What is truth? Well, seeing as how you asked me so nicely…
Truth is whatever happens when you do something; what you observe; the consequences of actions; whether good, bad or indifferent.
(But this is very different to empiricism; see below)
So truth depends on observing what happens but this does not make it metaphysical, relative or mystical. We can always do better observations if we just follow the Blue Holistic Elephant method (another blog). Limits on observation does not mean that truth is metaphysical or relative.
Warning: it what follows, Descartes is the fall-guy, Nietzsche and Deleuze are the superheroes, and sarcasm is rife…)
Western philosophy and much philosophy from the rest of the world has made the big mistake of trying to give speaking and writing some sense of truth relative to what is talked about. A big mistake that was compounded by René Descartes.
So I hit the mirror with a hammer and it shatters. Truth. All our observations are similar and we cannot talk the mirror back into its original form: I cannot socially re-construct the mirror. But… philosophers have wanted to make another type of truth in this form: “If you hit a mirror with a hammer then it breaks” is TRUE.
Yes folks, philosophers have tried to make the sentence be true or false (spoken or written makes no difference, Derrida!). But writing or saying a sentence is a very different action in the world. It has nothing to do with hammers or mirrors. If I showed you a gif of a hammer smashing a mirror and I showed you a gif of a philosopher saying “If you hit a mirror with a hammer then it breaks” you could probably tell the difference… hopefully…
So gente, all western philosophies have been built on the wrong assumption. For example, empiricism was about whether observations could make sentences certain or absolute. No, you cannot make sentences certain ever by observations; they are different actions totally. Pragmatism was about whether the effects of saying ‘true’ words led to things being done properly or more effectively; no, they are unrelated. (Dinosaurs are not ‘false’ because they were ineffective and died out. If fact they were effective but not in a changing ecological context. And neither are we.)
So we can only know ‘truth’ by doing things (experimenting is just one way) and then observing in a pure Blue Holistic elephant way. [And I think that this is what Deleuze meant when he called it ‘transcendental empiricism’; which is not related to western empiricism at all.]
Bluntly, shit happens and we can see shit happen if we observe properly, but this is not related at all to how we talk about shit happening (like western empiricism wanted)
Three more things that come from this:
1. Philosophy and psychology have used the totally worst forms of observation. Descartes based his ideas on seeing half-lit candles in the dark, and mistaking objects because the lights were dim (we know now who the dim one was…). He should have just turned on the lights or paid his power bills on time.
Psychologists have always loved visual illusions, objects with totally all of the context removed, and basing everything on very, very short observations. But these all make the worst possible conditions for observation and end up showing nothing. The superhero here, of course, is JJ Gibson. Add him to the list…
2. The key point to learn here is the trickiest, and left until nearly last. Saying or writing words DO ACTUALLY HAVE TRUTH. The truth of smashing a mirror is what happens. And so the truth of speaking or writing is also what happens.
But a familiar refrain in this Blog is that any language use ONLY has effects on people, not on what we are talking about. Talking about mirror smashing and hammers has no effect at all on mirrors and hammers. Talk only can have an effect on people, listeners, audiences. Hence…
… in the end, the ‘truth of sentences’ is purely the effects they have on listeners, and these can also be observed using good conversational/discourse analysis done using the Blue Holistic Elephant methods. The effects of language use do not have to be effective or productive or reinforcing or anything in order to be ‘true’: their truth is simply whatever effects happen to listeners. And of course these effects will be different for listeners who have been trained differently with a different history… no surprises there… different mirrors break in different ways too, you know.
So in the end there is a truth to words but it is totally nothing like western philosophy has craved. It only involves what people do when they hear words, and this only involves the historical training of those people in responding to language, not anything metaphysical.
So the truth of words lies purely in social relationships and social strategy, what people are trained in life to do when they hear those words in certain relationships, not in anything to do with what is said.
Big mistake, René … Cost us 200 years… You would have been better being Zené Descartes…
3. And speaking of Zen, of course, all this applies to yourself as well. Hence, the truth of me is the effects I have on the whole of the world when I act and the effects I have on people when I speak.
“I am who I am but not who I say I am”