Wednesday, September 08, 2010

P.4 Reponse to Dawson

Responses to Dawson (links):

Dawson's Responses:
P.1 & P.2

To boot, I have a good song to go along with what Dawson and I have been doing here - as always, it helps to listen as you read (if you don't report laughter, there's something wrong with you):

Let me begin fresh with a restatement of the problem. What I've been trying to pin you with is [essentially] the idea that you see words as representations of reality as it is. Not in a Kantian sense per se, but in a more general Realist sense. To see words as representation is to bring to light certain skeptical questions such as, “How do you know you've represented reality properly?” It raises suspicions that the goal of truth is to essentially determine the correct way to formulate something, but how will we know if we've ever reached the goal of adequately representing anything? This is why I made the earlier distinction between truth existing in reality, or truth existing in language. From there you brought up the objection which essentially stated, “well, language exists in reality, and so does consciousness.” But then you're missing the point entirely.

I'll Quote Rorty again as a frame of reference:
"We need to make a distinction between the claim that the world is out there and the claim that truth is out there. To say that the world is out there, that it is not our creation, is to say, with common sense, that most things in space and time are the effects of causes which do not include human mental states. To say that truth is not out there is simply to say that where there are no sentences there is no truth, that sentences are elements of human languages, and that human languages are human creations.

Truth cannot be out there – cannot exist independently of the human mind – because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only descriptions of the world can be true of false. The world on it’s own – unaided by the describing activities of human beings – cannot.

The suggestion that truth, as well as the world, is out there is a legacy of an age in which the world was seen as the creation of a being who had a language of his own. If we cease to attempt to make sense of the idea of such a nonhuman language, we shall not be tempted to confuse the platitude that the world may cause us to be justified in believing a sentence true with the claim that the world splits itself up, on its own initiative, into sentence shaped chunks called “facts”. But if one clings to the notion of self-subsistent facts, it is easy to start capitalizing the word “truth” and treating it as something identical with God, or with God's project (or capitol "T" Truth). Then one will say, for example, that Truth is great and will prevail.

This conflation is facilited by confining attention to single sentences as apposed to vocabularies. For we often let the world decide between competing sentences....."

The facts is, Dawson, that you do in fact see things as I've described them, or in the very least, your use of language and metaphor contain the elements of implicit representation between words and reality as in the mirror analogy. The reality is though (and I get into that below) I'm not all that certain you're fully appreciating the analogy. The idea of the mirror is to say that what's in perception is essentially a mirror image of reality – not that it is reflected back upon it, but I'll get into that. Rather then ramble on, let me follow from some of the things you've stated and demonstrate.

You said:
The concept of “truth” identifies a type of relationship between a proposition and the facts of reality.

So to begin with, you are in fact explicitly saying that reality contains facts. i.e. facts that lay outside of human consciousness. That's the first thing we need to establish.

You continue:
“Truth,” in Ayn Rand’s definition, is “the recognition of reality.”

But I should add, not just recognition of reality, but the facts of reality, following what was just quoted above. It's important going forward not to loose sight of that ball.

You continue:
“In essence, this is the traditional correspondence theory of truth: there is a reality independent of man (which contains facts. My emphasis here), and there are certain conceptual products, propositions, formulated by human consciousness. When one of these products corresponds to reality, when it constitutes a recognition of fact, then it is true.”

The reality is, Dawson, I could stop the entire conversation right here as this statement, and the later statements, undercut everything you'll eventually state about words not being representations, and/or not being mirrors to reality. Of course you don't want to accept that and will no doubt barf out some new long chain of reason that doesn't escape it (note, by barf out I'm not being a dink, I enjoy reading your posts). In essnece if we took the statement “the rock is by the car” it is implicit that you take this as true on the condition that it (as a proposition) corresponds to the “that fact” which is “in” reality. All of that follows from what's been stated thus far.

You continue:
“Conversely, when the mental content does not thus correspond, when it constitutes not a recognition of reality but a contradiction of it, then it is false. (Ibid.)”

Right, so when it does not correspond to the facts of reality, then it is wrong. Loud and clear. You have a direct correspondence between truth (propositions in a language game) and the reality which contains these facts.

Moving on you state:
"Now I’m not persuaded that referring to Objectivism’s theory of truth as “the traditional correspondence theory of truth” is the most responsible equation to make. I say this because there are many traditions in philosophy which Objectivism rejects..."

Well, right, but so what; you've already accepted that words, language, propositions etc.. either correspond directly to the facts of reality, or they don't. So in fact as I stated up front, your previous statements undercut any desire you have to stay away from the idea that words are representations. You've offered up nothing to suggest otherwise.

You give yet further confirmation:
"A proposition integrates what may be an enormous context of information, and every element of that context must conform to reality in order for that proposition to be true."

Great, I don't really even need to say anything about this - just more confirmation

You state:
“I have been explicit in using words like “reference,” “denote” and “correspondence” in speaking about the relationship between concepts and the world. I resist “representation” primarily because I want to avoid wrongful association with the representationalist theory of perception (which I addressed earlier in my exchange with Andrew), and also because I don’t think concepts are “representations” per se, but rather integrations. Concepts are not replicas, they are not an exercise of holding a mirror up to reality.”

Once again, you want to avoid representation in the manner I've described it, but you've already undercut yourself on the matter, so-so what. Here you state that concepts are not “representations” [of reality] but rather integrations. But above you clearly contradict that, as you say that something it true (a statement in language) when [e.g.] a proposition corresponds to reality, and you clearly state that reality contains facts. So in essence (as the mirror analogy fits) forging towards truth becomes something along the lines of polishing the mirror.

You state:
"We begin our search for knowledge where we are aware of reality – in perception – and only after we’ve begun perceiving. (A child perceives his surroundings long before he starts to develop knowledge of what he’s perceiving.) Perception inherently *corresponds* to objects (since – and I hope Andrew doesn’t wince at this again – perception is perception *of objects*), but it does not “represent” objects (since perception is not a form of representing anything – it’s our form of being aware of what we’re aware of), nor is perception “mirror-like” – since it is not a means of reflecting an image back to reality. "

Perhaps you're not understanding the mirror analogy. The analogy doesn't suggest that we reflect reality back to itself, it suggests that what's in perception is a representation of reality – a mirror image of it. i.e. looking into a mirror you see a reflection of reality, just like looking into perception (again being metaphorical) you're seeing a picture of reality, as you say, the facts of reality. And once again, remember you've undercut yourself.

You move on:
“Next comes concept-formation. On the basis of this perceptual input, we form concepts which identify and integrate what we perceive. We form concepts by integrating two or more units which we’ve perceived and which are similar to each other in some way, into a single mental unit...”

This is really incidental to my point since you've already made the connection I've been trying to make above. Concept formation is irrelevant since the move you ultimately make is to connect truths in language directly to the facts of reality. Sure you make it through the concept, but again you've connected the concept directly to reality.

But you continue:
“Then, after we’ve formed concepts, we assign verbal or visual symbols to represent them (here’s where “representation” is most appropriate). Language essentially gives our concepts perceptual form, to the extent that this is possible, and it does this by consistently assigning symbols to individual concepts. In this sense, language’s symbols represent concepts (without implying the representationalist theory of perception).”

So here's where you've attempted to wiggle out of what I've been pinning on you in a more direct sense, but remember you've already undercut yourself. Essentially you grant that words are direct representations of concepts, but stop short (here anyway) of granting that they are also representations of the facts of reality (but again, no matter, you've already done that). I was even trying to help you out with this in my last posting by saying, “If I gather you correctly then, what you call “the thing itself”, is that which exists (mabye a bad word there) in perception, not reality. You grant (as I would as well) that there's a world out there, but that we do not (in speaking of truth and facts) mirror the way the world is in itself.” But it went totally over your head. What I was trying to do is grant that the objects of perception and the truths we speak are not representations of reality (which is what you want to say) so that the concepts we have in mind exist in perception and not as a mirror to reality. Which isn't to suggest that there isn't a reality out there, it's only to suggest that what we say about it doesn't take on a representative character.

You state:
“Since on my view facts are inherent in reality apart from conscious activity...”

There it is again, facts are inherent in reality...

Then you continue to answer how language connects to reality:
“...What’s the connection between truthful statements and reality? That connection is, in a word, concepts. Statements or propositions, whether true or false, are composed of concepts. Concepts integrate what we’ve perceived into mental units, and are themselves integrated into higher units and propositions..."

So a question might be, what connects concepts to the world?

Well, you already provided that answer above:
“...there is a reality independent of man (which contains facts), and there are certain conceptual products, propositions, formulated by human consciousness. When one of these products corresponds to reality, when it constitutes a recognition of fact, then it is true.”

I think this pretty much sums it up. Conceptual products, propositions (a proposition being a statement in a language game) formulated by human consciousness. So then, when a given proposition “corresponds” to the “facts of reality”, then it is true. I mean, Dawson, it doesn't get any more elementary (in terms of words as representation), then that.

You even throw in a kicker regarding my idea that the world causes us to have beliefs, but does not supply the reasons,

You state:
“On my view, the facts of reality supply the reasons for believing the things that I believe...”

Right, that's because you believe that reality contains facts, and that for something to be true what we say has to properly (if not even directly) correspond to it. And with that, I think it's pretty much case closed case. In fact, Objectivism contains the sorts of dogmas I've been pointing to all along.

Let me finally note, as I did before, that the idea of "correspondence" entails a number synonymous metaphors. Some examples may be; conformity, congruence, agreement, accordance, copying, picturing, signification, representation, reference, satisfaction, mirror, etc.. Switching between terms doesn't change the discussion, but it can be confusing. Once again, I don't see at all how you're escaping direct correspondence metaphors and suggestions, and as such you carry with you the sort of baggage that I've been suggesting all along, but again, you won't accept that. With that your axioms, at least from my perspective, carry little more weight then Sye's arguments about God. It just so happens that in your case, your justifications are much more ridged, complex, and you're no doubt far more intelligent then Sye.

So long as you find your pot of gold, Dawson, then every little thing's gonna work out fine.


  1. Yeah I can't stand objectivism. I really don't mind their epistemic stance at all, which I would simply label as a form of Aristotelian realism, but their ethical system is a train wreck. That, and Ayn Rand should have stuck to writing fiction like Terry Goodkind, because her philosophical interpretations are ludicrous.

    Anyway, you quote Rorty again and I just have to ask a few questions:
    "Truth cannot be out there – cannot exist independently of the human mind – because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there." - isn't this a belief claim that requires truth value? If not, why would I value the claim and take it seriously? Don't you think he makes a rather bold assumption by assuming sentences are what determine truth value and thus rendering truth without value? A description is just an attempt to describe something experienced, and it's truth value, though undetermined, requires the world to cooperate with that description if it is anywhere close to accurate.

    "The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on it’s own – unaided by the describing activities of human beings – cannot."
    - Again Rorty has this idea that sentences determine truth value. But sentences require a belief about the truth to be formulated, which requires a belief in some objective state of nature. Granted, we cannot determine the truth in any absolute form, but Rorty's own argument is simply changing axioms epistemology relies on. And his axiom is no more compelling than one that assumes objective truth values. No matter how I describe this computer screen, it will not bend to the will of my description.

  2. I guess "determine truth" isn't the right phrase. But the assumption seems to be that a so-called truth value reaches its definition or status by means of the sentence concerning it, which I believe to be a serious mistake in epistemology, and as a consequence, it renders morality obsolete.

  3. Phaedrus, hows it goin'?
    I guess what I'd say in short is that you're using belief and truth in a way that the pragmatist doesn't. For example when you say:
    “But sentences require a belief about the truth to be formulated, which requires a belief in some objective state of nature.”

    Here you're using belief somewhat as though it has a representative character, where the pragmatist sees beliefs as simply “habits of actions”. There too you're grasping onto truth in the same way, but since the pragmatist also sees words as “mere” tools (just one more in a number of human behaviors) your contention doesn't really make sense. Philosophically your playing a different game.