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Infinite Truth Essay

Since the dawn of philosophical thought there has been a desire to find truth. Now exactly what truth is depends upon whom you ask. Philosophers have been searching for truth in various forms for at least as far back as Aristotle in the first century B. C. all the way up to Carl Hempel in the 20th century A. D. To Aristotle and Plato truth was reality; To Descartes truth was found in God; To Hempel truth was found in explanation. None of these are accurate and yet all of them point toward the same truth.

Reality, as defined by Plato and Aristotle, God, as proved be Descartes and ideal explanation as modeled by Hempel, all allude to the same thing. They point out that mankind is a finite being and that truth is only attainable in infinite understanding, an impossibility of man at our current stage of development. Two of the earliest known men to approach the study of reality, or metaphysics were Plato and his student/rival Aristotle. These two inquisitors of reality looked at it from opposite schools of thought.

Plato sought after answers by looking at the world with an outside/in point of view. Meaning he used what he perceived in the world to draw conclusions. Aristotle on the other hand approached the world from an inside/out perspective. He applied his thoughts and beliefs to the world. Aristotle’s beliefs lead to him seeing only one level of reality. He felt there was only one imminent world and that forms existed within particular things. Aristotle held that form had no solitary existence and existed in matter.

In order to explain that form is an inherent trait of matter he quotes Antiphon and “points out that if you planted a bed and the rotting wood acquired the power of sending up a shoot, it would not be a bed that came up, but wood”. (Matthews, pg. 9) To Aristotle the form of the matter was wood and form is the unchanging reality. Plato’s view of metaphysics shows two realms to our reality: there is the realm of changing, sense-perceptible, becoming things and a realm of forms; eternal, fixed, and perfect. The realm of form was the source of all reality and of all true knowledge.

Both Plato and Aristotle use form to describe reality, which to them is truth, as being eternal in nature. So truth is eternal, or infinite in nature, but what of Plato’s other realm, the realm of perception. Plato, in the republic, gives an in depth explanation of how he views this sense-perceptible realm. He uses his allegory of the cave. In the allegory, Plato compares people, unlearned in his theory of forms, to prisoners chained in a cave. They are unable to turn their heads. All they can see is the wall of the cave and behind them burns a fire.

Between the fire and the prisoners there is a parapet, along which puppeteers can walk. The puppeteers, who are behind the prisoners, hold up puppets that cast shadows on the wall of the cave. The prisoners are unable to see these puppets, the real objects that pass behind them. What the prisoners see and hear are shadows and echoes cast by objects that they do not see. Such prisoners would mistake appearance for reality. They would think the things they see on the wall were real. They would know nothing of the real causes of the shadows.

So if the prisoners were to talk to one another about a passing object and called it a doll they would think they are talking about a doll, but they are really talking about a shadow. (Plato, Book VII) Plato portrays in his allegory of the cave a dualistic view of truth. He speaks of the eternal properties of form as Aristotle does, but he also adds his insight into mankind’s finitude and inability to perceive the realm of forms completely. The fact that people take as truth what they perceive will plague philosophers into the modern era.

Much later, in the 17th century A. D., in his Third Meditation Descartes proves the existence of God. He builds his entire argument upon his proof in the previous meditation that in order for him to think, he must exist. From this single observation, Descartes notices that the idea of his existence is very clear and distinct in his mind; based upon this clarity and the fact that he has just determined his own existence, he deduces a rule. All the things that he sees as very clear and very distinct are all true. He then explains that he knows that he is imperfect due to the fact that he has doubts. Clearly, knowing is more perfect than doubting.

From this notion, he realizes that within him lies this idea of a perfect being and that he is incapable of producing this idea alone. Descartes also determines several qualities that God possesses merely by observing himself. Descartes thought that whatever ideas he himself had, if they contained perfections, then God would possess them. If the ideas were in any way imperfect, then God would not possess them. The attributes of God that Descartes came up with are that He is “infinite, independent, supremely intelligent, supremely powerful, and which created myself and everything else” (Descartes, Pg.45). Descartes then makes the point that he has the idea of “infinite” describing God.

At the same time, Descartes is a “finite” being. Since it has already been established that this more perfect idea of infiniteness cannot come from the less perfect idea of finiteness, the idea could not have originated from Descartes alone. Therefore, Descartes concludes that God necessarily exists and in so doing is infinite. In his Principles on Philosophy Descartes describes how “God is the primary cause of motion; and that he always maintains an equal quantity of it in the universe”.

(Matthews, pg. 99) To Descartes God is the infinite cause and balance in the universe. Descartes states in the beginning of his proof that all things clear and distinct are true. That is no more accurate than saying that all ideas that are ambiguous to someone are unconditionally untrue. He also states, the existence of God depends on the clarity and distinctness with which we perceive the idea of God. Therefore, if to me, it was not clear and distinct then it would not necessarily be true. But the clarity and distinctness of our thoughts depends on the existence of God.

This seems to be a very circular argument and is dependent on the existence of God to prove the existence of God. Again human perception falls short of truth. Do people understand truth more in more modern settings? Over the course of the 20th century Carl Hempel came up with two models of human explanation that he organized as ideals. Bas Van Fraassen puts forth a few problems with the models. The problems he states are; asymmetry, relevance, low probability, and legality. These are not the problems with the models.

The real problems come from, as Hempel puts it, “the universal laws invoked?can have only been established on the basis of a finite body of evidence, which surely affords no exhaustive verification”. (Balashov, pg. 51) He also says that because of this all the laws used in the deductive-nomological method of explanation are all only probabilistic. This means that the only method that Hempel actually explains is his probabilistic method. Since all laws have been shown to be probabilistic the problem falls back to the fact that they been established on the basis of a finite body of evidence and therefore causes an epistemological problem.

We can’t define to what degree our “laws” are true. We can’t know the probability of these laws on an infinite scale. Hempel’s models should be taken as models for ideal situations, for if we had the knowledge of infinity then the laws needed would be defined and all of the infinite variables could be accounted for. So true explanation can only be attained with infinite understanding. The search for truth is as old as man himself. The world in which we live seems as true to us as anything. We see, feel, smell and touch what is around us and yet we cannot accept that that is all there is.

Man instinctively has a need to organize, order and explain the universe. We have concepts like reality, God and perfection, all of which we cannot completely grasp. We are not perfect and we are not sure what it means to be real, for we know only what we can sense and yet we know our senses can fool us or be wrong. If our senses and thoughts are the only way for us to interpret the universe and they can be fooled then we cannot know what is real. We cannot fully explain anything. And yet we have a need, a desire for a force that is infinite and true. We name that force God.

For in God is explanation and truth and the infinite understanding that we lack. God is what we use to explain Plato’s form and we are the shackled prisoners in a cave of illusion. Work Cited Balashov, Yuri and Rosenberg, Alex. Philosophy of Science: Contemporary Readings. Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group. NY ©2002 Descartes. God and Human Nature: Third Meditation Matthews, Michael. The Scientific Background to Modern Philosophy. Hackett Publishing Co. Indianapolis ©1989 only probabilistic. This means that the only method that Hempel actually explains is his probabilistic method.

Since all laws have been shown to be probabilistic the problem falls back to the fact that they been established on the basis of a finite body of evidence and therefore causes an epistemological problem. We can’t define to what degree our “laws” are true. We can’t know the probability of these laws on an infinite scale. Hempel’s models should be taken as models for ideal situations, for if we had the knowledge of infinity then the laws needed would be defined and all of the infinite variables could be accounted for. So true explanation can only be attained with infinite understanding. The search for truth is as old as man himself.

The world in which we live seems as true to us as anything. We see, feel, smell and touch what is around us and yet we cannot accept that that is all there is. Man instinctively has a need to organize, order and explain the universe. We have concepts like reality, God and perfection, all of which we cannot completely grasp. We are not perfect and we are not sure what it means to be real, for we know only what we can sense and yet we know our senses can fool us or be wrong. If our senses and thoughts are the only way for us to interpret the universe and they can be fooled then we cannot know what is real.

We cannot fully explain anything. And yet we have a need, a desire for a force that is infinite and true. We name that force God. For in God is explanation and truth and the infinite understanding that we lack. God is what we use to explain Plato’s form and we are the shackled prisoners in a cave of illusion. Work Cited Balashov, Yuri and Rosenberg, Alex. Philosophy of Science: Contemporary Readings. Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group. NY ©2002 Descartes. God and Human Nature: Third Meditation Matthews, Michael. The Scientific Background to Modern Philosophy. Hackett Publishing Co. Indianapolis ©1989.


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