Wednesday, December 14, 2016

One Hundred and Two

I find it difficult to have conversations with other people because we don’t agree about even the most basic premises. Most of them seem to think a statement must be true or false. They don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, that we’re limited beings. We can’t know anything with certainty.

Of course this is only how other people seem to me. I could be wrong about them. Perhaps they know better. It’s difficult to know what other people think; and easy to conclude, based on the evidence of their actions, that they don’t think.   

If our goal is to tell the truth (which it seldom is; more often than not our goal is to conceal the truth, or what we think is the truth, from others, or from ourselves, or both. It’s an impossible goal because we don’t know the truth well enough to know what to conceal; therefore even when we try to lie, we tell the truth. And vice versa), we must distinguish between what we know, or think we know, with certainty, and what we hypothesize based on the available evidence. But we are limited beings, so the evidence available to us is limited. The most we can say with certainty is that the evidence available to us seems to us to support our hypotheses. We can’t even say with certainty that we’ve interpreted the evidence correctly, because we don’t know ourselves with certainty.

We assume we’ve interpreted the evidence correctly when we test our hypotheses by acting on them, and the results are what the hypotheses predict. But this doesn’t prove our hypotheses are true at all times in all places; only that they're true at this time in this place. We can never know what’s absolutely true. We can only know what’s true for us.

Most philosophers dismiss this kind of conditional truth as nothing more than illusion. They say only truth that's true at all times in all places, for all people, is real; which means we are ourselves illusions, because despite what some claim, we are limited to a time and a place.

The world we’ve made for ourselves - a world of ideas which seem more real to us than physical reality, and which we claim is true at all times in all places, for all people – is in reality more transient; not just illusion, but delusion.

Because we can never know absolute truth, we make hypotheses, and hope they're close enough to the truth to serve our needs. If they don’t, that can mean our hypotheses are false, or it can mean our idea of our needs is false. But it’s easier to see that our idea of the world is false than to see that our idea of ourselves is false.  

I think I usually know others better than they know themselves; and what I know – about them, and about myself – leads me to believe we’re more alike than we are different, and - contra Socrates - they know right from wrong as well as I do. They don't need a Socrates to teach them right from wrong in order to do what's right. They don’t do what's right because they don’t know what others think is right. They care more about appearing to be good than actually doing good.

But we can’t rely on others to tell us what they think is right - most people don't know what they think, and rely on others to tell them - so it's simpler to do what we think is right without worrying how it appears to others.

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