When can we trust our senses to give us the truth? This is a complicated question that requires us to think about how much of what we perceive is reality and how much is created by our minds and beliefs. For us to do this we must do as Bertrand Russell says in his book, “Problems of Philosophy”: “the painter has to unlearn the habit of thinking that things seem to have a colour which common sense says they ‘really’ have and to learn the habit of seeing things as they appear.
” (Russell, Bertrand)
This quote refers only to sight, but it is good to recognize that we must do the same for all our senses: we must learn to make a distinction between ‘appearance’ and ‘reality’. This requires us to look past our prejudices and beliefs and perceive what is really there. The four ways of knowing (logic, perception, emotion and language) all play an important part in this, as our prejudices and beliefs are formed when as we take in information and our minds do their best to organize it so that it is understandable.
This is where we must recognize that emotion is one way of knowing that is most deceptive when trying to sense the truth as it is basically our opinion of what we perceive, and not reality. Emotion is the one way of knowing that should not be used to find the truth. Our opinions are important as they are our beliefs, but there is the possibility that what we believe is not true to begin with.
This also creates conflict between different people as we try to share what we think to be the truth.
This is very common in competitive sports for example, where the referee calls it as he sees it and it is usually a mixture of his opinion of what he saw and the logical outcome of a specific act of one player; the referee also refers to the rules of the game that can be interpreted differently because of linguistic differences. In the referees mind all these factors cohere with each other and no matter if the infraction of rule happened or not, we must trust that the referee is acting to the best of his ability to make it a fair game.
This is an example that proves that emotion does not give a good sight of reality. American competitive sports have solved this problem by having instant replays in games where they can re-watch what really happened and this is a good correspondence test between the referees and reality. Some people think that this ruins the fluidity of the game, while others think it makes the game fairer; another area where emotion distorts reality. We will never know which is better.
This brings us to another problem: there is little to be done to give us the absolute truth at all times and this problem is a fundamental flaw in natural science for example. At the time of a certain experiment, everything could be perfect to make a theory true, and it is disproved not long after by someone else. This could be because the scientist interpreted the information wrong, their equipment was not accurate or they were not aware of the small but important factors that affected their experiment in different ways. At the time of the experiment, the results were pragmatic and cohered with their previous knowledge.
The information could even correspond with other people’s information, but when there is more justification it is easier to believe that it is true. This gives us an important human trait: justification and evidence are used to prove the validity and reliability of an established “truth” even when it is not necessarily the true. We see it as the truth because we can not see what is wrong with it and there is nothing that contradicts it at the time. As soon as there is some doubt, humans naturally try in some way to make it irrelevant or take it into account and try to find ways of minimizing that doubt.
Another area where absolute truth can not be found is history, as it is the study of other peoples’ accounts of their past and not ours. This is important because we have to understand that what the historian wrote in the book might not necessarily be true in reality, but it was true to him. If you read accounts of the history written by a Polish citizen after World War II, a pro-Nazi extremist and a historian during the same time, there will be differences in what they said happened and it is very difficult to find the truth of what actually happened.
Each gives their opinion of what happened. Each gives give evidence and justification to their claims. All of them have their own process of coherence even if their ‘truth’ does not correspond to other peoples’ ‘truths’. This gives us the question: who can we trust when it comes to history or World War II, the defender, the attacker or the historian? History is the one area of knowledge that we will never know the absolute truth because there is no way of going into the past and reliving what happened.
Math is probably an area of knowledge that gives the most truth because mathematical theories never change and mathematical proofs are so secure that there is little room for doubt. Mathematical proofs use our perception to see all parts of a question to find the answer. We look at a question in math and there is only usually only one answer or one set of answers where any other value is wrong because all the rules of math must be followed to eliminate doubt. These rules have been created using pure logic and to break one of these rules would be failing a pragmatic test.
Mathematical proofs are designed to eliminate all doubt and exceptions because as soon as there is one, the answer is wrong. Math is good at giving us the true and is used all the time, in our heads subconsciously, in banks to manage our money, in power-plants so we do not blow out our electrical equipment and the examples go on forever. Math is used everywhere because mathematical answer is the truth. The flaw of math is that it gives us a very simple truth. As soon as you add more variables it just gets more complicated.
Math also does not give us useful truths to areas of knowing like psychology, or literature because it is impossible to explain these things using numbers. When trying to see if something is pragmatically true, we must use the same pure logic and reason to limit doubt. Pragmatic testing should be the same for everyone, while correspondence and coherence testing very individual as they test if something is true by checking a claim with something else, be it another person or another sense in the body.
There is the problem that one of these sources could not be the truth making the truth not true. In my opinion, we should trust our senses to give us truth when we have eliminated all doubt and there is trusted justification. Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge section.
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