Knowledge and Information LO30892

From: Mark W. McElroy (
Date: 01/17/04

Replying to LO30856 --

Dear Terje:

You wrote:

>I also feel that saying that the truth cannot be known at all is to
>go too far. Some things can be known as true. For example, the
>following propositions are definitely true:

>The part is always smaller than its whole
>Singapore is a place
>Germans fought in WWII

>The first two are true because to claim otherwise is blatantly
>absurd. The third and fourth are true because there is no possibility
>of a conspiracy to lie among the witnesses. The key then, is how to
>know when the possibility of falsehood remains, not absolutely
>avoiding labelling a proposition as true or false.

My reply:
My general reply to your claims is to strongly disagree by pointing
out that what you have relied on in your examples (ironically) are
logic, rules of inference, and mathematics, all of which are nothing
more than conventions according to which we try to reach the truth,
but which do not (and never do) in and of themselves provide us with a
basis for certainty.

Rules of inference are inventions of ours. They are not God-given.
And they do not constitute foundational knowledge, nor even a certain
basis for it. They are merely knowledge claims themselves which may
be false. Moreover, they do not assert anything about the real world.
They are tools -- mere concoctions of ours that we have devised to
help us obtain the truth, but which cannot assure its delivery.
Indeed, such rules may or may not be reliable as a basis for
interpreting reality. In short, then, they, like the explicit claims
you make (which DO make assertions about the world) are fallible. So
basing one set of claims upon another set, the latter of which are
clearly fallible and may also be false, is to beg the question of
truth, not answer it. You simply shift the burden to another level.

In addition to my general point about the specious use of ad hoc
conventions to "prove" assertions, I think it worthwhile to point out
that at least two of the examples you gave are demonstrably false.
To say that 'Singapore is a place' is clearly false in the sense that
it is not universally true. Singapore happens to be a nation-state.
Thus, it is a government entity, and not a place at all. This
provides us with evidence that the universality of your claim is
clearly false.

Next, that '1+1=2' is also not always true. We know this from
Einstein's relativity theory, and there are also many cases where
adding two things together does not necessarily result in a sum of
two. If I add two drops of water together, I get only one drop, not
two. Moreover, if I add three smaller drops of water together, I still
get only one drop, which may in fact be smaller in size than the one
drop I obtained when I added only two drops together. [These examples
I take from Karl Popper's writings. There's plenty more where they
came from.]

So when you say that to disagree with your claims would be "blatantly
absurd," you implicitly expect and demand that we first agree to
accept certain premises of yours without criticism (i.e., those
related to certain rules of inference, logic, and math), as if we
should uncritically regard them as true with certainty. But all this
does, I'm afraid, is to shift the issue of truth from one level to
another, an argumentative fallacy that either results in infinite
regress or what a colleague of mine, Mark Notturno, calls 'Floating
Foundationalism': a doctrine that admits that there may not, in fact,
be any foundational truths with certainty, but whose advocates carry
on as though there were. To implicitly suggest that certain rules of
inference are unassailable as premises, and that claims or conclusions
derived from them should be regarded as true with certainty is to
commit this error and to prove nothing at all.

Thanks for your comments.



Mark W. McElroy
President, KMCI, Inc. []
CEO, Macroinnovation Associates, LLC []
(802) 436-2250


"Mark W. McElroy" <>

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