[lit-ideas] Re: (no subject)

  • From: wokshevs@xxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx, Eric Dean <ecdean99@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 6 Dec 2007 16:46:12 -0330

Was it something I said??

Thank you to Eric Dean for a marvellously interesting, entertaining and thought
provoking reply to my benign and innocuous claim. Please see specific replies
below. ----------------->

Quoting Eric Dean <ecdean99@xxxxxxxxxxx>:

> A few days ago, Walter O. wrote:
> ?"A. Kenny's wife was 12 years younger than him and didn't much care what the
> Pope thought about celibacy in the priesthood." That statement is either T or
> F, even though you may not know how to establish its truth or falsity.?
> Consider a generalized form of Walter?s apparently benign assertion:  ?Every
> statement is either T or F, even though you may not know how to establish its
> truth or falsity.? That is itself a statement, call it S, so following Walter
> we might assert that S is either T or F, even though we may not know how to
> establish its truth or falsity.
> But if we do not know how to establish the truth or falsity of S, then S
> might be true or it might be false.  If S is true, then Walter?s assertion
> about the statement about A. Kenny?s wife is true. 

-----------> False. S can be true and my statement about Tony and Nancy false.

> But if S is false, either
> some statements may be neither true nor false or the truth or falsity of some
> statement may depend on our ability to establish its truth or falsity. 

------------> True.
> Thus, before we can confidently assert that a particular statement must be
> one of the two, T or F, whether or not we can demonstrate its truth or
> falsity, we either need to establish that S, the generalization of Walter?s
> assertion, is true, or we need an argument for the particular statement
> showing that its truth or falsity is independent of our ability to establish
> its truth or falsity.

-------------> Regarding the latter disjunct, Nancy won't (perhaps can't) tell
anyone the truth. 
> I think the goal of establishing the truth of S, the generalization of
> Walter?s assertion, is forlorn.  I think that not all statements are either
> true or false and moreover some statements are such that their truth or
> falsity is not independent of our ability to establish it.

--------> What's good for the goose is surely good for the turkey. If my S is
or can't be shown to be T, on what grounds do you exempt your claim here - (I
think that ...) - from the impossibility of being F? 

> For example, insisting that a statement like ?x does not care much about y?
> is either true or false amounts to demanding we accept a false dichotomy. 
> The question ?does x care much about y?? has (at least) three *legitimate*
> answers: yes, no and maybe, where ?maybe? means either that x hasn?t
> considered the question or is considering it but has not reached a
> conclusion.  

-----------------> OK, the truth is she told me that herself, while under house
arrest in Prague. Communists are so adept at putting one into a truthful mood.

> Note that ?I don?t know whether I don?t much care about y? is
> not obviously a denial that I don?t much care about y because my not being
> sure might be seen as an indication that I don?t much care, but it is also
> not obviously an affirmation that I don?t much care, since I could say,
> sometime later, without contradiction, ?You know, now that I think some more
> about it, I really *do* care about y.?  Thus the ?maybe? is important, and
> not just a place holder for an epistemological shortfall.

-----------------> Nancy still can't care less. (You didn't hear it from me.
She'll accept whatever Tony's conscience decides. ... Can a conscience actually
"decide" anything? As if it deliberated and then issued a judgment. That's
surely the role of reason, not conscience. But I digress ....)

> Another example is ?this shirt is blue.?  Holding up a shirt of the right
> purplish blue shade, you might get quite a distribution of yes and no answers
> to the question of whether that statement is true.  My wife and I will split
> on this question with the right shade of purplish blue, for example.  On what
> basis would we decide that that statement is either true or false?  Isn?t the
> right answer here ?it depends??

-----------> It depends. Some people I know insist I'm colour-blind;
interestingly, the same people who I believe to be colour-blind. We're calling
in a physicist on Monday to settle the matter. Shades of subjective idealism,

> Thus far, I have been arguing against the first half of S, saying that some
> statements may be neither T nor F.  

------------> True. Although the statement that a statement may be neither T
F is as F as the statement that a statement may be both T and F. (Is anybody
here still following this debate?)

> But I also believe, denying the other
> half of S, that the truth or falsity of some statements depends on our
> ability to establish their truth or falsity.
> To start, note that S itself is *not* like Goldbach?s conjecture (every
> positive whole number is the sum of two primes) which is certainly either
> true or false independently of our ability to establish its truth or falsity.
>  To assert that S is independently either true or false is to claim that S is
> not a counter-example to itself.  

------> True. (I'll take the rough road here even though RP may be right in his
reply to ED. Habermas also comes to mind here. Is the claim that moral
rightness is totally exhausted by warranted assertability - reasonable
agreement - under idealized conditions of symmetry and reciprocity itself
morally right? Could a condition necessary for the possibility of establishing
whether a validity claim to moral rightness is justifiable itself be morally
right? Pace Habermas, I will argue that it is. It's either that or facing the
driveway again.)

> That is not what we do when we assert that
> Goldbach?s conjecture is either true or false independently of our ability to
> establish which it is, because Goldbach?s conjecture is not potentially a
> counter-example of itself.

-----> Alas, I know nothing of Goldbach or his conjectures. But would he aver
that your interpretation of his conjecture is correct? Would he say that his
view on your interpretation possesses a truth value?

> There is no particular reason to rule out the possibility that S may be a
> counter-example to itself, absent a cogent argument to the contrary.  Indeed,
> there are plenty of examples in the recent history of logic to encourage
> caution here.  That is enough, in my book, to conclude that we should not
> assume S is true unless we can demonstrate that it is.

-----------> I agree totally with the truth of your conclusion. Is it that you
believe I should be diagreeing with you on that statement?

> That does not mean we should assume that S is false,

---------> True.

>  because it is
> conceivable that someone can develop a demonstration that shows S to be true
> and at the same time shows that its truth is entirely independent of our
> ability to demonstrate its truth.  

-------> Also true. (Am I contradicting myself here?)

> It does mean, though, that in practice we
> should be circumspect about accepting assertions like Walter?s about any
> particular statement.

-------------> True. Both in practice and in theory, as Kant said. Fallibility
is a constitutive feature of all knowledge claims. (Including that one?)

> Finally, to step away from metalogical considerations, consider this:

-----------> OK

> S2: ?I am happy? is either true or false independently of whether I can
> establish it.
> I say, seriously and referring to myself, that S2 is false. 

--------> False. I don't mean that you're being frivolous, pursuing some
ulterior agenda, or not referring to yourself, of course. 

> It is not true
> that I, personally, am happy independently of whether I can establish whether
> I am happy or not.  I think that for the most part, if I am happy then I know
> I am happy.  There may be circumstances extant at the time I am happy that
> will destroy my happiness, but at the moment, if I am happy, then I know I
> am.

---------> I do not consider expressions or ejaculations (as they used to say
the heyday of Oxford) of emotion to comprise genuine statements. Like, "I love
vanilla ice cream" it makes no sense for another to say "No you don't." Similar
to: "Christ is my saviour." It looks like a statement, but it's actually an
expression of the kind of life the speaker leads, or tries to lead. It is a
category mistake to reply: "No he isn't." 

> There are cases in which I might be said to be happy but not know I am.  

--------> If you claim the truth of "If I am happy, then I know I am", as you
have just claimed, then you can't logically also believe that statement. You
are both claiming and denying a necessary condition for happiness. 

> For
> example, 

-------> No example can be given for a position that involves a logical
contradiction. (As a corollary: I don't have to perform any empirical inquiries
to determine whether there are any square circles in Nice.)

> it could happen that someone says that despite my appearing unhappy
> it seems like I may in fact be happy, and upon hearing that I may find that I
> do feel happy. 

-----------> True. Feelings are just like that. Matters of taste are like that,
too. There's a particular single malt I presently dislike but believe I should
actually like it. (Consider as well: "I thought I was indignant, but I now see
that I was simply angry.")
> I could describe that experience as having been happy without knowing it, but
> I could also describe it as realizing that there were reasons to be happy
> even in the midst of my displeasure.  Either way, though, the truth of the
> relevant statements (?I was happy and didn?t know it? or ?I was not happy but
> became happy?) are dependent upon my ability (and more relevantly my
> willingness) to establish them.

---------> Good, now we're back to genuine statements (propositions). As such,
the truth values of both statements are independent of your ability and will.
(I believe Eric is here sailing very close to those  reefs of relativism he
wishes to avoid.)

> In other words, there are a lot of statements for which their truth or
> falsity is very much dependent on whether their truth or falsity can (and
> will) be established, and by whom.

----> True. But I need to emphasize that the fact that a statement is *either*
or F is not so dependent. I'm not clear that Eric graps the relevant
here. (But we should here consider Habermas's view on moral rightness above.
Whether any particular decision reached discursively is indeed morally right is
a question to be differentiated from what "moral rightness" itself means.)

> I think all this is worth sorting out because I think such assertions as
> Walter?s play an important role in obscuring situations in which the
> participants? desires are what will shape the outcome more than the objective
> realities.  

----------> The propositional content of your claim here I believe to be false.
See my previous statement above.

> In such situations, demanding that we acknowledge that all
> statements are independently either T or F amounts to demanding that we
> ignore the way in which the decision makers? personal interests determine the
> outcome.  

-------------> Valid inference. And the conclusion is true. 

> Speaking as someone who has had to decide what to do for large, complex
> business systems, used in organizations ranging from a handful of people to
> hundreds of thousands, in locations ranging from a single small town to 90
> countries around the world, I can say unequivocally that the failure to
> recognize when we are imposing our wills on others, as opposed to when we
> really are at least trying to trace the contours of an independent reality,
> is one of the surest paths to failure.

--------------> This is a false opposition. Politics or coercion have no
epistemic worth whatsoever.

> It takes, however, a lot of nerve to acknowledge that that?s what we?re
> doing, i.e. imposing our wills, especially in organizational settings where
> the actors are accountable for objective tests of the outcomes of their
> decisions.  The assertion that all statements are either T or F independent
> of our ability to establish their truth or falsity gives aid and comfort to
> those who would evade that painful but necessary understanding by swaddling
> themselves in a blanket of ostensibly objective certainty in the present,
> focusing on today?s comfort rather than the possibilities of tomorrow?s
> calamity.

------------> Having been situated somewhere away in a manger - a timely if
inaccurate form of expression - I'm beginning to feel a tad paranoid here.
Perhaps 'tis best to end with a claim that Eric's "necessary understanding" is
in truth but a contingent misunderstanding.

Walter O.

P.S. "I intend to become a glorious philosopher." You hang around the speaker
for a year or so and see that she has taken no steps towards that goal. What
would it mean to say that the truth or falisty of that statement - assuming
it's a statement for the moment - is dependent on the subjectivity of the

P.P.S. "Icould'a bin a cantender." Well, yes, you could have, but ....

> Regards to one and all,
> Eric Dean
> Washington, DC

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