CreativeChaos said:
Our vanity involves "truth" when we attempt to implicate that truth reinforces our own subjective desires. To affirm that "truth" or "God" is on my side are examples of justifying the righteousness of our postition by assuming that "truth" will have our support. It is this rationale that leads to much conflict and even war.
Do I really know the "truth" in any given situation?
It appears that you have formulated a general question of logic from an oft observed language behavior of assertion relying on claims to truth or God's will. Although it is not clear whether the question you posed is more interested in the concrete examples of "populist, war-waging-rationalizing rhetoric" or the abstract idea of the possibility of knowing the truth, I would, for the sake of brevity, stick to the second possibility. One minor point: I think you meant "justifying the righteousness of our postition by assuming that "truth" will
give us support" in above passage.
Mathematicians, British-American scholars of the analytical school of philosophy, and historians of science have done work on the topic of mathematical/scientific truth, and classified all statements in their respective fields to either
1) definitions: indisputable tags put on objects tangible or not
2) theorems: statements the truth value of which can be calulated by applying axioms or prior theorems proven by the axioms
3) axioms: statements that cannot be proven, but that can only be chosen as the starting point of one systematic field or branch of mathematics/science.
In 1931, Kurt Godel proposed his
Incompleteness Theorem in a mathematical paper called
On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems stating that certain theorems are not subject to proof or disproof as other theorems are. Axioms would be examples of such non-proveable theorems.
In like manner, internal coherence is as close as we can get to a semblance of truth, but not truth itself. Furthermore, if one set of axioms and one body of raw data is involved as the starting point of a logical argument, then the resulting statements will generally differ from statements based on a different set of axioms or a heterogenous set of raw data.
Unlike mathematics where all assumptions are defined, or science where most assumptions are defined, prior to much developing, the vast majority of language activities in real life do not deal with the basic assumptions assumed before engaging in stating a statement. Even if that were the case, the limitation of logic states that one cannot go beyond the axioms and data and thereby prove the axioms and data themselves on which knowledge is based.
Often times we see circular logic, discrediting the person when all else fails, or ex machina or "God's unseen hand" at work when mortal toil proves nothing. The books of logic all forewarn us of the logical fallacies humans are known to commit, yet we see those committed almost on a daily basis as in the examples you alluded to. It is a great cultural advantage that the study of logic has established its own field of learning in Western cutures, whereas the seeds of logical studies had bourgeoned but died out without flourishing in the Warring States period in Asian cultures. That the beginning of Neo-Confucianism was based on an ill-defined set of axioms also set the limitations of the development of logic since the Song dynasty.
It is genuinely sad to see, given the cultural-educational advantage, when one raised in the Western tradition fails to properly excercise coherent logic, and dwell on falacies that even Asians have learned to scorn. Is it that history proceeds in circles, or education is going down rather than up ? Let's see how long it takes for former Shintoists, Shamanists, Buddhists, or communists to catch up with the West-US in logic. Low logic naturally translates into low efficiency, and high logic into high efficiency; and let evolution play its little game of chance in the macroscopic, macrotemporal arena. Time will tell; the ultimate truth may be unknowable, but logical coherence is knowable beyond a shred of a doubt.