True vs. "true"
Carl Sagan (Ballantine Books: Feb 25, 1997), 480 pages.
Eminent Cornell astronomer and bestselling author Sagan debunks the paranormal and the unexplained in a study that will reassure hardcore skeptics but may leave others unsatisfied. To him, purported UFO encounters and alien abductions are products of gullibility, hallucination, misidentification, hoax and therapists' pressure; some alleged encounters, he suggests, may screen memories of sexual abuse. He labels as hoaxes the crop circles, complex pictograms that appear in southern England's wheat and barley fields, and he dismisses as a natural formation the Sphinx-like humanoid face incised on a mesa on Mars, first photographed by a Viking orbiter spacecraft in 1976 and considered by some scientists to be the engineered artifact of an alien civilization. In a passionate plea for scientific literacy, Sagan deftly debunks the myth of Atlantis, Filipino psychic surgeons and mediums such as J.Z. Knight, who claims to be in touch with a 35,000-year-old entity called Ramtha. He also brands as superstition ghosts, angels, fairies, demons, astrology, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and religious apparitions. ~ Publishers Weekly
Darrell Huff (Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc: Oct 28, 1993; orig. 1954), 142 pages.
There is terror in numbers," writes Darrell Huff in How to Lie with Statistics. And nowhere does this terror translate to blind acceptance of authority more than in the slippery world of averages, correlations, graphs, and trends. Huff sought to break through "the daze that follows the collision of statistics with the human mind" with this slim volume, first published in 1954. The book remains relevant as a wake-up call for people unaccustomed to examining the endless flow of numbers pouring from Wall Street, Madison Avenue, and everywhere else someone has an axe to grind, a point to prove, or a product to sell. "The secret language of statistics, so appealing in a fact-minded culture, is employed to sensationalize, inflate, confuse, and oversimplify," warns Huff. Although many of the examples used in the book are charmingly dated, the cautions are timeless. Statistics are rife with opportunities for misuse, from "gee-whiz graphs" that add nonexistent drama to trends, to "results" detached from their method and meaning, to statistics' ultimate bugaboo — faulty cause-and-effect reasoning. Huff's tone is tolerant and amused, but no-nonsense. Like a lecturing father, he expects you to learn something useful from the book, and start applying it every day. Never be a sucker again, he cries! "Even if you can't find a source of demonstrable bias, allow yourself some degree of skepticism about the results as long as there is a possibility of bias somewhere. There always is." Read How to Lie with Statistics. Whether you encounter statistics at work, at school, or in advertising, you'll remember its simple lessons. Don't be terrorized by numbers, Huff implores. "The fact is that, despite its mathematical base, statistics is as much an art as it is a science." ~ Therese Littleton
Michael Shermer (Holt Paperbacks, Revised & Enlarged Edition: Sep 1, 2002), 384 pages.
In this age of supposed scientific enlightenment, many people still believe in mind reading, past-life regression theory, New Age hokum, and alien abduction. A no-holds-barred assault on popular superstitions and prejudices, with more than 80,000 copies in print, Why People Believe Weird Things debunks these nonsensical claims and explores the very human reasons people find otherworldly phenomena, conspiracy theories, and cults so appealing. In an entirely new chapter, "Why Smart People Believe in Weird Things," Michael Shermer takes on science luminaries like physicist Frank Tippler and others, who hide their spiritual beliefs behind the trappings of science. Shermer, science historian and true crusader, also reveals the more dangerous side of such illogical thinking, including Holocaust denial, the recovered-memory movement, the satanic ritual abuse scare, and other modern crazes. Why People Believe Strange Things is an eye-opening resource for the most gullible among us and those who want to protect them. ~ Book Description
E.J. Lowe and A. Rami, eds. (McGill-Queen's University Press: May, 2009), 262 pages.
Truth depends in some sense on reality. But it is a rather delicate matter to spell this intuition out in a plausible and precise way. According to the theory of truth-making this intuition implies that either every truth or at least every truth of a certain class of truths has a so-called truth-maker, an entity whose existence accounts for truth. This book aims to provide several ways of assessing the correctness of this controversial claim. This book presents a detailed introduction to the theory of truth-making, which outlines truth-maker relations, the ontological category of truth-making entities, and the scope of a truth-maker theory. The essays brought together here represent the most important articles on truth-making in the last three decades as well as new essays by leading researchers in the field of the theory of truth and of truth-making. ~ Book Description
Trenton Merricks (Oxford University Press: Jun 1, 2009), 214 pages.
That there are no white ravens is true because there are no white ravens. And so there is a sense in which that truth "depends on the world." But this sort of dependence is trivial. After all, it does not imply that there is anything that is that truth's "truthmaker." Nor does it imply that something exists to which that truth corresponds. Nor does it imply that there are properties whose exemplification grounds that truth. Trenton Merricks explores whether and how truth depends substantively on the world or on things or on being. And he takes a careful look at philosophical debates concerning, among other things, modality, time, and dispositions. He looks at these debates because any account of truth's substantive dependence on being has implications for them. And these debates likewise have implications for how and whether truth depends on being. Along the way, Merricks makes a number of new points about each of these debates that are of independent interest, of interest apart from the question of truth's dependence on being. Truth and Ontology concludes that some truths do not depend on being in any substantive way at all. One result of this conclusion is that it is a mistake to oppose a philosophical theory merely because it violates truth's alleged substantive dependence on being. Another result is that the correspondence theory of truth is false and, more generally, that truth itself is not a relation of any sort between truth-bearers and that which "makes them true." ~ Book Description
"Agnosticism and Christianity" in Essays Upon Some Controverted Questions (1892), pp. 350-1, 351-2.
The people who call themselves "Agnostics" have been charged with doing so because they have not the courage to declare themselves "Infidels." It has been insinuated that they have adopted a new name in order to escape the unpleasantness which attaches to their proper denomination. To this wholly erroneous imputation, I have replied by showing that the term "Agnostic" did, as a matter of fact, arise in a manner which negatives it; and my statement has not been, and can not be, refuted. Moreover, speaking for myself, and without impugning the right of any other person to use the term in another sense, I further say that Agnosticism is not properly described as a "negative" creed, nor indeed as a creed of any kind, except in so far as it expresses absolute faith in the validity of a principle, which is as much ethical as intellectual. This principle may be stated in various ways, but they all amount to this: that it is wrong for a man to say that he is certain of the objective truth of any proposition unless he can produce evidence which logically justifies that certainty. This is what Agnosticism asserts; and, in my opinion, it is all that is essential to Agnosticism. That which Agnostics deny and repudiate, as immoral, is the contrary doctrine, that there are propositions which men ought to believe, without logically satisfactory evidence; and that reprobation ought to attach to the profession of disbelief in such inadequately supported propositions. The justification of the Agnostic principle lies in the success which follows upon its application, whether in the field of natural, or in that of civil, history; and in the fact that, so far as these topics are concerned, no sane man thinks of denying its validity.
Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting Reason, and Seeking Truth in the Sciences, trans. John Veitch (The Open Court: 1910), pp. 15-6.
I have never contemplated anything higher than the reformation of my own opinions, and basing them on a foundation wholly my own. And although my own satisfaction with my work has led me to present here a draft of it, I do not by any means therefore recommend to every one else to make a similar attempt. Those whom God has endowed with a larger measure of genius will entertain, perhaps, designs still more exalted; but for the many I am much afraid lest even the present undertaking be more than they can safely venture to imitate. The single design to strip one's self of all past beliefs is one that ought not to be taken by every one. The majority of men is composed of two classes, for neither of which would this be at all a befitting resolution: in the first place, of those who with more than a due confidence in their own powers, are precipitate in their judgments and want the patience requisite for orderly and circumspect thinking; whence it happens, that if men of this class once take the liberty to doubt of their accustomed opinions, and quit the beaten highway, they will never be able to thread the byeway that would lead them by a shorter course, and will lose themselves and continue to wander for life; in the second place, of those who, possessed of sufficient sense or modesty to determine that there are others who excel them in the power of discriminating between truth and error, and by whom they may be instructed, ought rather to content themselves with the opinions of such than trust for more correct to their own Reason.
"Arnold Bennet" in Prejudices: First Series, vol. 1 (Knopf: 1919), pp. 46-7.
What appears in them is not a weakness for ideas that are stale and obvious, but a distrust of all ideas whatsoever. The public, with its mob yearning to be instructed, edified and pulled by the nose, demands certainties; it must be told definitely and a bit raucously that this is true and that is false. But there are no certainties. Ergo, one notion is as good as another, and if it happens to be utter flubdub, so much the better — for it is precisely flubdub that penetrates the popular skull with the greatest facility. The way is already made: the hole already gapes. An effort to approach the hidden and baffling truth would simply burden the enterprise with difficulty. Moreover, the effort is intrinsically laborious and ungrateful. Moreover, there is probably no hidden truth to be uncovered. That he actually believes in his own theorizing is inconceivable.
Paul K. Moser and Thomas L. Carson, eds. (Oxford University Press: August 2000), pages.
Are all moral truths relative or do certain moral truths hold for all cultures and people? In Moral Relativism: A Reader, this and related questions are addressed by twenty-one contemporary moral philosophers and thinkers. This engaging and nontechnical anthology, the only up-to-date collection devoted solely to the topic of moral relativism, is accessible to a wide range of readers including undergraduate students from various disciplines. The selections are organized under six main topics: (1) General Issues; (2) Relativism and Moral Diversity; (3) On the Coherence of Moral Relativism; (4) Defense and Criticism; (5) Relativism, Realism, and Rationality; and (6) Case Study on Relativism. Contributors include Ruth Benedict, Richard Brandt, Thomas L. Carson, Philippa Foot, Gordon Graham, Gilbert Harman, Loretta M. Kopelman, David Lyons, J. L. Mackie, Michele Moody-Adams, Paul K. Moser, Thomas Nagel, Martha Nussbaum, Karl Popper, Betsy Postow, James Rachels, W. D. Ross, T. M. Scanlon, William Graham Sumner, and Carl Wellman. The volume concludes with a case study on female circumcision/genital mutilation that vividly brings into focus the practical aspects and implications of moral relativism. An ideal primary text for courses in moral relativism, Moral Relativism: A Reader can also be used as a supplementary text for introductory courses in ethics and for courses in various disciplines — anthropology, sociology, theology, political science, and cultural studies — that discuss relativism. The volume's pedagogical and research value is enhanced by a topical bibliography on moral relativism and a substantial general introduction that includes explanatory summaries of the twenty selections.
The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It (HarperCollins: 2008), p. 20.
By the very nature of the problem, no one stands outside the issues and speaks with complete detachment, objectivity, and neutrality. Certainly I do not. None of us speaks from nowhere; that would be impossible. None of us speaks from everywhere; that would be incoherent. All of us speak from somewhere — which is our freedom and responsibility as well as our fate.
A Defense of Christianity, trans. John Benjamin Jones (Gilber & Rivington: December 1835), p. 63.
Truth is as much the first want as it is the first good of mankind: yes, truth in religion, which by giving us high and pure ideas of the Divinity, teaches us that our homage ought to be worthy of it; truth in morality, which without rigour, as without weak indulgence, traces out to men in all situations their respective duties; truth in policy, which by rendering authority more just, and subjects more submissive, protects governments from the passions of the multitude, and the multitude from the tyranny of governments; truth in our tribunals, which makes vice afraid, reassures and comforts the innocent, and conduces to the triumph of justice; truth in education, which by rendering conduct accordant with doctrine, makes teachers to be the models, as well as the masters of infancy and youth; truth in literature and in the arts, which preserves them from the contagion of bad taste, from false ornaments, and from false thoughts; truth in the commerce of life, which by banishing fraud and imposture, warrants the common safety; truth in every thing, truth before every thing, this is that which the whole human race from its inmost soul is ever seeking, so thoroughly convinced are all men that truth is useful and falsehood hurtful. ¶ When the doctrines of truth are universally inculcated, when they have penetrated into all hearts, and when they animate all classes of society, if they should not succeed in applying a remedy to all disorders, they would certainly have the happy effect of arresting the progress of very many; they would become the fruitful sources of generous sentiment and virtuous action; and they would make us feel that truth is the principle of all life to the social body. But if, on the other hand, error should obtain an ascendancy over the minds of men, and more particularly over the minds of those who are called upon to serve as guides and as examples, it will, by corrupting thought, sentiment, and action, become a principle of dissolution and of death.
Denis Frayssinous, trans. by John Benjamin Jones, Chapter One in A Defence of Christianity (Gilbert & Rivington: December 1835), pp. 33-62.
Frayssinous, a French academic and preacher of the highest stature under Louis XVIII, begins his defense of Christianity with an ode to truth. Along with happiness, it is our greatest need and longing. But not only are we "made for truth", we are, accordingly, equipped with faculties to discover it. Against skepticism, Frayssinous advances a particularist epistemology, arguing that some beliefs arise in us in such a way that they serve as anchor points by which we can considerably extend our knowledge. These moorings are marked by several qualities, namely: "perspicuity, antiquity, universality, and immutability". For example, propositions that are immutable "resist ignorance, prejudice, and passion". We can no more make it so that "there should be effects without causes, than to appoint that for the future men should live without food". Our abilities to discern these basic truths "serve us as guides and torches". "We are compelled to admit the existence of primary truths, felt and perceived as soon as announced, incapable of proof, because they themselves are the proof of every thing, primary in their existence, they precede the experienced use of reason, as the seed precedes the plant." Conceding that his principles for establishing such truths avails only a meager handful of knowledge, Fraysinnous argues that by these lights much can be inferred. "If then the chain of our reasonings are suspended on any one of these primary and immutable principles; if they are united together like the links of that chain, the last held by the one preceding, until they reach the fixed point which sustains the whole, then will the very last consequence be inseparably united to its principle." Finally, Frayssinous addresses the inevitable objection that, if these faculties are so wonderfully veracious, why then the persistence of such disagreement and so many erroneous beliefs. He continues his abbreviated response here in his second discourse, "On the Causes of Our Errors". Disposed as I am to well-qualified particularism, Frayssinous' brief but artful defense is a welcome alternative to his less epistemically sanguine countrymen, such as Foucalt and Derrida. ~ Afterall
Michael Devitt (Princeton University Press: December 1996), 340 pages.
In this provocative and wide-ranging book, Michael Devitt argues for a thoroughgoing realism about the common-sense and scientific physical world, and for a correspondence notion of truth. Furthermore, he argues that, contrary to received opinion, the metaphysical question of realism is distinct from, and prior to, any semantic question about truth. The book makes incisive responses to Putnam, Dummett, van Fraassen, and other major anti-realists. The new afterword includes an extensive discussion of the metaphysics of nonfactualism, and new thoughts on the need for truth and on the determination of reference. ~ Product Description
William P. Alston (Cornell University Press: April 1997), 296 pages.
One of the most important Anglo-American philosophers of our time here joins the current philosophical debate about the nature of truth with a work likely to claim a place at the very center of the contemporary philosophical literature on the subject. William P. Alston formulates and defends a realist conception of truth, which he calls alethic realism (from "aletheia," Greek for "truth"). This idea holds that the truth value of a statement (belief or proposition) depends on whether what the statement is about is as the statement says it is. Although this concept may seem quite obvious, Alston says, many thinkers hold views incompatible with it — and much of his book is devoted to a powerful critique of those views. Michael Dummett and Hilary Putnam are two of the prominent and widely influential contemporary philosophers whose anti-realist ideas he attacks. Alston discusses different realist accounts of truth, examining what they do and do not imply. He distinguishes his version, which he characterizes as "minimalist," from various "deflationary" accounts, all of which deny that asserting the truth of a proposition attributes a property of truth to it. He also examines alethic realism in relation to a variety of metaphysical realisms. Finally, Alston argues for the importance — theoretical and practical — of assessing the truth value of statements, beliefs, and propositions. ~ Product Description
Simon Blackburn and Keith Simmons, eds. (Oxford University Press: October 1999), 416 pages.
This volume is designed to set out some of the central issues in the theory of truth. It draws together, for the first time, the debates between philosophers who favor 'robust' or 'substantive' theories of truth, and those other, 'deflationist' or minimalists, who deny that such theories can be given. The editors provide a substantial introduction, in which they look at how the debates relate to further issues, such as the Liar paradox and formal truth theories. This volume contains classic readings by authors such as William James, Bertrand Russell, Gottlob Frege, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Alfred Tarski, Quine, Peter Strawson, J.L. Austin, Paul Horwich, Michael Dummett, Donald Davidson, Anil Gupta and Richard Rorty to name a few. I think it is fair to say that most, if not all significant theories of truth advanced in the 20th century are covered in this volume. ~ Product Description
Michael P. Lynch (The MIT Press: August 2005), 216 pages.
Why does truth matter, when politicians so easily sidestep it and intellectuals scorn it as irrelevant? Why be concerned over an abstract idea like truth when something that isn't true — for example, a report of Iraq's attempting to buy materials for nuclear weapons—gets the desired result — the invasion of Iraq? In this engaging and spirited book, Michael Lynch argues that truth does matter, in both our personal and political lives. Lynch explains that the growing cynicism over truth stems in large part from our confusion over what truth is. "We need to think our way past our confusion and shed our cynicism about the value of truth," he writes. "Otherwise, we will be unable to act with integrity, to live authentically, and to speak truth to power." True to Life defends four simple claims: that truth is objective; that it is good to believe what is true; that truth is a goal worthy of inquiry; and that truth can be worth caring about for its own sake—not just because it gets us other things we want. In defense of these "truisms about truth," Lynch diagnoses the sources of our cynicism and argues that many contemporary theories of truth cannot adequately account for its value. He explains why we should care about truth, arguing that truth and its pursuit are part of living a happy life, important in our personal relationships and for our political values. ~ Product Description (Gold Award Winner for Philosophy in the 2004 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards)
Michael P. Lynch, ed. (MIT Press: April 2001), 820 pages.
What is truth?" has long been the philosophical question par excellence. The Nature of Truth collects in one volume the twentieth century's most influential philosophical work on the subject. The coverage strikes a balance between classic works and the leading edge of current philosophical research. The essays center around two questions: Does truth have an underlying nature? And if so, what sort of nature does it have? Thus the book discusses both traditional and deflationary theories of truth, as well as phenomenological, postmodern, and pluralist approaches to the problem. The essays are organized by theory. Each of the seven sections opens with a detailed introduction that not only discusses the essays in that section but relates them to other relevant essays in the book. Eleven of the essays are previously unpublished or substantially revised. The book also includes suggestions for further reading. Contributors include Linda Martín Alcoff, William P. Alston, J. L. Austin, Brand Blanshard, Marian David, Donald Davidson, Michael Devitt, Michael Dummett, Hartry Field, Michel Foucault, Dorothy Grover, Anil Gupta, Martin Heidegger, Terence Horgan, Jennifer Hornsby, Paul Horwich, William James, Michael P. Lynch, Charles Sanders Pierce, Hilary Putnam, W. V. O. Quine, F. P. Ramsey, Richard Rorty, Bertrand Russell, Scott Soames, Ernest Sosa, P. F. Strawson, Alfred Tarski, Ralph C. Walker, Crispin Wright. ~ Product Description
Harry G. Frankfurt (Knopf: October 2006), 112 pages.
Having outlined a theory of bullshit and falsehood, Harry G. Frankfurt turns to what lies beyond them: the truth, a concept not as obvious as some might expect. Our culture's devotion to bullshit may seem much stronger than our apparently halfhearted attachment to truth. Some people (professional thinkers) won't even acknowledge "true" and "false" as meaningful categories, and even those who claim to love truth cause the rest of us to wonder whether they, too, aren't simply full of it. Practically speaking, many of us deploy the truth only when absolutely necessary, often finding alternatives to be more saleable, and yet somehow civilization seems to be muddling along. But where are we headed? Is our fast and easy way with the facts actually crippling us? Or is it "all good"? Really, what's the use of truth, anyway? With the same leavening wit and commonsense wisdom that animates his pathbreaking work On Bullshit, Frankfurt encourages us to take another look at the truth: there may be something there that is perhaps too plain to notice but for which we have a mostly unacknowledged yet deep-seated passion. His book will have sentient beings across America asking, "The truth—why didn't I think of that?" ~ Product Description