Truth? It’s not just about the facts

Snow-605x454Julian Baggini at the TLS:

Philosophers do have something to contribute to this debate. Alain Goldman pretty much invented the field of social epistemology, which investigates social contribution to knowledge, while Miranda Fricker’s work on testimony has clear real-world implications. When residents of Grenfell Tower complained that they had not been listened to, they provided a textbook example of how having access to truth is not enough if you do not have the social standing for your views to receive “uptake” from others. But for the most part, philosophers are not the best people to address people’s uncertainty over whom to trust. Greater scientific literacy, for example, would do more to reveal the truth in the climate change debate than a semester on epistemology.

There is yet another reason why truth is not as plain and simple as snow is white. In the witness box, we all pretty much agree on what makes a claim true and why: a statement is true if and only if it correctly describes real events. In other contexts, however, what we take to warrant a truth claim varies. In neither maths nor science, for example, is truth primarily a matter of accurately describing the physical world as mind-independent reality.

In mathematics, truth attains a kind of Platonic purity and certainty. If a formula or proof is correct, then it is necessarily correct. The truth of mathematics holds independently of what facts might obtain in the world. The laws of physics could change but the maths wouldn’t. That’s why Hume distinguished between the truths of mathematics, which he said involved the “relations of ideas”, with “matters of fact”, truths about the world.

more here.