Saturday, February 24, 2007

I believe that some writers have done the following

1. Find a blindingly obvious claim
"Beliefs are socially created"
"Everything that we imagine is just an idea in a mind"
"Humans discovered Neptune"
"Early 19th century Germany has a ruler"

2. Replace one word with a new word so that it becomes a shocking claim which many will consider absurd (perhaps because it is)

"Truth is socially created"
"Everything that we perceive is just an idea in a mind"
"Humans invented Neptune"
"Early 19th century Germany has a constitution"

3. Define or explain the new word so that the shocking statement becomes equivalent to the obvious claim. Pretend that you have refuted those who said the claim was absurd which demonstrates that it is arguably valid yet so original as to appear, at first, to be absurd.

I consider this to be an extraordinary waste of time. I am very confident that it is a common practice.

Update: My faith in google is seriously dented. This post comes out first in a google search for "who invented Neptune" *ahead* of Brad DeLong's post.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Clever, but truth may be socially created. I have to think to William James and CS Pierce, but I think often so.

anne

Anonymous said...

No; truth is often socially created, of that I am immediately sure but now need to think further.

Anonymous said...

An especially clever post to play with.

anne

Anonymous said...

No; for William James the truth of an idea is the difference it makes in our lives which is perfectly acceptable. mMany truths at least are not and cannot be apart for our having lived. James is right.

anne

Robert said...

Wow 4 real comments (and I might add no spam at all). I think that's a record. Even more amazingly new blogger seems to work and allows me to accept comments (until now I had to copy them from the e-mails old blogger sent me because when I tried to accept them old blogger gave me an error message).

Now I think that real things are socially created. customs and norms develope making statements like "it is customary to use dirty words on blogs" damn straight true. Also buildings are socially built and they exist, so it is true to say "There is an empire state building" and it was socially constructed.

This is obvious as it is obvious that beleifs are socially constructed. Aside from these obvious ways, I don't think truth is socially constructed. I might be wrong, but my aim was to discuss a rhetorical trick and, in particular, an invalid argument for the claim that truth is socially constructed.

As to CS Pierce, he proposed a new definition of truth. He wanted an operational definition, one based on a conditional statement which could in theory be tested. He wrote something like "the true answer to a question is the answer that all people who investigate the issue must come to believe and such answers are the truth". This meanst that truth is, by definition, socially constructed.

I think that "truth" with the the old pre Pierce definition is a useful word, that Pierce should have invented a new word for his new definition (call it ptruth) and that "ptruth" is not a useful word.

However, Pierce did not use any rhetorical tricks. He said what he was doing and he was, here and always, serious and eager to present his ideas honestly.

Anonymous said...

Ah, you are right and clever, but the nature of truth answering to the difference made in our lives made by conditions is not to be dismissed. There is in this pragmatic sense an ethical component of truth as William James argued. How far can I take this however? Besides, no one agreed with James though CS Pierce would have liked to had he been psychologically able to.

anne

Anonymous said...

"Things tell a story," James wrote, and that the Empire state Buildings exists isless important as a truth or a limited truth compared with the story told by the building.

Anonymous said...

http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/james.htm

1904

What Pragmatism Means
By William James

SOME YEARS AGO, being with a camping party in the mountains, I returned from a solitary ramble to find every one engaged in a ferocious metaphysical dispute. The corpus of the dispute was a squirrel – a live squirrel supposed to be clinging to one side of a tree-trunk; while over against the tree's opposite side a human being was imagined to stand. This human witness tries to get sight of the squirrel by moving rapidly round the tree, but no matter how fast he goes, the squirrel moves as fast in the opposite direction, and always keeps the tree between himself and the man, so that never a glimpse of him is caught. The resultant metaphysical problem now is this: Does the man go round the squirrel or not? He goes round the tree, sure enough, and the squirrel is on the tree; but does he go round the squirrel? In the unlimited leisure of the wilderness, discussion had been worn threadbare. Every one had taken sides, and was obstinate; and the numbers on both sides were even. Each side, when I appeared therefore appealed to me to make it a majority. Mindful of the scholastic adage that whenever you meet a contradiction you must make a distinction, I immediately sought and found one, as follows: "Which party is right," I said, "depends on what you practically mean by 'going round' the squirrel. If you mean passing from the north of him to the east, then to the south, then to the west, and then to the north of him again, obviously the man does go round him, for he occupies these successive positions. But if on the contrary you mean being first in front of him, then on the right of him, then behind him, then on his left, and finally in front again, it is quite as obvious that the man fails to go round him, for by the compensating movements the squirrel makes, he keeps his belly turned towards the man all the time, and his back turned away. Make the distinction, and there is no occasion for any farther dispute. You are both right and both wrong according as you conceive the verb 'to go round' in one practical fashion or the other."

Although one or two of the hotter disputants called my speech a shuffling evasion, saying they wanted no quibbling or scholastic hair-splitting, but meant just plain honest English 'round,' the majority seemed to think that the distinction had assuaged the dispute....

Anonymous said...

That was me.

anne

Alessandra P. said...

On truth being socially constructed there's a famous quote by Joseph Goebbels, Nazi Minister of Propaganda: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”