a cry towards the absurd

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on theories

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Posted by km on Tuesday, February 04, 2003 at 20:05:44 :

Consider the following example:

To talk about truth, it seems as if we must presuppose that we are talking truthfully. In other words, we assume to know something about the meaning of the word in our attempt to define it.

--This is why claims that "There is no truth" seem contradictory: if true, it cannot be true (b/c it claims there is no truth).

Claims such as this are typically refuted on precisely these logical grounds: the claims themselves are contradictory; they cannot possibly be true.

However, although i do not myself advocate the view that "there is no truth," i think these sorts of criticisms misunderstand the claim that there is no truth.

There is little debating that analytically speaking, "there is no truth" is contradiction: it contradicts the meaning of true or truth.

However, the person who makes such a claim need not deny this. Often, what she is claiming is that we, as human beings, are not in a position to speak of truth in the "traditional" sense.

What is the "traditional sense"? It is that sense of "true" according to which truth is correspondence with something essentially non-human in nature--something "pure".

This is why cultural relativists, who emphasize the role that culture and language plays in our thoughts and beliefs, often hold that there is "no truth": we have no way of accessing, or knowing, this "pure" reality.

The relativists, then, is generally faced with the paradox that her claim also seems to be lodged with a culture, and cannot be taken as true.

She thus faces the same problem as the un-explicated claim that there is no truth.

Perhaps this can be clarified by giving other examples that seem to exhibit this characteristic:

determinism: if we have no choice but to believe in X, then who are we to say that X is true? But then who are we to say that determinism is true?

Freudianism: all or most beliefs are the product of subconcious desires, repressions, etc. But then shouldn't the Freudian theory itself be included in this category, as merely the product of unconscious desires?

Strict Evolutionism: evolution has formed us a certain way without any concern for "the truth." But then how can we affirm evolutionism?

--------all of these theories seem to face the same theoretical difficulty. What we notice about all of them is that they make a universal claim which in turn excludes them from asserting thier own truth. This is what has been called "self-referential incoherence".

--------but do these "theoretical" considerations really effect the standing of the theories. For instance, regardless of these considerations, it certainly seems LOGICALLY POSSIBLE that IN FACT everything we believe is a function of subconcious desires. It also is of course possible that determinism is true--regardless of our ability to assert the theory without the sort of incoherence described above. Finally, it might very well be the case that, as human beings, we are not in an epistemological position to claim access to "the truth."

---It seems to me that the charge of self-refential incoherence confuses epistemology with metaphysics, but i'm not sure exactly how it does so. On one hand, the sort of incoherence these theories demonstrate does seem to tell against accepting them. But on the other hand, to reject them on this ground is to lose sight of the fact that it is nonetheless logically possible that they might in fact be true: determinism could be true without our ability to assert it without incoherence.

Perhaps all any of this tells us is something about the concept of truth.

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