/ that it is true "God exists"
[or "God doesn't exist"]. But then Russell could suggest as late as 1945
that what distinguished science was that its concern was the probable
and the proveable - a formulation vulnerable to all kinds of objection,
including Popper's critique that the distinguishing feature of
scientific claims is their improbability and disproveability [i.e.
falsifiability]. It would seem that some kind of mistaken and somewhat
naive theory of knowledge is at work in Russell's suggestion we can
determine the "truth" simply by looking at the so-called "facts" which
"bear out" the truth. It's not as simple as that sounds. It would be
more accurate to say that we should critically examine claims as to
their truth, and to do this properly we should search for "facts" or
evidence that might challenge their truth rather than simply rest
content on "facts" that might seem to "bear out" their truth. Truth is
not so easy to come by, or so manifest, as Russell might be taken to
suggest. That we should not look at the social benefits of claims
but only at their "truth" is also somewhat naive, both intellectually
and morally. The moral "Love is wise, hatred is foolish" is also one
that is open to challenge [starting with whether it is some claim
testable by "facts" or offered more as an unfalsifiable platitude,
albeit one perhaps from the side of the angels or those who write
greetings cards]. Though quite clearly Russell's emphasis on tolerance
and the need to avoid to violence, so we live together "and not die
together", may be applauded, it may be argued that entwining issues of
"tolerance" and "love" is a recipe for both moral and intellectual
disaster, for "love" is no sane basis for "tolerance" as we must
tolerate what we do not love.

*From:* Julie Krueger <juliereneb@xxxxxxxxx>
*To:* lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
*Sent:* Saturday, 29 September 2012, 22:25
*Subject:* [lit-ideas] Bertrand Russell


Julie Campbell
Julie's Music & Language Studio
1215 W. Worley
Columbia, MO  65203

To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html

Other related posts: