Truth and Alternatives

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Truth and Alternatives

How does one judge something?  The Western tradition judges based on truth.  This is because truth is the highest value in the Western tradition.  Other traditions have other highest values which they would use to judge.  I will consider truth and then alternatives.

Philosophy is supposed to seek the deepest truth.  Unfortunately it rarely does this.  Often it just plays semantic games.  Much of it is like Humpty Dumpty:

"I don't know what you mean by 'glory,' " Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. "Of course you don't—till I tell you. I meant 'there's a nice knock-down argument for you!' "
"But 'glory' doesn't mean 'a nice knock-down argument'," Alice objected.
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."

Words should retain their common meaning.  If they don't, then one is creating confusion rather than insight.  I myself am guilty of this which is why I am writing this post.  In the past, I talked about "relative truth".  But in fact this is nonsense because the common meaning of truth is absolute.

Let me look at the real meanings of the word "true":

1.  Logically true.  This comes from formal logic.  Math is an extension of logic.  A statement is true in a logical system if it can be derived from the axioms of that system.
2.  A boolean literal in computer programming.  This is relevant because programming uses the concepts of a culture to express algorithms, and the type boolean expresses the concept of truth.
3.  Corresponds to reality.  This is the most common usage and comes from the correspondence theory of truth.  This concept is fundamentally absolute.  This truth is also boolean and requires logical consistency which means that two statements that logically conflict cannot both be true.  This concept originates with Plato.

It is hard for members of Western culture to think in terms of alternatives to truth.  But in fact other cultures had fundamentally different ways of looking at the world which did not involve truth.  It probably requires an entire book to convey these other view.  So I will start by recommending the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which discusses the Ancient Athenian Arete.  "Arete" means excellence and was the highest value of Athenians.  Judgement was based on what is best.  The details of what is good was widely discussed and agreed on by the culture.  Correspondence truth simply wasn't a concept.  But they had other concepts like Logos which implied that reason could help determine what is good.  Later when Plato's truth became dominant, the concept of Logos absorbed truth.

Another alternative to truth comes from the Old Testament.  This is the Hebrew word "emet".  I would translate this word as "trustworthy" or "trustworthiness".  The book that fully explains this concept is The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture.  This book takes the approach I used to take which is to say that emet is a concept of truth based on reliability.  But I think it is better to just not associate emet with truth at all.  The words "reliable" and "trustworthy" are synonyms, so one can use either word.  The book uses "reliable" but I prefer "trustworthy" just because it sounds more positive.  Hebrew also has a word like the Greek "logos" which is the Hebrew "davar".

The difference between "emet" and "arete" is that "arete" is current goodness while "emet" is the aggregate of all expected future goodness.  This is why Athens produced spectacular goodness and then died while the Old Testament (indirectly) produced goodness throughout history.

Let's contrast trustworthy with true.  True is absolute.  Trustworthy is not absolute because what may be trustworthy in one environment may not be in another environment.  For example keeping the Sabbath is a trustworthy way to sustain the religion of the Old Testament but not of Islam.  But daily prayer is the trustworthy way to sustain Islam but not the Old Testament.  So each practice is trustworthy in its own context.  But in some cases there will be universal consistency.  For example a scientific theory is trustworthy if it can be trusted to predict experimental results.  This kind of trustworthiness will be universal across time and space.  But even this may depend on other kinds of context as I will explain.

Logical truth is relative to the truth system based on its axioms.  Geometry is an example.  Euclidean geometry is based on five axioms.  Modifying the fifth axiom produces other non-Euclidean geometries.  All this sounds abstract, but science applies this to reality.  Newton's Laws are based on Euclidean geometry while General Relativity is based on a non-Euclidean geometry.  So here we have two scientific theories describing the same reality using conflicting logical systems.  Newton's Laws are trustworthy within our scale of mass and speed.  General Relativity works on broader scale and Newton's Laws turn out to be an approximation of General Relativity at our scale.  Based on the absolute boolean concept of truth, one would be forced to call Newton's Laws false.  But based on trustworthiness, one would call Newton's Laws trustworthy at human scale.

In quantum mechanics, the correspondence theory of truth causes real problems.  For example the single photon version of the double-slit experiment shows that light acts both as a wave and a particle at the same time.  If we try to make light correspond to any concept in our mind, then the results of the experiment make no sense.  But thinking based on trustworthiness eliminates the need to look for corresponding concepts, and we can just say that light is what it is and we have no need to conceptualize it.  Deeper quantum mechanics is even worse.  This says that in reality every object behaves like a probability distribution, not like an object as we think of it.  The correspondence theory of truth demands an interpretation and the poor physicists try, but nothing is satisfying.  Once again, focusing on trustworthiness eliminates the problem and simply says that the math works.

What about conflicting stories in the Old Testament and the Quran?  Based on truth, these stories cannot both be true.  But if one focuses on trustworthiness, there is no conflict.  Unlike a scientific theory, these stories cannot be experimentally tested so their trustworthiness does not depend on this.  It is important that the stories are logically consistent with the rest of the religion.  But there is no absolute standard for logical comparison.  The most important aspect of these stories is that they can be trusted to support the values of their religion.  So the core point here is that conflicting stories can be accepted as trustworthy but not as true.  Someone who focuses on truth must choose between the stories.  Someone who focuses on trustworthiness has no need to choose and can accept both in context.

I personally take the Old Testament view and use trustworthiness as my core standard of judgement.  I do not use correspondence truth.  Of course I understand the concept of truth, but it is not a tool I use.  It is not part of my mental toolbox that I use for judgement.

As a programmer, I would like to mention what a trustworthiness type would be like.  The type boolean corresponds to truth with just two possible values.  A type trustworthiness would hold a real (floating point) number between -1 and 1.  The value 0 would mean that you have no idea whether something will deliver the goodness that you expect.  The value -1 means that you can count on it not delivering goodness and maybe count on it to deliver badness.  So we can write this equation:

long term value = trustworthiness * importance

It is somewhat interesting that the etymology of "true" shows that it used to mean trustworthy.  This shouldn't be surprising since this seems to be the natural concept for cultures before they are exposed to Plato.  But this is the past and now Plato owns the word "true" so I make no claim on it and simply give it up.

Returning to the Old Testament, English translations translate "emet" as "true".  This is wrong, but then there are so words that are mistranslated that the English versions of the Old Testament are hopeless.  One simply needs to look at the Hebrew to get the real meaning.  From the Hebrew one can see that concept of the correspondence theory of truth simply doesn't exist in the Old Testament.  The core values are goodness and trustworthiness.

Christianity merged the Old Testament with Plato.  Christianity holds truth as the highest value (regardless of whether Christianity actually is true or not).  The Gospel of John makes this particularly clear.  With Christianity, trustworthiness is entirely replaced by truth, which is one reason why "emet" is mistranslated.

Islam today shares the Christian view that truth is the highest value.  But did this come from the Quran or from exposure to Christian and Greek culture?  Does the Quran use truth or trustworthiness or some other concept as its core value?  I am totally unqualified to answer this because I don't know Arabic.  For someone to answer this, they would need to know both Arabic and philosophy.  Unfortunately Islam today rejects philosophy, so the number of people currently qualified to think about this question is likely very small.

Now I will continue and look at another alternative to truth which is desire.  In a culture with no religion, people become like animals and simply act on their desire.  This is how these people makes judgements, they judge based on their desire.  Christianity is based on truth and this video is a good explanation by a Catholic of how decaying religion causes truth to be replaced by desire.  Such cultures tend to become primitive since no sustained goodness can be developed.  One finds this in much of the third world.

And the final alternative to truth that I want to discuss is degeneracy.  Degeneracy is worse than desire, it is the active support of evil/badness.  The most degenerate culture in the world today is American culture, so I would like to explain exactly what degeneracy is and how it happens.  The value of degeneracy is badness.  This is an anti-morality in the sense that self-discipline is applied to act worse than one would if one simply followed one's desires.  Applying degeneracy to judgement means always judging for evil.  This is what Americans do today.

Degeneracy can only develop in a good culture.  Good people tend to be comfortable in a good culture.  It is the people who have the strongest natural tendency for evil who feel most oppressed in a good culture.  Good cultures tend become prosperous and tolerant over time.  As tolerance increases, the first people to take advantage of this to rebel against the dominant good culture will be the most evil people.  Of these people, the most intelligent will seek ways to rationalize their evil.  This rationalization becomes an ideology that all evil people can get behind.  This ideology will be significantly worse than the desires of average people because this ideology is specifically designed by the most evil people based on their desires.  One standard feature of such ideologies is feminism which is the key means by which the ideology spreads to the rest of the population.  The evil people support adultery and feminism is the means to enable adultery.  Too much tolerance means that these evil people get away with adultery which causes women to become attracted to evil men for reasons I explain here and here.  Since average men want to attract women, they conform to what women want in men.  And in this case, women will be attracted to the evil ideology so then men will also support it to attract women.  And so the whole society shifts from supporting good to supporting evil.

The ideology of evil needs an argument against truth, trustworthiness, and goodness.  The philosophy of this argument is Postmodernism.  Postmodernism says that truth is subjective in order to attack truth.  It replaces truth with power as the means to determine what is right.  Emphasizing power justifies the use of power to implement evil, which is the goal.  For all practical purposes, Postmodernism is simply godless Satanism.  Postmodernism is the dominant philosophy in the West today.

A society that supports degeneracy goes into rapid decline and soon collapses.  At that point, men shift their focus from women to survival and so the evil ideology fades away.  Men begin to act only on their desire which is a significant improvement over degeneracy.  For example, degenerate men will support the idea of women dressing provocatively because that is part of the evil ideology.  But when men switch to their own desire, they naturally do not want their wives and daughters dressing like this, so things improve.

This completes my discussion of truth and its alternative.  There may be other alternatives to truth from cultures outside the West, but I don't know about them.