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Is it conceivable that there are truths about science, nature or the universe

Is it conceivable that there are truths about science, nature or the universe that we are better off not knowing? What might some such truths be?

There have recently been psychological studies showing that people tend to have somewhat inflated views about themselves in terms of their own attractiveness. Those whose self-images most closely mathced other people's actual assessments of them tended to be depressed. So that is one example.

Another comes from Greek mythology (see Aeschylus's Agamemnon from his trilogy, the Oresteia). Cassandra seduced Apollo, and promised to have sex with him if he gave her the gift of prophesy. He agreed and gave her that gift, but then she reneged on heer part of the deal. So Apollo added the curse that no one would ever believe Cassandra's prophesies. Cassandra "sees" that she (and her captor, Agamemnon) are about to be mercilessly slaughtered in his home. But there's nothing she can do about it, and no one will listen to her when she wails out her terrors...

There's an old blues song that goes, "Nobody loves me but my mama...but she may be jivin', too." So there's another option for you!

Is all truth subjective?

Is all truth subjective? A subjective truth is a truth based off of a person's perspective, feelings, or opinions. Everything we know is based off of our input - our senses, our perception. Thus, everything we know is subjective. All truths are subjective. Do you think all truths are subjective? If not, what is wrong with the above argument?

Your argument is:

(1) Our senses and perception are subjective.

(2) Everything we know is based on on our senses and perceptions.


(3) Everything we know is subjective.

There is a well-known difficulty with this argument. It equivocates on "subjective". In the first premise "subjective" means something like the innocuous "possessed by a subject", but in the conclusion it is presumably taken to mean the toxic "not having any objective truth". There is also a doubt about the second premise. Many philosophers accept the idea of "a priori" truths, that is, truths that hold independently of experience, including mathematical truth and perhaps ethical truths, if there are any.

Are historical facts always true, throughout time?

Are historical facts always true, throughout time? Consider the fact that Barack Obama is the forty-fourth president of the United States of America. Was it true two hundred years ago? If someone in the nineteenth century had said "Barack Obama is the forty-fourth president of the United States of America", would it have been true?

This is an excellent question and one that is much debated historically and today. It has implications about freedom and determinism, logic, and the philosophy of God, good and evil. It seems that classical logic requires that propositions are either true or false. "Barack Obama is the forty-fourth president of the USA" appears to be a proposition. And we have found it to be true. But in that case, it seems that Obama could not have failed to have won the election against McCain. It has seemed to some (but certainly not all) philosophers that this would mean Obama's election was fixed in some sense, perhaps determined. Some who worry about this problem are theists who think that if God knows from eternity that in August of 2011 you would ask your question, then there is no possibility that you would not have typed in and submitted your question to Askphilosophers. For many theists, it is vital to affirm that creatures / human beings have free agency, otherwise it would seem that God has determined humans to be evil. The other worry about what is called future free contingents (the fancy term for propositions that refer to future events that appear to involve freedom and contingency) has to do with whether there even could be such future propositions. It seems that for a proposition to be true there must be SOMETHING in virtue of which the proposition is true. But in the 19th century, Obama did not exist; he did not exist then, nor was he existing in the 21st century. From this line of reasoning (which was probably Aristotle's), we should hold that propositions involving future free contingents are neither true nor false. Theists who take this position (like Richard Swinburne) contend that even an omniscient God does not know about future free continents. According to Swinburne, God knows all possible truths and because propositions about future free contingents is neither true nor false and thus cannot (by definition) be known by any being of any kind, such propositions about the future are not the sort of thing that even God knows.

It is often said that people have the right to hold whatever beliefs they want,

It is often said that people have the right to hold whatever beliefs they want, even if they fly in the face of fact. To what extent is this true? There is surely no serious problem with a person believing that tulips are hallucinogenic (the worst case scenario is that they will be disappointed), but there is surely something wrong with a parent believing that large doses of arsenic is an integral part of a healthy child's diet. Is harm really the only factor that matters? Do people have a duty to hold true opinions if they are able to do so? Do people have the right to try and correct the false beliefs of others?

"Private," Hobbes writes in Leviathan, regarding the nature of beliefs, "is in secret free." These words are, I think, absolutely correct, and pertinent in the context of your excellent question, regarding whether agents have a right to hold whatever beliefs they wish, and whether other agents--and maybe even the state--have a right to correct those false beliefs. Hobbes's point is that the state need not concern itself with agents' beliefs, provided that those beliefs are not made publicly manifest; similarly, insofar as agents' beliefs do not interfere with the lives of others, then the state, and indeed, most other agents, have no right to try to change those beliefs. I am inclined to think that this point is broadly correct, since I'm inclined to favor minimal state interference with individuals. There is a question, however, whether agents have an epistemic duty to try to achieve true beliefs. This topic was the subject of an exchange between William James and W. K. Clifford, in which Clifford maintained that agents had an absolute duty to proportion their beliefs to the evidence, and James demurred; the basis for this disagreement was different conceptions of the point of belief. If one thinks that belief aims at the truth, an agent who does not even seek to achieve the truth may not even count as a believer, or at the very least, not a responsible believer; if, however, one holds some alternative conception of the nature and aim of belief, then one might not think that beliefs do indeed need to aim at truth. But what is it to believe something? This question, which has gripped philosophers interested in the theory of knowledge--epistemology--from Plato to the present, and in order satisfactorily to resolve your question, one needs to come to terms with it.

Does certainty suggest or indicate truth?

Does certainty suggest or indicate truth?

Descartes sought certainty because he thought that if we know something with certainty, then it must be true. And he was right, if only because 'S knows that p' implies p, so that in 'We know with certainty that . . .' the phrase "with certainty" is redundant; there is no such thing as uncertain knowledge. I suspect that the sense of your question may be Cartesian: is it the case that certainty implies truth? There are several concepts to sort out here: 'We know for sure, or for certain, or with certainty that . . .', 'I am certain (sure) that . . .', 'I feel certain, sure, that . . .', 'It is certain that . . .' (but not 'It is sure that . . .') There is a very useful paper by G.E. Moore called "Certainty" that might be helpful here, which is sensitive to distinctions of this kind. Sean is right in his response above that psychological certainty or "feeling certain" may not be a mark of truth, though I wonder whether anyone has troubled to test the correlation empirically in humans, and whether it makes sense to think about testing it in animals. On the other hand it also seems correct that if something is indeed certain, e.g. that 7×9 = 63, then '7×9 = 63' is true.

In the effect to come to knowledge about reality that is the truth about "how

In the effect to come to knowledge about reality that is the truth about "how things are or came to be," What role if any should religious authorities ( such as one's minister or priest) or religious writings (such as the Old Testament or the Koran) play in helping to determine the truth?

In order to determine what role, if any, religion generally should play in knowledge about "how things are or came to be," it is essential first to know just what 'things' are at issue. For example, it seems to me that if the 'things' in question are truths about morality, then religion generally may well have a role to play; by contrast, it seems to me that if the 'things' in question are truths about the nature of the physical world, say, then it's not clear to me that religion has any role whatsoever to play in helping us to gain knowledge of such truths. (I write here not from any particular standpoint on the issue: indeed, even the great seventeenth-century French philosopher and theologian Nicolas Malebranche, who famously believed in the truth of occasionalism, the view that God is the only real cause in the universe, and, hence that all changes in the universe were effected by God's causal power, did not think that appeals to God were relevant in the context of giving scientific explanations. "One would make oneself ridiculous," Malebranche writes in his first, and to my mind, greatest and most philosophically significant work, The Search After Truth, "if one said, for example, that it is God who dries roads, or who freezes the ice in rivers. It must be said that air dries the earth, because....and that the air or the subtle matter freezes the river in winter, because in this time....In a word, the natural and particular cause of the effects in question must be given, if it is possible.")

Does there exist objective truths about what football (soccer) team is the best?

Does there exist objective truths about what football (soccer) team is the best? My friends keep telling me that it's possible, on the basis of statistics, to say that Spain objectively is the best national team in the world. I say there are no objective truths about these things. It would be extremely interesting to have a philosophers perspective on this!

Great question. I use a similar question on my first day of my Intro to Philosophy class to help my students see that not all questions have either objective answers or subjective answers. (I use "What is the greatest rock band of all time?" to make the point.) Objectively answerable questions are ones for which we have agreed-upon methods for finding a single correct answer: Is earth bigger than mars? How many humans are in this room? What is the capital of Nigeria? ... even if we don't yet know the answer: How many planets in the Milky Way have water on them? What will I weigh at noon on Jan 21, 2012?

Subjectively answerable questions are ones that depend only on the opinion of the person answering the question: What's your favorite color? What is your favorite rock band? What is your favorite soccer team?

But what about: What is the best rock band of all time? What is the best national soccer team in the world right now? (or: Why does Hamlet wait so long to avenge his father? What led to World War II?) These questions do not seem to be objective, nor subjective. I call them normatively answerable. By that, I just mean that we have norms about what counts as better and worse answers and also norms about what counts as better and worse ways or methods of answering them, though these methods may not point to a single correct answer. We also expect people to offer justifications for their answers to these questions and we make judgments about whether their justifications are defensible, irrelevant, etc.

The Beatles and Rolling Stones are defensible answers. Back Street Boys and In Sync are not. (Of course, the best answer is Led Zeppelin, which I can defend some other time.) Spain is a very defensible answer to what is the best soccer team. Alas, the USA is not. We could provide justifications both for the specific answer and for the methods we use to obtain it.

Here's a defensible method: The reigning champion of the World Cup is the best national team (especially if it is also the reigning European champion). So, Spain. But there are other defensible methods, including ones that use statistics (win/loss/tie ration, possession percentage, goals for/against, etc.). Without looking them up, I'd guess Spain is best on just about any of these measures. So, at this point the answer to this question may be easier than at other times.

Note that if the relevant community comes to complete agreement about how to answer a question, it looks objective. What is the best movie of the year? If we all agree it's the winner of the Oscar, then the answer is objective. But typically, we have lively debates about what methods are best to answer such questions, so they remain 'normatively answerable.' (I think most, if not all, ethical questions are normatively answerable.)

I hope this helps. And I hope that someday the US might be the best answer to the soccer question, but it might take a while.

If elegance or simplicity is an indicator of truth in math or science, is this

If elegance or simplicity is an indicator of truth in math or science, is this principle inductive? For instance: when a theorist claims simplicity in support of his theory, is he saying in effect "Well, in the past I've found that simpler theories tend to be correct; so simplicity should be taken to favor my theory in this case." Or is there supposed to be something else, something intrinsic to simplicity, perhaps, which makes it significant?

t does not seem to me that appeals to this principle are based on induction--although there may well be cases in which the appeal is so based, and, consequently, I think that case studies of the extent to which this principle is applied, and when it is applied, on what basis, would be very interesting and most illuminating. It seems to me to that appeals to this sort of principle rest on one of a variety of methodological--or one might even say, metaphysical, presuppositions, of which I give a couple of examples: (i) a principle of epistemic parsimony or conservatism, that one should not multiply theoretical entities unnecessarily (sometimes called 'Ockham's razor') and that, consequently, one should prefer simpler to more complicated explanations when all else is equal; (ii) perhaps in conjunction with (i)--although they need not be conjoined--an assumption that the phenomenon in question ought to be simple, because the phenomenon is an instantiation, say, of a divine plan (cf. Einstein, "God does not play dice"), or because nature is simple (an assumption that strikes me as unwarranted), and so a hypothesis meant to apply to nature ought also to be simple as well.

What would be the better choice: truth that will make you bitter or a lie that

What would be the better choice: truth that will make you bitter or a lie that would make you happy? Let's say truth would be the better choice. Now the follow-up question: what is there to truth that makes it more valuable than happiness, even if this happiness is produced by a lie?

Here's one way to respond. If one were to suppose, with Kant, that human dignity is intinsically valuable, and that lying to another--even if that lie would promote the other's happiness, say by sparing that person a harsh and painful truth--does not respect that person' dignity, by failing to--in Kant' terminology--treat that person as an end-in-itself worthy of respect--then one might therefore conclude that one has a duty to tell others the truth, and, since, again according to Kant, duty does not admit of exceptions, one cannot compromise that duty in any cae whatsoever, regardless of the consequences of so doing.

Of course, this response presupposes some very strong claims about the nature of human beings and the significance of duty. Implicit, too, is the assumption that morality is more intrinsically valuable than happiness. This is not to say that Kant, or a Kantian, wouldn't recognize the significance of promoting the happiness of others--if I remember correctly, Kant does so, explicitly, in Groundwork 1--but rather that the demands of duty, for Kant, take precedence over promoting the happiness of others.

If, by contrast, one took the maximization of happiness as the basis for deciding which acts are permissible, one might have reason to tell a lie in order to promote the happiness of another. (Although it's not clear that in the case under consideration, even a utilitarian who takes as her ultimate end the maximization of happiness would endorse lying. Her reasons for so doing, of course, would differ significantly from that of the Kantian, and, I must confess that I find the Kantian approach more intuitively attractive than other alternatives.)

Is it true that knowledge is the same as truth

Is it true that knowledge is the same as truth

You are asking whether it is true that T=K (knowledge and truth are the same). From your asking this, I conclude that you don't know whether T=K. If truth and knowledge were the same, then lack of knowledge would be lack of truth. So, assuming T=K is true, we derive the conclusion that T=K is false.

Better then to suppose that knowledge and truth are not the same.

And of course they aren't. Something may be true and yet not be known by many or not be known by anyone at all. For example, take the following two sentences: "with optimal play, white can always win in chess" and "it is not the case that, with optimal play, white can always win in chess". One of these sentences is certainly true; but no one yet knows which one it is. (Or, if anyone does now, they haven't told me, so I don't know which is true.)