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Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Dispossessed” goes around praising Einstein for not dabbling in relativism:

Ainsetain had known that; with endearing caution he had admitted that he believed his physics did, indeed, describe reality.

Which supposedly means words are all about truth and not about word games. All faith goes to truth. This even comes {facepalm} from a general-semanticist, someone who few pages latter will allude to the uselessness of quantifying direct experience.

Do Einstein’s Relativity describe reality? It does. So does Newton. And so does a Monet painting. Or a love letter. And Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring. Or brown-journalism. And lies. What’s special, at all, about this?

In fact, your stereotypical Knights and Knaves puzzle guards (one always lie, other always tells the truth) serve as a perfectly fine description of reality, since with “what would the other say if i was to ask…” you could always count on the contrary of the answer. Something that always tells lies can be reliable.

In fact, even “always lies” is a terrible simplification, because one can only lie to the best of one’s own knowledge. The real problem has never been one of sincerity, because sincerity can be bought with a sword. The problem is reliability. And reliability must be wrangled from context.

Realists, for whatever reason, can’t shake their bad associations for the idea of «lie», which means they can’t study language with any level of detachment, and thus they get stuck at the most stupid level of epistemology. They can love the phrase “The map is not the territory” and still fail to see that absolutely any form of reliance on a given “territory” becomes a map. Every explanation of «Reality» is all explanation and no reality. All the ways to defend truth end up in dogma.

And let me illustrate what i mean by most stupid level of epistemology. A frequent claim of realists is that if “There is no truth” was true than it would be false, etc. Word games. The very thing they claim the idea of “truth” guards against, and in almost the same phrase they condemn word games they go around playing one from the very “Intro do Word-Games 101″ manual. And what is bad is not that they are at word games, but that they are at such naive, boring, dumb, uncreative ones.

But Realists never accept the fact. Therefore they fail to see that intelligence extracts relevance from circumstance, without ever demanding (or depending on) circunstance being “true” or “stable” or “universal” or “unbiased”.

Direct experience is unspeakable, and thus unquantifiable, and thus it lacks many of the properties we would want truth to have, like analisability or composability or aplicability. In other words, if direct experience is truth, truth is useless. Which means that every sentence, every number, every equation, every ethics discourse is just a temporary abstraction that derives the totality of its value from the circumstance where it exists. Every truth depends on circunstance. Every truth is an action (an understanding-action) by a concrete human being, and that incurs the enourmous risk of self-delusion and short-sightedness. It does.

It is a nasty problem, but a solvable problem. It is not the very centre of philosophy. It simply can’t be, because if we focus on truth, we give up on the circumstance-mechanics, exactly because truth-seeking is rendered (which is an unneeded detour of thought / philosophy) as circumstance-denying. Truth must be not-contingent, and not-person-dependant, and unbiased, and (to nail it) not-circumstantial. Exactly because realists want it so.

Lit-crit is not a denial of reason, it is only taking reason seriously. (Which by the way does mean too seriously indeed, but i digress).

Still, realists will cling to this thing that ideas describe reality.

They feel that, if they lack a «reality» to point to, they lose the grounding to their theories. Like a Markov-Logic AI must have a set of grounding interpretations. And, of course, it does. They must. Theories require a grounding. This is provided by the person. Living, breathing, so on. In other words, it is not reality that ground ideas, but people.

And the fact that Realists deny this can easily be read as a cowardice to assert their own role in doing this grounding. Or it might be read as their incapability to deal with the complicated issues. They can deal with issues that do not get close to their own cherished dogmas. It is all right. It is a form of specialization. And Realists are specialists, useful but limited. Only they don’t accept it.

Most importantly, reliance on truth has, again and again, steered Realists in directions they couldn’t see and, on hindsight, latter regretted. Exactly because they believed (or hoped) there was a final truth that ended up all argument and required no further thought, exactly this leads Realists onto traps.

We don’t have to be “on the side of truth”. We have to be intelligent. Commited. Open.

In fact, we must be commited to not be possessors of truth. We must be absolutely certain of being wrong, even about that.

And we must know that we can go forward (or wherever we deem to go) through those same mistakes, just like a sailboat can sail against the wind going zig-zag.

And i’ll cut Ms. Le Guin some slack, and stay atop the wall on whether she is a Realist or a General-Semanticist.

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3 Comments

  1. I’m a skeptic too, and I also think that what is believed to be true should be exhaustively questioned. But your position is suggesting (maybe even implying) a slippery slope leading to the denial of truth all in all (some clarification is necessary). To me, that’s tantamount to, in a sense, giving up. I, on the other hand, believe in adjustment: knowing our human weaknesses and aligning philosophy (as much as we can) to that. I believe that a little bit of truth (produced from my questioning) that might be a little bit wrong is better than no truth at all. Truth, and other concepts like it, is (I believe) necessary for man and society; discarding it is and will prove to be a mistake. If you want to know more, just visit my site (antisomethings.wordpress.com) Thanks!

  2. Man, “suggesting a slippery slope”? How so? Me no make suggestion! I affirm strongly and openly that there is no truth.

    If the post was not “clarified” enough, down there you have a tag called “THERE IS NO TRUTH” with no fewar than 19 posts!

    Any conception of truth by definition carries with it unsolvable problems of the body-mind sort. The issue is complicated and, what’s more, 97.37% of the people who maintain that “no truth == giving up” take it as a matter of belief, so that arguing this is almost exactly like arguing religion. I prefer not to interfere with your religious beliefs.

    • I’ve no problem with your opinion on truth, but the last part of your comment seems problematic. “no truth = giving up” is as much of a belief as “there is not truth”, and (by your rationale) is as pious as arguing religion. The problem you probably wanted to point out is that the idea that “no truth = giving up” is personal opinion, (but your stance is the same). At the end of the day, it’s not about ‘what’ these things are but ‘how’ you prove them to be true. And using ‘I prefer not to interfere with your religious beliefs’ is not substantial in arguing.


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