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Welcome! This is the place to ask the community of experts and other fallacyophites (I made up that word) if someone has a committed a fallacy or not. This is a great way to settle a dispute! This is also the home of the "Mastering Logical Fallacies" student support.


Dr. Bo's Criteria for Logical Fallacies:

  1. It must be an error in reasoning not a factual error.
  2. It must be commonly applied to an argument either in the form of the argument or in the interpretation of the argument.
  3. It must be deceptive in that it often fools the average adult.

Therefore, we will define a logical fallacy as a concept within argumentation that commonly leads to an error in reasoning due to the deceptive nature of its presentation. Logical fallacies can comprise fallacious arguments that contain one or more non-factual errors in their form or deceptive arguments that often lead to fallacious reasoning in their evaluation.

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Jacob

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Jacob


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Fri, Mar 22, 2019 - 12:23 PM

A checklist for determining the truth

I read a book about checklists called The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. He concluded that the best checklists were no more than seven steps long, not too wordy, easy to understand; imagine a pilot trying to restart an engine so he does not crash. If there was a checklist for determining the truth what would the steps be? It should be practical and does not need to delve too far into epistemology. I have been fascinated by this ever since the Metoo movement. I saw some bad people being rooted out but I also saw innocent people destroyed by questionable logic.

Here's my checklist

1. Skepticism: Be skeptical of all assumptions and assertions.
2. Falsifiability: What would prove to you that you "truth" was false?
3. Occam's Razor: Are there any other more simple explanations to your truth?
4. Can your truth be explained away with a better understanding of cognitive biases or logical fallacies?
5. How is your "truth" skewed by where you sit on the political spectrum?
6. Would your "truth" hold up if you had to defend it in court?
7. What does Wikipedia, Rationalwiki, Quora, Snopes, or Politifact say about your "truth"?





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Kaiden

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Kaiden


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About Kaiden

I enjoy fitness, listening to and playing music, laughter, spending time with my grandparents and discussing ideas with other people. Intellectually, I am especially interested in topics in philosophy and theology. I am a student of philosophy at Indiana University.
Print Sun, Mar 24, 2019 - 08:48 PM
Hi, Jacob!


A checklist for determining the truth sounds like a valuable and much-sought-after artifact. Though, I'm not sure you've found it. What do you mean when you say that the checklist is for determining the truth? Are you saying that in order to verify that a proposition is true, I should consult these seven steps?

If so, then I would take issue with the checklist for a number of reasons. Firstly, not all of the questions tell you how to proceed once they've been answered. Suppose I state that there is nothing that would prove to me that my "truth" is false (step 2). Where do I go from there? Instructions for how to continue would be critical for a checklist.

Secondly, the questions are not all relevant or necessary to verifying even some simple claims. It's true that a bird pecked at my living room window this morning. I can't and don't need to find online information about that (step 7); I can't and don't need to prove that in a court of law (step 6); I have no need for considering my political views (step 5) or logical fallacies or cognitive biases (step 4); and I don't find Occam's Razor to be relevant (step 3).

All that now remain for that proposition are steps 1 and 2, and they wouldn't help me determine whether a bird really pecked at my window this morning. This leads into my third issue with the checklist. The steps are not only irrelevant or unnecessary to certain matters of verifying the truth, but are also insufficient. After consulting your checklist, I couldn't determine the truthfulness of a propositions as simple as "a bird pecked at my window this morning".

There are countless propositions analogous to the example given of the bird. Moreover, I also think that mathematical and logical principles are unverifiable by means of consulting your checklist, as well as truths gained introspectively—i.e. I had a dream last night about shaving my hair—as well as moral truths—i.e. killing an innocent person is objectively wrong. Additionally, I don't see how the claim "this seven step checklist is a good checklist for determining the truth" is itself verifiable according to that same checklist.

In sum, I doubt the relevance, necessity and sufficiency of your checklist for determining whether a proposition is true or not (verification). This includes propositions about everyday life, mathematics, logic, our internal lives, morality, and the checklist itself, among other topics addressed by propositions. Over all, I think the saving merit of your checklist is that it encourages the spirit of open-mindedness and the willingness to accept being wrong about a belief.

Thank you, Jacob

From, Kaiden


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Michael Chase Walker
Screenwriter, producer, mythoclast

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Michael Chase Walker

Screenwriter, producer, mythoclast

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About Michael Chase Walker

Michael Chase Walker is an actor, author, screenwriter, producer, and a former adjunct lecturer for the College of Santa Fe Moving Images Department, and Dreamworks Animation. His first motion picture was the animated classic, The Last Unicorn.
Michael was an in-house television writer for the hit television series: He-Man, She-Ra, Voltron, and V, the Series. In 1985, he was appointed Director of Children's programs for CBS Entertainment where he conceived, shaped and supervised the entire 1985 Saturday Morning line-up: Wildfire, Pee Wee's Playhouse, Galaxy High School, Teen Wolf, and over 10
Print Fri, Mar 22, 2019 - 02:27 PM
Excellent checklist. I'm sure the more intelligent a person is the more s/he is inclined to apply or filter through
some sort of variation of all the above. Even if it's just a mild application of Bayes Theorem of probability.

Interestingly enough there is a new study being developed by Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics called the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis. Kanazawa's theory attempts to explain the differences in the behavior and attitudes between intelligent and less intelligent people. The hypothesis is based on two assumptions:

"First, that we are psychologically adapted to solve recurrent problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors in the African savanna.
"Second, that 'general intelligence' (what is measured by IQ tests) evolved to help us deal with nonrecurrent problems for which we had no evolved psychological adaptations."

"The assumptions imply that "intelligent people should be better than unintelligent (instinctual) people at dealing with 'evolutionary novelty' — situations and entities that did not exist in the ancestral environment." Dutton and Van der Linden modified this theory, suggesting that evolutionary novelty is something that opposes evolved instincts and untested belief systems.

In other words, the more intelligent a person is the less susceptible they are to relying on instinctual beliefs.

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Keith Curley

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Keith Curley


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Print Mon, Mar 25, 2019 - 12:24 PM
Thanks for the posting. I like your list, but it will not determine truth. Perhaps it can help you determine whether you believe something, or whether you rationally hold something, but truth cannot be determined by checklist.

It's actually self-contradictory to assume otherwise. It's very much like Godel's incompleteness. You can form a sentence which says: This sentence does not satisfy the checklist. Then that sentence is true if and only if it satisfies the checklist if and only if it doesn't satisfy the checklist. Which is a contradiction.

Perhaps you're unsatisfied with my proof though because it relies on self-reference? Fair enough, and in certain highly restricted domains a checklist-type thing could work. But I think in general it's very unlikely that reality will be so kind as to provide us with truth after simply jumping over a few hurdles.

Here's an example from medicine:
1. Observations implied that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for women would be highly protective of health.
2. Our knowledge of basic endocrinology implied the same.
3. Experiments using baboons and other primates showed HRT would be beneficial.
4. Large scale observational studies of humans showed HRT correlated with positive outcomes.
5. The first large randomized controlled test showed the effects of HRT were so harmful, that the study was ended early and it was recommended that HRT be stopped.
(This is a simplified story, which might be a little outdated now too.)

I think at each step along the way, the proposition that HRT is beneficial would have passed your checklist. And yet apparently it's not true.

I think much more can be said here, it's a fascinating topic.

Best regards!


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Joseph L. Hughey, Ph.D.
Joseph L. Hughey, Ph.D.

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Joseph L. Hughey, Ph.D.

Joseph L. Hughey, Ph.D.

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About Joseph L. Hughey, Ph.D.

Ph.D. Chemistry, UNC Chapel Hill
M.S. Computer Science, UNC Chapel Hill
B.S. Chemistry, Georgia Tech

Origin: Georgia

Interests: Gardening, Investing, Tutoring.

Publications, Background, Expertise at:
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Print Sat, Mar 30, 2019 - 01:31 PM
Hi Jacob,

For this fallacious newbie who teaches systematic procedures for chemical analysis, I think it has the framework of a good systematic approach to consider for my logical analyses. As a programmer, I think it is a good algorithm.

Best wishes,

Joe

Joseph L. Hughey, Ph.D.


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Registered User Comments

Jacob
Wednesday, March 27, 2019 - 02:02:50 AM
@Kaiden: I am sure there are a lot of holes in this checklist. I wrote it down hastily. My checklist only applies to certain kinds of truth. I am mainly talking about whether a "fact" is true on the internet, like is the earth flat?, did Trump Collude with Russia? If you wrote a checklist for finding the truth what would it be?

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Keith Curley
Wednesday, March 27, 2019 - 10:07:49 PM
While we're still hashing this out, I wonder if you're both familiar with Michael Shermer's Baloney Detection Kit?

I would argue it can't work 100% of the time, but anyway, it's something you might find useful, interesting, or inspiring in devising your own criteria. Here's a video, but a google search will show up much more:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNSHZG9blQQ

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Kaiden
Tuesday, April 02, 2019 - 06:05:52 PM
Yes, Jacob, and there are probably good methods for assessing many claims of the kind that you have in mind. I have never attempted to express a criteria like this into a check-list of my own making. Frankly, I hadn’t invested much time over this past week to constructing a list because of life, school work, and discoursing elsewhere in this site. Nonetheless, I’ve given thought to some of the groundwork for any vision of a criteria that I might attempt to realize in the future.

A set of rules of inference is critical to a system if it wants to evaluate claims or hypotheses. Without having rules of this sort, the criteria won’t be able to draw conclusions or classify correct from incorrect reasoning. Also, a criteria might be applied in such a way that two people reach apparently conflicting answers by following it. So, the criteria ought to have instructions for what higher standard to appeal to in these cases. Similarly, provisions for how to reconcile a possible conflict between the results of my criteria and the results of another, seemingly good criteria, should be in place.

The system would define and readily acknowledge its limits as unambiguously as possible. Among other things, this helps to establish the uniqueness of the criteria among other criteria and serves to prevent that people become deceived that the criteria is the answer to problems and puzzles that are truly beyond its purview.

I should also be mindful of the philosophy that underpins the formulation of my criteria. Some ideologies of truth and meaning are developed with the perspective that certain kinds of claims either shouldn’t be or are not even able to be assessed. Yet, these may be claims that other ideologies do consider meaningful and assessable. One should be open to reflecting on the assumptions behind their outlook of what should and what shouldn’t be believed or deemed worthy of considering.

As for articulating a criteria into the English language as a list with exact steps, I almost feel I need a lawyer. With one, I‘d feel more comfortable attempting this last part!

You’ll notice that I don’t say anything about the actual objects to be studied by the criteria or about whether the rules of inference are inductive in nature, deductive, abductive, etc. A criteria may be devised for all sorts of objectives.

In sum, I didn’t devote much time this week to formulating a list, but I wanted to get back to you soon with some indication of the direction of my thoughts. The above groundwork, however, shows what would factor into any eventually answer that I attempt to formulate. I hope that something I’ve done in the last several weeks, anywhere on this website, has helped increase your interest in philosophy! I thank you for your patience, Jacob.

From, Kaiden.

P.S. - I took Keith’s recommendation and watched Michael Shermer’s Baloney Detection Kit. To learn a bit more about Shermer’s views, I watched the YouTube videos ‘The Best of Michael Shermer Amazing Arguments and Clever Comebacks Part 1’, published by Agathon Foundation, and ‘Michael Shermer - the Problem of Evil (Science Salon AMA #4)’, published by Skeptic.

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Kaiden
Monday, March 25, 2019 - 09:18:53 PM
@Keith Curley:
Hi, Keith!

The name “checklist” is not necessary. What Jacob is essentially seeking is a criteria for determining whether or not any given statement is true; it just so happens that he wishes to express the criteria by writing it in English as a list. Contrary to your post, denying the reality of such a criteria would be self-refuting, not affirming it. Seeing as you do agree that some of the statements in your post are true, surely you should also agree that there is a criteria for determining that statements are true. And if a criteria does exist, none of your objections preclude it from being able to be expressed in the form of a checklist, if that is what Jacob really wants to do.

The liars paradox is not notorious for suggesting that there is no criteria for determining the truthfulness of propositions. So, to mention the paradox is irrelevant as a detriment to Jacob’s search. And without a criteria for determining the truth, you could not have known that the liars paradox followed from the existence of a checklist.


Thank you, Keith.

From, Kaiden

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Keith Curley
Wednesday, March 27, 2019 - 12:01:23 AM
@Kaiden:
Hello Kaiden,

I apologize for seeming to talk past you and Jacob, but I'm trying to get to the heart of this issue of "criteria for truth." As you pointed out in your first letter, this is a valuable and much-sought-after artifact. But wouldn't you agree that Jacob did not find one and, in fact, no one has ever found one? If there is one, could you point it out to me? And if no one in all of time despite how valuable such a thing would be has ever found one, perhaps it's because none could possibly exist?

(By the way, if you ever find one, I suggest you apply it to the stock market and very quickly become a billionaire trading options. )

As I stated in my first response, if you merely wish to produce a list for when you should believe something or not, or what is rational to believe, that's a different problem then whether your belief will end up being true. In the example of the keyed-car, perhaps it is rational to believe your friend keyed it, though that's not much of a friend, and yet it's quite possible that someone you don't even know keyed it. So a belief can easily be rational but false. Look at the example I gave from medicine. There are degrees of evidence, see this for example:
https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Hierarchy-of-evidence-pyramid-The-pyramidal-shape-qualitatively-integrates-the-amount-of_fig1_311504831

But you can still ascend to the apex of that pyramid and go through all the tests imaginable and the proposition could still be false. We're not God.

The point of my first reference is to bring your attention to the issue of justificationism versus critical rationalism (associated with Karl Popper.) The traditional justificationist account of knowledge is that it's justified true belief. The first reference questions the possibility of ever justifying anything in any meaningful sense. Karl Popper's solution for rationality is that you hold your beliefs provisionally and be open to criticizing them, in fact seek to test them and disprove them and change your beliefs. This is of course controversial as a model of rationality, and Bayesians of course take the opposite position. I imagine that issues of ethics and psychology are important as well if talking about rationality. But if Popper is correct, no criteria of truth are even needed.

I don't think logic is irrelevant to these issues, though one would have to be more precise about what "criteria" are etc. I was thinking of them more or less like a step-by-step procedure, or algorithm, or equivalently decidable predicates.

One seeming exception to my claim that no criteria exist would be in simple mathematical domains. Tarski himself I believe constructed one where he was able to say which sentences were true because he wasn't able to form a sentence that talked about itself. Completeness is an example where a sentence is true in all models iff it is provable, which is a sort of criteria, but note here that as soon as you're in first order predicate logic, that relation is no longer decidable, i.e. no practical criteria exists for determining validity. But in propositional logic and first order monadic, you're fully decidable. But even here determining whether a sentence is a validity (true in all worlds) is a very different thing from determining whether some particular contingent sentence in front of us is true or not in this world. Validities are true from their structure, not because of the way the world is. So, this exception isn't that troubling to my hypothesis.

In natural language we have the predicate "true" and we apply it all over the place without worrying about contradicting ourselves. We simply avoid much self-reference. So, it's quite possible that my attempt to deploy it to "criteria" is inappropriate; that if you say your criteria will only apply to some restricted domain that you'll be safe. I doubt that very much outside of simple mathematical structures and even then perhaps only if certain axioms are accepted dogmatically, without being subject to your criteria.

By all means show my e-mails to any logicians you have in the math department at your university. (You don't trust wikipedia--fair enough, I just wanted to arouse your interest; personally, I wouldn't trust your philosophy department, though there are exceptions...)

Look at how easily you found exceptions to Jacob's specific list of criteria. I think that can be done for any such list, but how can it be proven in general? Note that even if my proof fails, and I'm open to that possibility, that doesn't mean that the conclusion is false. If you want to show it's false, give me your criteria. Otherwise, I believe it's rational for me to continue to believe no such criteria exists. No?

Best regards
Keith

P.S. Another example, here's a philosophical critique even of the evidence pyramid:
https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/context/critique-medical-evidence-hierarchies

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Jacob
Wednesday, March 27, 2019 - 02:10:17 AM
@Keith Curley: Yes there are many types of truth. I am talking about more down-to-earth questions, like "Did Trump Collude with Russia"; "have aliens visited the earth"; "Did Hitler survive WW2 and move to South America"? You run into information like this online all the time. How do you separate fact from fiction. How do you determine if something is true?

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Kaiden
Wednesday, March 27, 2019 - 12:04:27 PM
@Keith Curley:
Hi, Keith!

You requested that I prove the statement “there is a criteria for determining the truthfulness of a statement” by presenting you with such a criteria—that request is part of a criteria for determining the truthfulness of a statement, in the sense in which Jacob and I are speaking. The guidelines, Keith, that you are following in constructing a persuasive defense for the truthfulness of your position?—they are a criteria for determining the truthfulness of statements. Logic provides criteria for determining the truthfulness of certain statements—statements such as “the argument in question is valid.” There are also empirical methods for verifying statements. I can prove that there are no Buddhists in my immediate family, that humans cannot breathe underwater, and prove whether there is a tiger at my nearest zoo.

In light of the obvious existence of such methods for verifying the truthfulness of statements, I’m sure how to make sense of what your posts are arguing for. I challenge you to summarize the main conclusion of your argument in a single sentence. What I think is one aspect of your argument is that, for instance, while I could use my senses to prove that there are is a tiger at a zoo, I could not use my senses to evaluate all claims. Similarly, you might point out that there are statements that can’t be evaluated within a system of logic. You would raise the same kind of challenge to each system I have offered, pointing out that each system faces statements that it cannot evaluate within itself. Is this representative of what you are arguing? I think that raising this challenge in response to the issue at hand is problematic and I will attempt to express that in clearer terms than I have been. Here are two statements, please identify them with letters “A” and “B”.

A: this is a system that is a legitimate and reliable method (system, criteria, etc. don’t get stuck on one word) for determining whether statements are true.

B: for this system (or call it a criteria, method, etc.), there are some true statements that it system cannot evaluate within itself.

To summarize my position in a single sentence, I am arguing that there is a system of which both A and B can be consistently said. B does not need to be false of a criteria in order for A to be true of it. There are three options in regards to directly addressing the conclusion of my argument. Your posts are either 1.) affirming that there is a system of which both A and B can be consistently said, 2.) denying that there is a system of which both A and B can be consistently said, or 3.) neither affirming nor denying that there is a system of which both A and B can be consistently said.

Said three different ways, B being true of a system does not exclude A being true of that system; for a criteria to encounter statements that it cannot evaluate within its own system, does not imply that the criteria is neither legitimate nor reliable; the liars paradox is an ineffective point to raise in objection to the legitimacy and reliability of Jacob’s criteria for verifying statements. If you, for all of this time, agree that ‘1’ is where you stand, then your objections are talking past me because ‘1’ is exactly what I am arguing and yet you continue raising objections against something or other. If ‘2’ is where you stand, then per the above examples, your position is wrong—there are a multitude of systems of which B is true and A is true. If you are in the position of ‘3’, then your objections are ineffective for a similar reason as ‘1’. I think that one way or another, you are running into an issue, here, in regards to how you are addressing the conclusion of my argument. One clean, sentence format of the main conclusion of your argument will help clarify where you stand, and we can continue from there.

To be clear, I empathize that the incompleteness of a system does not imply that it is not useful as a legitimate and reliably method for verifying claims and statements. In light of this, Jacob ought to be consoled that although you have criticized his criteria for encountering statements that cannot be evaluated within his own given system, it remains that, possibly, his criteria is a legitimate and reliable one for verifying statements. I agree that the range of statements purported to be covered by his criteria is important to consider. However, I never doubted that Jacob had the insight to refrain from claiming that he had a criteria for verifying all true statements. And Jacob has confirmed this morning that he is not asserting that his criteria could evaluate every statement. Again, my argument is that this is consistent with having a strong criteria for assessing claims for truth.

What Jacob seeks is something like a scientific or a rational process for assessing claims—the sort of criterias that are already common place, though Jacob wants a more succinct variation. I understand that such a criteria would not prove every statement, but I criticized Jacob due to the extensive range of claims that it is powerless to deal with. You also gave examples along the lines of revealing the powerlessness of the criteria, such as with HRT. I thought that objections which used those examples were reasonable objections because is it reasonable to have assumed that Jacob would be interested in having a system by which true claims analogous to those examples could be verified. The liars paradox is not a good objection to Jacob’s post because the occurrence of the paradox within a system is consistent a system being a good method for verifying true statements and Jacob’s system does not purport to be able to evaluate its variation of the liars paradox.

This morning, seeing as Jacob now clarifies the interests of his list even further, he claims that his criteria can survive even objections that we gave in terms of those examples (birds, morality HRT, etc.). I will think more about his response. At the very least, the liars paradox should never have factored as an objection to what Jacob sought for a criteria. To raise that objection is to misunderstand his notion of a criteria for determining the truth. He wants a system that is A. And this is consistent with recognizing that that system is such that B.

In sum, I have explained that A and B are consistently said of a system and that there are methods that satisfy A. I think your last post revealed that an understanding between us was near; hopefully we have reached it or are now closer. I appealed this issue to two of my logic instructors. A system of evaluation can be both incomplete and useful for verifying statements. And I do appreciate if you give me an explanation for why you think that IU’s philosophy department is untrustworthy.


Thank you, Keith.


From, Kaiden

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Keith Curley
Wednesday, March 27, 2019 - 01:59:29 PM
@Kaiden:
Thank you for taking the time to write this response. It will take me a lot of time to respond in full, and I can't start till later today. You mention a one sentence summary. Could you sumarise your position similarly? A couple sentences would be fine.
Best regards,
Keith
P.S. A direct response to Jacob's inquiry below could help as well. Again, I suspect there is no such checklist that would be 100% effective. (<-That's probably my one sentence summary, but we'll see.)

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Kaiden
Wednesday, March 27, 2019 - 02:55:57 PM
@Keith Curley:

Keith, you are just fine. Please, don’t be anxious about responding quickly. I am balancing a schedule, as well, but will certainly revisit and help pull the threads of our discussion together to see where we are and reply to Jacob.

Thank you both.

From, Kaiden

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Keith Curley
Wednesday, March 27, 2019 - 10:03:39 PM
@Kaiden: Thank you!

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Keith Curley
Thursday, March 28, 2019 - 12:02:48 AM
@Jacob: I'll grant Kaiden's claim that I was talking past you, since I definitely believe there is one and only one truth. There are many types of statements, which can be true or false, but only one truth or falsity. It is more or less as Aristotle defined it: to say of what is that it is is to speak the truth, etc. I suspect we totally agree here and are just using our words differently? Perhaps you have a different notion though?

There's also probability, or your degree of rational belief, say, which I brought up. And perhaps you're focused on trying to determine when something is highly probable or deserving of your belief? That's more what I would expect, and I apologize if I was being too obsessed about truth simpliciter. Even here I think there are many inherent problems, but that could take very long to delve into...

One gigantic problem though is that there appears to be no simple relation between truth and probability.

Another problem though in designing your checklist is you will face what statisticians in hypothesis testing refer to as type I and II errors: or as false positives and false negatives. You can make your criteria so weak that you have a high probability of accepting false ideas, or so strong that you have a high probability of rejecting true ideas. These are the Scylla and Charybdis you must sail between, and there's no way to avoid all error completely.

Best regards! This subject is a very strong interest of mine, and I apologize for over-sharing.

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Keith Curley
Thursday, March 28, 2019 - 02:39:57 AM
@Kaiden: I'll have to take this piece by piece. And I can only answer the first piece tonight. You first say that I "requested that [you] prove the statement “there is a criteria for determining the truthfulness of a statement”" but I don't believe I did that. The question isn't about one single statement, but about evaluating any statement whatsoever or at the very least evaluating a broad class of statements, in other words devising broadly applicable criteria.

You say that the guidelines I'm "following in constructing a persuasive defense for the truthfulness of your position?--they are a criteria..." Actually, no, not in the sense I mean "criteria." There's an ambiguity here. Yes, I'm believing what I'm believing because of various psychological processes, which we can call guidelines. But by "criteria" I mean some sort of step-by-step procedure or decision rule etc which INVARIABLY, ALWAYS produces the correct answer. I do not claim that for anything which I believe. Since you think I'm wrong, obviously you agree that I haven't found criteria in this sense!

So, we need to distinguish between following some rules and following some rules which will infallibly tell you whether a statement is true or false. Or, we can talk about "supposed" or "putative criteria" if we don't know what we have yet.

You mention certain facts, like about logic, your family's religious practices, tigers etc. I do not dispute the existence of true statements. Every unambiguous sentence or its negation is true. You say you can prove them, actually some of these like the tiger would be very hard to prove--evidence can be faked, people lie, etc. Even your close family could be hiding their closet buddhism from you--maybe unlikely but possible, no? And if it's possible than you don't really have a proof. Or we might say your proof relies on premises and assumptions which we don't really know to be true.

And that's the problem if your putative criteria is "provability": provability is relative to some set of assumptions. And in a very real sense if sentence S is provable from assumptions A, it's just because A includes S (or S is a validity.) So, your proof merely relies on the assumption of A being all true. How do you determine whether they are true? If you can, then your conclusions will be determined too. But if you can't, then you can't say, at least not by those means.

Most of the time we believe our eyes and our mathematical postulates and maybe some basic scientific truths, without much doubt, and although these aren't infallible, let's accept them for now as an adequate basis of "proof." Ok, what about any statements which go beyond these, like the questions Jacob has? Those are the interesting ones.

Let's call these non-trivial, contingent questions. So they are questions which are not about logic, math, basic physics etc, or things which we can directly sense. We can also exclude questions about the future, and only ask about the present or past.

My position in a single sentence is: There are no criteria which will decide (infallibly) the truth or falsity for any large class of non-trivial, contingent questions.

I think I'm negating your A above, but you didn't put a quantifier in front of "statements"--leaving the possibility that you'd only decide a few statements rather than all statements within a class of them.

That's all I have time for tonight. You might be right about the rest of your email, but I'll have to look closer later. Thank you for the conversation!

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Kaiden
Thursday, March 28, 2019 - 06:43:58 PM
@Keith Curley:

Hi, Keith!

I promised to revisit to help pull together the threads of the discussion and give a summary of my position (and reply to Jacob, soon). In this post, I want to orient us on why I responded to you in the first place, reiterate what my response consisted of, and perform two adjustments to my position.

Have a look at your post from Thursday, March 28, 2019 - 02:39:57 AM. Within the second paragraph grows the weed that I have been laboring to uproot: the difference in meanings we have for “criteria”. My objective is not to argue that the main conclusion of your position is wrong—the conclusion wrapped up in your single sentence, which I am grateful that you have provided. Instead, my objective is to show that our positions are consistent with each other. I have not tripped on an ambiguity, as you appear to have suggested. I have recognized the difference in our meanings of “criteria” all throughout the course of our discussion. My strategy for showing that our positions are consistent, has partly involved giving an explicit explanation of the sense in which Jacob and I speak when we talk about “criteria” and explaining that your sense of criteria is delving into a subject removed from what Jacob and I mean.

The thesis statement for my position is summarized in a single sentence five different times in my previous post. Keeping in mind what ‘A’ and ‘B’ stand for, the first sentence of the conclusion in my previous post allows for an especially quick reference to what my position claims. Per your advice, I would like to add the quantifier “some” to the claim represented by the letter “A”, so as to leave no doubt that the statement represented by “A” reads: this is a system that is a legitimate and reliable method (system, criteria, etc. don’t get stuck on one word) for determining whether some statements are true. And “B” represents: for this system (or call it a criteria, method, etc.), there are some statements that it cannot evaluate within itself. The word “true” figured in the initial statement represented by “B”, but I want to remove it. To then reiterate my position: A and B are consistently said of a system and there are methods that satisfy A. I think you were right to assert “B” of Jacob’s criteria. I replied, arguing that asserting “B” of Jacob’s criteria—specifically, objecting to Jacob in terms of the liars paradox—is consistent with Jacob’s criteria being a legitimate and reliable for evaluating claims. So, the liars paradox is ineffective as an objection to Jacob’s post.

The previous two paragraphs establish why I responded to your Answer to Jacob and what my reply to your Answer consists of.

However, you are no longer asserting merely that ‘B’ is true of any given criteria. Now, you have refined your claim to say the following about any given criteria: it will not be able to “decide (infallibly) the truth or falsity for any large class of non-trivial, contingent questions.” I will think more about this refined claim you have made about the potentials that are achievable by any criteria.

In sum, until this point I have defended that A and B are consistently said of a system and there are methods that satisfy A. (The word “some” is added to the statement represented by “A” and the word “true” is removed from the statement represented by “B”.) My strategy has been to reveal the meaning of criteria used by Jacob and I, so as to accomplish the objective of showing that the main claims of your position are consist with this conclusion that I have defended. I hope we are all on the same page. Take your time responding and when you do, please do not forget to explain your remark in regards to the trustworthiness of the philosophy department at IU.

Thank you, Keith.

From, Kaiden

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Keith Curley
Friday, March 29, 2019 - 12:43:03 AM
@Kaiden:
Thanks once again. I'll try to respond in a little more depth later, but I don't have much immediate objection to your last e-mail. I'll answer about my remarks on philosophers though and that will cover part of my response too.

I had no idea which university you attend, so it had nothing to do with IU per se. That being said, I went to graduate school at UM, so perhaps it should....I'm kidding, and in fact I was teasing a little at first too. But also I think philosophers--in general--are less reliable than mathematicians when it comes to logical issues. There are exceptions, and I know of insane mathematical logicians and also extremely perceptive philosophical ones.

Math programs are rigorous and objective. I do not believe philosophy programs are as much, though again I'm sure there are exceptions. I believe there are many more bad philosophy professors--in terms of poor understanding of their subjects--in the world than there are math ones. The great statistician David A Freeman told the story of how a philosophy professor only wanted his own views regurgitated back in papers. I believe this is a common occurrence in philosophy and similar areas.

I was a math grad student, and I took logic courses in both philosophy and math departments--the philosophy ones were much easier. Philosophy students who tried to take the logic courses in the math department did very poorly--they just did not have the background with proofs, abstraction, and precision needed. Nothing about intelligence, they just didn't have the right background.

Those are just my personal prejudices, and they are hardly definitive. I liked one of the philosophy professors and certain ones like Saul Kripke I have enormous respect for.

But take even a famous philosopher such as Wittgenstein, who should have known better, but who misinterpreted Godel (according to Godel himself!) Great quote from Rebecca Goldstein: "Nary a mathematician I have spoken with has a good word to say about Wittgenstein. One particularly incensed mathematician I know characterized Wittgenstein’s famous proposition: 'Whereof we cannot speak we must remain silent' as 'accomplishing the difficult task of being at once portentous and vacuous.'"
[Goldstein, Rebecca. Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel (Great Discoveries) (p. 119). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.]

My final anecdote refers to Tarski's famous paper on truth. In an appendix he responds to a number of philosophers' objections. These philosophers misinterpret what Tarski says, put words in his mouth that weren't there, and generally multiply and add words that do nothing but obscure the issues.

Some philosophers, like Karl Popper, did understand Tarski. Similarly, Rebecca Goldstein is a philosopher, so I don't hate all philosophers or think they are all invariably wrong.

But it's a simple decision criteria on matters of logic: did a mathematician or a philosopher say it? It's not infallible, but it has a high probability of success. (I'm kidding, but only because I have a pretty strict definition of "probability" and I wouldn't deploy it here.)

But to summarize, my training (and a 15 year career) was in math (and separately statistics.) In math we make very precise definitions and stick to them. Much of our disagreement if it has been a disagreement is perhaps because I assign specific meanings to terms like criteria, truth, determine, prove, etc which you and Jacob might not share. Also, if a statement is ambiguous for missing a quantifier I'll supply the one that makes the most interesting statement. If some word can be used ambiguously, then it needs to be highlighted and preferably another word used for one of the meanings etc. I may not be 100% consistent in my own use of language--laziness, sloppiness, time pressures etc get in the way--but I pay a decent amount of attention to this and try. (Do as I say not as I do...)

Again, I don't have much immediate objections to your last email. I also think philosophy can be a really fascinating pursuit and a worthwhile field of study, it's just not without its hazards.

Best regards
Keith

P.S. I'm trying to be critical of philosophers but not insulting. I apologize if I failed.


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