Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

What is “Truth”, and Why is it Important?

April 8, 2012

Part 2: What is the value of Truth?

If every single person has their own version of “the truth”, then what’s the value of even having such a word, or a concept? The most obvious use is that it gives us a starting point for seeking agreement on any given subject, whether the subject is scientific, legal, political, philosophical, religious, or “other”. Within those subjects, we devise a code of behavior by which we can live. Within that code of behavior there are (in my opinion) two basic, distinctly separate sets of guidelines. The first is morality, and the second is ethics.

There have been many definitions of those worlds. In the most simplistic sense, I like to think of morals as the group code of behavior. Ethics are the individual’s code of behavior. These could be exactly the same, but they rarely are. Generally speaking, codes of behavior are truly specific to the individual, no matter how much the individual may strive to adhere to the code of their group.

No matter what the group, each one has a basic code of behavior, although not every single aspect of behavior may be encompassed by that group. Certainly every religion has a highly codified set of behaviors, which are usually all-encompassing in the lives of the adherents of that religion. More to the point, each group has a unique code. While every religion has a morality, each sect and each church has its own variations. Each school or subgroup within that school, each business or division or department within that business, each ethnicity or segment within that ethnicity, each culture and subculture, each neighborhood, and so on, all have their own general codes of behavior. If a person belongs to that group, they are expected to follow that code of behavior as much as possible.

However, while most members will generally identify with the behavioral precepts of the group (or else they would not be a member!), it is within the nature of humans to have their own opinions that may differ with some of the group’s precepts on behavior. That’s where ethics enters into the picture. Whenever the individual differs from the group, they do so because, within their personal set of beliefs, a particular code or behavior of the group is not right for them. If a person finds that there is no general group code to which they can “in good conscience” subscribe, then they must form their own code, which is personal ethics.

Therefore, to be “amoral” does not necessarily mean that a person is “bad”, although every religion and many other organizations (such as governments) would wish you to believe so. On the other hand, if a person considers themselves to be ethical, that does not mean anyone else in the world would consider them to be “good”. Many serial murderers considered themselves to be very ethical. There is little doubt that Tomás de Torquemada, the Dominican friar who was the first Inquisitor General of Spain, considered himself to be highly moral. It is all a matter of viewpoint. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” (Act II, scene 2).

After many years of living, studying, and contemplating, I have come to the belief that the ultimate ethical standard of behavior is to do no deliberate harm to anyone else. That is far more complicated than it sounds, and perhaps no human is capable of completely following that maxim. After all, sometimes just a careless comment to someone can be insulting or otherwise hurtful to them. Still, given that basic maxim, it is then possible to build an entire ethical system by which a person may strive to live–that is, as long as that person subscribes to that particular belief.

Another important reason for understanding “truth” is that we can more easily relate to the behavior of others if we are aware that our truth is not necessarily that of someone else and, even more importantly, that ours is not any more valuable than that of the other person. After all, how can we prove that our truth is correct and that of the other person is wrong? For example, the question of whether or not god exists cannot be proven. For an atheist, how can you prove the non-existence of a non-existent being? By the same token, if god does exist, then which religion is the correct religion and subscribes to the “true” dogma? Many wars have been fought, and many people have died trying to resolve that issue.

… and the Truth Shall Set You Free

How much more tolerance could there be in the world if everyone honestly thought that another person’s truths were just as valuable, within the world of that person, as their own truths are to them? How much more peaceful would the world be if fanatics of all stripes did not seek to impose their “truths” on other people by force? That is not to say that we should never seek to convince another person toward our way of thinking, if invited to do so, by the force of our logic. But, if we do so, we should be just as willing to listen to their counter-arguments. Once again, that is one of the great values of having an open mind. Just like a cage, we have no freedom if the door is locked tight.

What is “Truth”, and Why is it Important?

April 7, 2012

Part 1: What are Truth, Information, and Facts?

There are many words that we bandy about that have deep meaning in our lives, both emotionally and intellectually. Among the most powerful is the word “truth”. Most of us believe we know what the “truth” is, yet it is such an incredible object of argumentation for most of the people in the world. So, what is the truth?

All information you have recorded since you became sentient, all thoughts you have weighed, all external opinions you have absorbed, and all emotions you have felt, have led you to what you believe: to your truths. Some of these truths are as simple as daily activities, such as you might believe you must brush your teeth at least once a day if you want to keep them healthy. Some are as profound as your most deeply held religious and philosophical principles. If you are open-minded and willing to absorb and consider further information on a given subject, you may decide to change what you believe–your truth. However, until that moment, what you believe now is, for you, the truth.

Therefore, the truth is whatever you believe it to be. And that is the truth. There can be no other definition, or even explanation of what truth is. Isn’t that a pretty closed-minded statement? Only if you believe in “universal truths”, that is, statements that would be true for every single person in every single circumstance. But that would mean that every single person would have to share the same circumstances and the same manner of thinking, which would be a very boring universe indeed.

Many writers and speakers try to convince us that what they believe is the truth, the absolute truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you god you’d better damn well believe them. They use phrases such as “it’s a fact” and “the information is clear” and “everyone knows” to try to prove their contentions. Do those words have any value? Let’s examine them.

Information

What we call “information” is everywhere. We gain information from looking at the sky, from tasting objects, from reading books. However, even most information is subjective. For example, we know from looking at a thermometer that the air is at a certain degree (either Celsius or Fahrenheit), but is the temperature warm, hot, or just comfortable? That depends on how our individual body reacts to temperature. We can measure the direction and speed of the wind, but is it a mild breeze or a stiff wind? That depends on how we react to wind, and whether we find that amount of wind to be useful (such as in sailing) or a nuisance (especially when it’s blowing in our face). We can taste a particular bottle of wine, but is the wine bitter, sweet, dry, acidic, full-bodied, or oakie? Does a dish have too much salt or not enough? That depends on our taste buds. While the “information” may be the same for everyone, the opinion about the information may be quite different depending on each person’s preferences.

Facts

Facts are not subject to subjectivity–which is why there are so few of them. A fact is something that can be proven, over and over and over.

The speed of sound is 343 meters per second (1,125 ft/s). At least, it is in dry air at 20 degrees C (68 degrees F). How do we know that? Because many scientists, using different methods, have measured it. No matter who does it, or how they do it, the results always come out the same–as long as the instruments have been calibrated properly and the conditions are similar. Naturally, the speed of sound varies at different temperatures, so we must take that into account when discussing the “fact” of the speed of sound. It also varies when passing through solids or liquids, so we would have to consider the circumstances as well if we wanted to be perfectly objective.

On the other hand, an object pulled by the force of gravity accelerates at 32 ft/sec/sec. The equation for the force of gravity is F = mg, with the general result being that all objects fall at the same rate, regardless of their mass. Gravity on the moon and on other planets would have different values of acceleration due to the different sizes and densities of those bodies, but the effects of the force are similar. Of course, we’re assuming no other influencing factors, such as a parachute slowing down the object due to wind resistance. So, we can pretty much take the acceleration of a falling object on Earth as a fact. But you can see that’s also a bit arbitrary!

There are certain pieces of information that everyone today accepts as facts, many of which were not accepted hundreds of years ago. For example, all heavenly bodies in our solar system revolve around Sol, as proposed in the 3rd Century BC by Aristarchus of Samos. In spite of what the Catholic Church insisted on for centuries, Galileo proved heliocentrism … over and over again. Another fact is that all living objects must have water for their existence. Every living object will someday die. Those are facts. Most of the rest of the things that we know are either raw information or factoids, both subject to interpretation.

What’s a factoid? Something that sounds like a “fact”, but is actually only a generalization of accepted information. For example, the world is round. Really? Actually, the basic shape “approximates an oblate spheroid, a sphere flattened along the axis from pole to pole such that there is a bulge around the equator.” (Milbert, D. G.; Smith, D. A.) It also has such an irregular shape that the highest peak, Mount Everest, is 8,848 meters above local sea level and the deepest “canyon” is the Mariana Trench, 10,911 meters below local sea level. Why “local”? Because even sea level varies from place to place and from time to time. “Sea level” is also a factoid.

Tomorrow: What is the value of Truth?

About My Writing

March 26, 2012

What is the focus of Don Maker’s Blog? None. For me, writing is about catharsis as much as it is about trying to make some money. That’s one of the reasons my writing is so eclectic — although some might say “scattered”!

In the old days, one had to trot down to Berkeley Square (no, not Northern California; it’s a town square in the West End of London, England, and it’s pronounced “Bar’-clay”) and stand on a soap box (preferably a sturdy wooden sort) and harrangue passers-by at the top of your lungs if you wanted others to share in your pithy thoughts on the world. If you were interesting, people might actually stop and listen. Now, we have the internet.

I’m happy to share my views on everything: sports, politics, education, philosophy, religion, the social order (and disorder) of things, nature, finance — you name it, I’ve got an opinion on it! My wife and I have had the good fortune to travel extensively, but if you wish to read my articles on international travel, please click on the link to Yahoo!, because they paid me for them, and they have exclusive rights to them.

Other than travel, if my writing entertains you at all, please feel free to comment, pro or con. While I discourage profanity and personally defamatory remarks, any opinion you care to share is just as valid as mine, and I hope I’m open-minded enough to think seriously about your point of view and respond intelligently (well, as intelligently as is possible for me…). If you REALLY like my writing, then please try one of my novels! They are mostly historical fiction, but again, I’m pretty eclectic/scattered.

Thanks for sharing my world, i.e., blogosphere. Cheers, Don Maker