My first four main posts mostly discussed the existence of objective truth. Why focus on this topic so much? My aim with this blog is to establish basic assumptions, and from there build up to other claims to truth. In this post, I am going to attempt to explain what I mean by “From the Ground Up”.
When someone makes a statement, that statement is based off certain assumptions. For example, a person, let’s say Fred, who goes to the Packer Hall of Fame, makes the statement “The Super Bowl 45 trophy is in front of me”. When making this statement, Fred is assuming several things:
1. He can use his mind and reason to come to a truthful conclusion
2. He can trust his senses (sight in this case) to come to a conclusion
3. Objective truth exists
4. He is not deceived; this trophy is the actual Super Bowl 45 trophy
Fred may be assuming these things to a certain degree of confidence for various reasons. Here are examples of some potential reasons. The numbers are matching the numbers of the assumptions above:
1. Fred has made many correct conclusions in the past using his mind. Using logic, he knows that 2+2 does equal 4. He did make a wrong decision when he invested into Facebook stock when it was released, since the stock plummeted. However, he used reason to come to the conclusion that he had made an incorrect decision. Also, he has very little reason to accept the idea that he cannot use his mind to draw conclusions. Because of these experiences, Fred has a very high degree of confidence that he can make this assumption.
2. Fred realizes that his senses have been trustworthy in the past. He knew that he was cold before he entered the Hall of Fame based on his sense of touch. He found the location the Hall of Fame by following road signs with his sense of sight. He generally trusts the area of science (forming a hypothesis and making observations with the use of the five senses to come to a conclusion). Science seems to lead to truthful conclusions about his surroundings. Again, based on experience, Fred has a very high degree of confidence that he can trust his senses.
3. This is explained more in my first post. Fred is making an assertion that is true for everyone, everywhere, at any time (that the trophy is in front of him right now). In order to make that assertion, he needs to assume that there is objective truth. He has a high degree of confidence in this assumption.
4. Fred trusts that the Packer organization would not put a fake trophy in the Hall of Fame. He finds that the theory that this is the real trophy is way more reasonable than competing “conspiracy theories.” If he does not want to depend only on his trust in the Packers, he could inspect the trophy more closely to see if there are signs that the trophy is, for example, plastic. Because of his trust and also because no other theories are more reasonable than the theory that this trophy is the real thing, Fred has a high degree of confidence in this assumption.
All of these assumptions lead to Fred’s conclusion that he is standing in front of the real Super Bowl 45 trophy. These assumptions can “build off” each other. For example, Fred cannot make the assumption that the trophy is real if he does not make the assumption that he can use his mind to come to a conclusion.
I notice a few things about this example. First, Fred has reasons behind the assumptions that he makes. He may not think of those reasons as he makes his claim about standing in front of the trophy, but they are still present.
Second, Fred has a certain degree of confidence behind his assumptions. For example, he does not know with 100% certainty that the Packers did not replace the trophy with a fake. He did not personally watch the trophy go from production to the induction into the Hall of Fame. But he still finds it very reasonable that the trophy is real. This level of confidence applies to the other assumptions as well.
Third, his conclusion is based off his trust in a third party, the Packers organization. He may not have empirical evidence that this is the real trophy. In this case his trust, along with comparison to competing theories, is enough for him to form a reasonable conclusion.
I used this example as a starter point to explain ways we can discover truth. I think there are at least three important things to consider regarding the ability to know truth:
1. You can rarely (if ever) have 100% confidence about a claim to truth
2. A person who makes a claim to truth always has reasons behind that claim (that doesn’t mean that those reasons are good)
3. There are different areas we can consider to discover truth
I am likely going to write several posts on point #3, but may write about #1 and #2 as well. So, continuing my “From The Ground Up” theme, I am going to build off the basic (i.e. “ground”) assumption that truth is objective in order to make my next assertion: It is possible to have knowledge about that objective truth.