Question about "There is no truth".

My philosophy of Existentialism professor is a 100% die-hard post-modern Nietszchiean (is that a good categorical description?). He brought up the whole, “there is no truth” and it’s being logically consistent, and he explained why. I’m going to lay it out, and then just ask for comments.

He said that yes, logically it breaks down. You can say “There is no truth” and then say “that’s a self refuting statement” and such. But he said that’s one category, one thing, but there’s a whole other category or thing- the two don’t relate. He said in the other, you look at the set of true things, and it’s empty.

So basically, he’s saying that logical and “the set of things” are totally different (or are/can be in different categories or realms or something). one doesn’t have to do with the other. Hence if that set of true things is empty, then there is no truth. Comments, please. And I’m sure you’re wondering how the terms are defined and such, but since I don’t have them defined yet, I’m just going with what he stated- remember, he’s post-modern and Nietzchiean

If he put this question in terms of “things”, then he is, in my view, a sloppy philosopher. If those “things” are statements, then what he says does make sense. However, he does need to give you some definition of “truth” for this to be useful.

Ask him if there is any such thing as a lie, just for shits and giggles.

If “things” means physical objects, then no there cannot be true things. To many, nothing else exists but physical objects and so for them, “truth” is not something that exists. However, as faust pointed out, “truth” can be a perfectly good description of statements. Statements can be true (without existing). Is the latter what your professor meant by “another category”?

There is no truth, only reason - reasoning brings us to the decisions that we form and make…

What’s reason?

I hope you’re not defining it as something that exists independent of less pure things. I’m kidding :stuck_out_tongue: But reason is a process, a methodology. A process cannot be identified as the set of consistencies that it is, unless it has some ingredients to apply to. Reason is nothing but abstract twaddle unless you include the empirical basis that contributes to it and is used to discover it.

beforHim: your professor fails to point out in his words that “there is no truth” only insofar as you attempt to capture, slay or harness the wild beast of experience into words. In words there is no truth. A basic understanding of Derrida will have you round in perpetual circles if you could only conceive truth in the words you use to encapsulate it.

The truth is the existence that you net and trap like a camera. The words that come afterwards are words to pick apart the incapacitated prey that you have caught.

“…or something”. The question I would ask him is whether he believes it is true that there is no truth. What do you think he would say…or something? (In other words, does that set of truths he says is empty include as a member, the truth that that there is no truth? ). I am curious about how he would reply…or something.

How did he define “the truth” ?

If he is thinking about generic (and absolute) truth, it means “the truth” without any specific reference, frame, dependency, etc.

As we can’t evaluate something without specific reference (or system, perspective, etc), there isn’t generic (and absolute) truth, at least logically speaking.

And this doesn’t contradict itself because the statement is made within logical frame and thus it doesn’t count as the truth (without specific frame/reference).

“Paradox” of this type happens when someone is thinking about “generic” or “absolute” thing, which doesn’t fit within logical evaluation system, yet s/he treats it as if it can be evaluated.

I think we have tendency to overlook the necessity for the specific evaluation system to have useful evaluation result.
Lots of people are talking about all sort of notions/concepts/evaluations without reference to evaluation system to be used.
It’s insane (from logical POV). :slight_smile:

Does the definition of reason matter in the whole scheme of things? should life be lived by definitions, or should life be lived for the amazing experience that it just is…

James Christian (Philosophy: Intro to the Art of Wondering) describes three popular tests for the truth of a proposition (there are lots of other theories about truth and none of them are slam dunk easy either)

  1. Correspondence - The proposition accurately reflects the way “things” actually are, outside our minds, whether our sense perceptions agree or not. “There is sugar in this bowl.” Taste it and find out. This is the everyday definition of truth. But ultimately it is limited to our sense perceptions even when we carry out the verification test. Think about “The Matrix” before Neo swallowed the red pill. How can anyone prove for certain they are not in the matrix or some similar situation? You can’t. Thus, this test for truth has at least a conceptual problem and cannot be fully trusted. In addition, there is often a practical problem of getting direct access to the objects involved in the proposition, so this test is frequently infeasible.

  2. Coherence - A proposition is believed to be true if it fits well with other propositions we have already accepted as true. The better it fits with a lot of previously accepted truths, the more we believe it is true even it cannot be test directly (as in Correspondence). “There are sharks in Lake Mead.” But I already know for certain sharks only live in salt water. I know that for sure and I reject the truth of the proposition because it does not cohere. Until…someone shows me there actually are freshwater species of sharks…in Lake Mead. Now my web of information has to be revised. A good test for new propositions, but certainly not perfect.

  3. Pragmatic - If an idea (proposition) delivers desirable outcomes, it is true. When it stops, it is not. A religous person believes in God and has improved relationships with others as a result. The proposition “God exists” has been made true for that person, at that time. For him, it also coheres well with other information he has accepted over time (religous teaching and some science).The difficulty here is the believer must first believe in God on the correspondence test (above) or this pragmatic aspect won’t ever start to deliver practical results … Under pragmatic tests, Propositions can become false as soon as they are no longer deliver desirable outcomes - and what is desirable can change. So under this test, truth is not fixed and absolute but flowing w events.

Is there truth? If there is, we do not have an iron clad rational test to be sure of when we have it. Thus someone may well say there is none.

  1. is the most accurate definition in my view because this is what we actually mean by “truth” in our common parlance.

#1 is true by virtue of #3?

All claims about truth are about something or other. External reality, morality, politics, and then there are truth claims about truth claims, i.e., meta-truth claims. A meta-claim can exclude itself from the liar’s paradox by excluding from it’s universe of discourse meta-truth claims. I can say, for example, “because I’ve analyzed a sufficient amount of truth claims about everything except other truth claims, and because all these truth claims I’ve analyzed haven’t shown themselves adequate, I generalize that all truth claims which aren’t about other truth claims aren’t adequate, and they’re therefore false.” This is what people who say there’s no truth mean by it, anyways. I don’t immediately see what’s wrong with it.

No, other way around …sort of. The pragmatic paradox (in this context) is that for a proposition to take root as an accepted truth under #3 (pragmatic), the believer(s) first become convinced of #1 on the same proposition.

Belief in God is the most common example, but the proposition “the prescription my doctor gave me will heal me” is another. My doctor has to believe in the propositions’ correspondence to reality in order for that belief to ever work in my life. Once I am better, the belief has been transformed to practical truth in my life and my doctor’s - My doctor and I have given it more than mental ascent as a raw fact. I take the pills and start feeling better - it’s working in a practical way. Of course, the problem here is I might have gotten better without, or even in spite of, the medicine. But still, on the pragmatic test (#3) the proposition is true BECAUSE I started feeling better, not because it was definitely the right prescription. If the same medicine heals me repeatedly it’s working even more and therefore a firmer truth on the pragmatic test - though still never achieving 100% certainty.

As flimsy as it seems in the medicine example, the pragmatic test is powerful. The scientific method relies heavily on the pragmatic test for truth (if the experiement doesn’t WORK consistently the theory is not proven). Thus we have continuing revisions in almost every area of the science as the tests become more specific. Eienstein did not grab some space and check that it was curved (correspondence test for truth), but all pragmatic tests for the proposition have worked so far - thus, for now, his theory is true.

This is very helpful. i think the tests James Christian outlines (and others) are how those other truth claims are analyzed and found to be inadequate on one criteria or another, never an iron-clad guarantee of truth. So then excluding meta truth claims as you suggest, it becomes clearer why someone could take the position “there is no truth”…

Good, but I can imagine someone asking - why exempt the category where the most common objection is found? This seems like a cop-out to someone challenging the proposition. That is, I say “There is no truth…” and someone rebuts “is that statement true?” and I say “I’ve excluded meta-truth claims” and they say “why?”

So is the justification for excluding the meta truth claims that we know our language can be constructed to create such paradoxes ? Are there other reasons for excluding the meta-truth claims?

Good point. One response I can think of is that it’s precisely because ascertaining the truth value of meta-claims is problematic that the person decided to limit his universe of discourse to just regular truth claims. One does it because it is only those claims that can justifiably be said to be not true. In other words, you limit your universe of discourse because you realize your evidence or reasons imply only that and nothing further; because the expansion of the universe of discourse to meta-truth claims seems unwarranted.

And really, there’s some merit to this way of thinking, because the refutation of the claim that there is no truth through the liar’s paradox seems petty. It works, yes, no doubt about it, but it seems to work on a technicality. The refutation never touches the person’s reasons which do imply that a great majority of truth claims are false. The problem exists because the person with the reasons is too hasty and too greedy. By generalizing about all truth claims, the person inadvertently falsifies his own claim, and he basically allows for the opposition to throw away the baby with the bathwater.

I think the person refuting “there is no truth” will now say: “I do not think the truth value of all meta claims is problematic. ‘There is truth’ is true. ‘There is no truth’ is false. This is self consistent whereas ‘there is no truth’ is not. Show me why it is otherwise. ‘This sentence is false’ and similar paradoxes are a quirk of human language, nothing more. it may be challenging to attain truth, especially in certain areas, but that does not mean truth does not exist at all.”

How now shall we defend “there is no truth”?
Doesn’t this bring us back to how we define / test truth ?
To that end, I am unclear on something - When we say “there is no truth” are we saying it :
a) in the same sense that a falling tree in the woods makes no sound if there are no ears to hear it? That is, we conclude we can never be certain on rational grounds when we have a true proposition for lack of a sufficient test. We have no ears to hear and therefore no truth as far as we know. The shortcoming is with us being inadequate to detect what is real, Or …
b) in a metaphysical sense? Like there are no unicorns to be seen, only imagined. If truth existed I might attain it with my reason, but it doesn’t, so I don’t. The problem (lack of truth) is that I have imagined truth in my mind, but it is not real.

All good information. I agree, without my prof’s definitions, I’ll never know exactly what he means. Yet if I were to discuss this with him, I’m a VERY amateur philosopher, and hence I’d not be able to follow him well enough to see the coherence and/or inconsistencies in his thinking.

(Entering into you guy’s discussion) Could one say “since certain logical statements are not logical yet the proposition does exist, illogical propositions do exist and hence logic can’t be a tool for measuring truth.”? Like I said, I’m very green at all this, so I’m just probing.

Right - but #3 isn’t what we mean by truth (unless you’re a pragmatist of course).

One important thing to remember about logic: Logic cannot establish what is definitely true, but it can be very useful for discovering what is false or highly suspect. Logic by itself is a negative test which eliminates options, not a positive confirmation for isolating the one that is “the truth”.

For example:

  1. All women are tall
  2. My wife is a woman
  3. my wife is tall

There are three propositions (1, 2, 3) which make truth claims. Being propositions there is not much logical content to be analyzed on the surface. They are correct or they are not. Here they are combined to form a deductive argument (two premises and one conclusion). The overall argument follows an accepted form of logic (a valid syllogism). But it is the first premise (proposition) that is flawed (badly). Following the example further - we need to define what tall means but let’s go with an everyday concept there. If I show even one woman shorter than what we consider tall, the first premise is devasated and the argument is shown to be unsound even though it has a logical form overall. And we still don’t know the truth of the conclusion - is my wife tall or isn’t she? We would have to check her specific height against our definition of tall, but this argument doesn’t bother with that because it is poorly conceived for the conclusion it is trying to prove.

So logical reasoning has helped us sift through the nature of this argument and see what is good and bad about it, but on its own logic has not established the truth about my wife’s height. We need to combine it with evidence/observation to get closer to that.