The Philosophical Table
a club for thinking about things
In the end all we can do is muddle along, trying to get things right. (Iris Murdoch)
The purpose is to think about things and in thinking about them to try to order that thinking and make it rigorous and clear without at the same time making the structure it imposes into a prison. How do you do that? After all thought is an act of structuring, of organisation, and structures are prisons. Aren't they? No. They are not. In any case, a prison is only a prison if you don't like being there, so we order our thinking in such a way that we like thinking in that way. To do that we have to be conscious about the way we think we think. "But", you might say, "thinking should be about escaping your comfort zone. If you feel comfortable about your thinking, that cannot be a good thing!" Well, you are wrong. Thinking is not about escaping anything. It is the attempt to approach truth and that is all. Truth is the only virtue of thought. And any method by which we approach truth is permitted. So what is truth? Let's think about that.
BLACK: Truth is correspondence to reality.
BLUE: What is reality?
BLACK: Reality is the world or the universe as it actually is, in itself.
BLUE: Do I get to know how it is in itself? And will I ever?
BLUE: So how do I know when I have a grasp of the truth?
BLACK: You don't ever know, but your feel good about theories that have been shown to work, that help you recognise things around you or help you predict events in the future.
BLACK: Feeling good about a theory in that way is called having knowledge.
BLUE: Is there nothing more?
BLACK: A little, but not much. Sometimes you feel good about a theory that has not been shown to work but which corresponds to our ideas about how the world works and is consistent with them. This will often just have to do.
BLUE: What does correspondence mean?
BLACK: Correspondence is what you get when a description of some behaviour helps you recognise stuff. When things correspond you can say that things are like something else or are the same as something else.
BLUE: Can we say anything else about this truth business, or have we pretty well exhausted the topic? Can't truth be something else?
BLACK: Try me.
BLUE: Well, allright, I won't, but how can we be sure that we will never know when we have a grasp of the truth?
BLACK: The way you put the question is interesting. But ignoring that, it is simply because we are limited beings stuck in our bodies. It is impossible for us to know whether we have arrived at something called completeness and complete consistency with regard to our model of the world, whether we have covered all possible angles, all possibilities or modalities and whether we have dealt with every issue. There is always more... we cannot know how much, we can only feel increasingly confident that we got things right.