Daily Archives: Tuesday, 0:05, June 12, 2012
To me, that truth, at least of contingent matters of fact, is not some lofty, exalted metaphysical thing “out there” in some immutable Platonic ideal world of the Forms, but simply and more realistically amounts to good, reliable knowledge. Knowledge empowers, a fact both recognized by those with it and resented by those without it.
But does the fact that the search never ends mean never finding out anything at all?
That kind of thinking depends too much on an investment in a desired outcome rather than the process. Skepticism, save perhaps in poetic use of language, concerns itself with the process of seeking truth as reliable knowledge, using critical thinking, logic and data, and the methods and tools of science as part of that process, a process that often bears fruit, but never finally, never rendering ultimate certitude in its findings.
The findings of science are always open to question, always open to revision or rejection, but some of these are so consistently supported by experiment and observation that we would need very good reasons indeed to amend or overturn them.
Outside of pure logic and mathematics, certainty in knowledge is, I think, an unattainable chimera to seek much less to think that one has actually found. That way leads to dogmatic thinking, and the way to committing horrid atrocities in the name of The Truth™ with a clear conscience, as has happened all too often in history and during much of the present day.
The fact that any useful search for knowledge never ends means that it’s futile to invest too heavily in the outcome, and much more likely to lead one to what the facts actually bear out when investing in the process, the means and methods, not the end product, of finding it. What matters is the journey, not the final destination.
Personally, I’ve no need for certain truths of worldly fact because I do not believe they exist, given what I’ve come to learn about the history of science and philosophy from the pre-Socratics of the Ionian Awakening over 25 centuries ago to the thinkers of today.
Seeking such timeless truths has the odd effect of encouraging a radical skepticism of all knowledge — in reaching too high in seeking knowledge, to aspire to the ultimate and indubitable is to fail (and it always has) and in failing, to convince ourselves that we cannot know anything at all for not knowing it absolutely, since anything we think we know can conceivably be doubted.
I have no objection to tentative understanding, nor the fact that the search for it will never end, since I find it enriching, meaningful in a way that my former religious belief never was, and more conducive to human flourishing, happiness and well-being than the conceit that I’m a god’s special creation and simultaneously the demeaning notion that I’m born evil and unworthy and should be ashamed of my own humanity because some authority figure or mystical doctrine commands me to.
Better a risen plains-ape than a fallen angel…
Never stopping the search for understanding, rather than staunchly defending a static position on truths in want of facts, is to me the more fertile approach to thinking about the big questions of life; of where we come from; who we are; where we are going; what our place in the universe is; how we relate to the world; what morality is and from whence it comes, and so on.
I have a choice: I can be credulous, leaving my understanding of reality largely up to chance, whim, or the commands of an authority; I can deny the facts of the world and blind myself to enjoying the only life I’m likely to have — this one — to do either places my integrity at grave risk — or I can be somewhere between these two opposites and accept uncertain claims on the basis of good reasons to do so, to find what truth the facts support but never to cease the search, always looking, always seeking, never thinking, “I can stop looking now. I know it all.”
To tell myself that last, I would have to succumb to my own ignorance and in lying to myself, falsely call it wisdom.
- The Antiskeptics [Greg Laden's Blog] (scienceblogs.com)
- Why Trust (Other) Skeptics? (kestalusrealm.wordpress.com)
- Four important steps towards encouraging skeptical thinking in our society (theskepticview.wordpress.com)