Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, June 19, 2017

Week 3 Is truth ever-changing like James suggests in Lecture VII

I had never wrestled with the concept of the “truth” being ever-changing. I always assumed the truth to be final and resolute. It had never dawned on me that the concepts that we find as “truth” in our lifetime, evolve over time as new generations discover and uncover more information. But this is a very accurate and interesting assessment. The people that held the assertion that the world was flat, held that to be an absolute truth, until it was discovered that the world was actually round. Many discoveries have been made over the centuries that cause the old “truths” to be re-formatted and re-defined. And as time goes on, and more knowledge is acquired those re-formatted and re-defined truths will become altered again.  James offers that, “We have to live to-day by what truth we can get to-day, and be ready to-morrow to call it falsehood” and I do agree with the necessity to be flexible in our assessment of perceived truth and understand that there may not be finality in ideals we think of as truth, but that the only real truth in “truth” is that it is ever-changing.  Another difficult for me within philosophy is the ability to be swayed by logical reasoning. James’ viewpoints are those of rational, logical explanation. His assertion that “THE truth is simply an abstraction from the facts of the truth in the plural “is a powerful theory that I had never entertained before reading his works. But the danger for me is being easily swayed at present until I uncover a different perspective that shifts my opinion and my “truth” again in a different direction. At times it seems the cycle is never-ending and I wonder what are my actual beliefs and will I ever find an semblance of an absolute truth?


  1. “We have to live to-day by what truth we can get to-day, and be ready to-morrow to call it falsehood” - admitting our fallibility is hard, individually and as a species. James says we should attach an "ever not quite' to all our confident assertions. But he's not advocating relativism or (in the Colbert vernacular) "truthiness," he's a scientist and truth-seeker. He's just noticed that science progresses as much through its errors as its successes, and he got from his bumptious friend Peirce the insight that progress over the long haul will have to involve many admissions of previous error. This is particularly hard psychologically and personally, because we become so attached to our own home truths. But as he also says, the facts are what they are. The truth about the facts is more variable, dependent on the shifting sands of time and circumstance. A good pragmatist surfs the sands and tries not to miss the important lessons of history. There are still flat-earthers among us, just as there are still people who would deny others their full humanity. Attention to truths and how they're perceived or suppressed should, then, instill a humility about The Truth that opens us to the reception of new ideas and possibilities. And that's why he was so drawn to JS Mill's advocacy of a free and unfettered exchange of ideas, and to the active cultivation of eccentricity and novelty. There's a real commitment to creative exploration in this philosophy, and an aversion to finality and stubborn insistence on one's own total rectitude.

  2. Vega,
    Thank you for your essay. I was reading James's remarks on "The Meaning of the Word Truth," and wanted to share that with you. "My account of truth is realistic, and follows the epistemological dualism of common sense. Suppose I say to you 'The thing exists' -- is that true or not? How can you tell? Not till my statement has developed its meaning farther is it determined as being true, false, or irrelevant to reality altogether. But if now you ask 'what thing?' and I reply 'a desk'; if you ask 'where?' and I point to a place; if you ask 'does it exist materially, or only in imagination?' and I say 'materially'; if moreover I say 'I mean that desk,' and then grasp and shake a desk which you see just as I have described it, you are willing to call my statement true...This notion of a reality independent of either of us, taken from ordinary social experience, lies at the base of the pragmatist definition of truth." As I read this I thought of how many different ways the word truth is expressed in over seven thousand languages in the world. While we are studying the Anglo-American mind can truth have a different meaning in different cultures. Is truth for a white American different than for a black American? If we confine what is "true" to an object (desk), we should hopefully find universal agreement, but can we expect the same success if we apply it to an abstract term?

  3. My wife is always telling me that we must live in our truth. Yet, we acknowledge that our truth is forever evolving. Consider what we learned from Dr. Smith in our course on climate change, our truth has been changed for the better and that was the truth in Smith's actions towards us. Now, the fact that #45 does not want to acknowledge that truth is another topic for another day.

  4. I really enjoy reading what you guys write. It is very interesting.
    Truth: I have, for several years, operated on the correspondence theory of truth. Truth is that which corresponds to reality. If it is real, it is true. If it is not real, it is not true. If 2x8 is 16 today, it will always be 16, anywhere in the universe. Truth is also not contingent upon what we think about it. We can believe something is not true, but that doesn't change the fact that it is true. If truth was variable, science would be impossible and so would philosophy. Yes, at one time people thought the earth was flat and geocentricism was true. Neither was true...they were only perceived as true. Neither was reality. The only way truth changes is if the thing it represents changes. If my son is 3 feet tall today, that is reality and that is truth. If he grows an inch he becomes 3'1" tall. This is the new reality and the old height is no longer reality and, therefore, no longer true.