This is not the epistemology post I promised, but we’ll get there.
Public discourse is a matter of significant importance to democracy, and I believe that there is a general sentiment that it is going down hill (this observation may be rendered less astute by the fact that we as a species seem to have a general propensity to think things usually are going down hill). In this post I want to talk about the political meaning of Facebook posts.
When I trawl through my news-feed at the moment, I am inundated by posts and shares on the US election. Primarily the posts are either bashing Trump or praising Obama (and occasionally someone says something nice about Hillary). Even outside of elections people regularly post political content. One post that stood out to me was a friend who posted something like ‘I notice people have been unfriending me. I must be too political, hehe’. I think that there is something revealing in this post not just about the meaning of the posts of this particular friend, but about political dialogue on social media in general. The important thing to note is the pride my friend was demonstrating in his political stripes. If the purpose of his posts was to communicate with those he disagreed with, he was evidently failing. Rather, he seemed to be taking satisfaction in his ability to cause others to self-select their agreement with him. In other words, through political posting he was sorting out who agreed with him and who did not. In support of this notion, it was interesting how people responded to this post. Many people posted stating how they liked his political posts or were happy that he was saying things that needed to be said, with a few belittling those who unfriended my friend. What I am driving at is that political posts on Facebook and the like often seem to be directed towards those who agree with the post, not those that disagree. When we post political content on social media, we often do not seek to engage with those with whom we disagree, but to demonstrate to our friends our political allegiances. We aim to display our colours to our enemies and our friends, not to actually communicate information.
Let me know what you think,
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I believe I have just had a breakthrough in my understanding of truth. The classical (and intuitively dominant) theory of truth is probably the correspondence theory, which basically proposes that truth entails the correspondence of a statement to reality. The correspondence theory of truth, despite its intuitive appeal, is poorly regarded for a variety of reasons. One problem is defining what it means for a statement to ‘correspond’. Another problem is whether the correspondence itself represents a ‘truth’ (which leads to infinite regression). All of this I found easy enough to grasp (as in, by the end of a philosophy intensive undergraduate degree I more or less felt I had a handle on it). What I continued to struggle with was ‘if truth is not correspondence, what is it?’ There are, of course, a variety of alternatives, but explaining them will not get to the nub of my confusion. One example is the coherence theory of truth, which proposes (to quote the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) ‘A belief is true if and only if it is part of a coherent
system of beliefs.’ Maybe to some of you this makes total sense, but the notion left me entirely flummoxed. Specifically, I was flummoxed by the idea that truth was a property of relations between beliefs. Why did believes matter when determining truth? I was, of course, stuck on a a very fundamental misunderstanding of the transformation the concept of truth undergoes when it transitions from correspondence theory to a coherence theory, namely, truth ceases to be about reality.
This is the breakthrough. Truth is not necessarily about reality. When we ask ‘what is truth’, we are not necessarily asking about how the world is. We might be asking about how the world is, but not necessarily. Instead, epistemology is concerned about the criteria by which sentences are deemed true or false. Correspondence theory proposes sentences should be deemed true or false based on whether they correspond to reality, while coherence theory proposes that truth or falsity is determined by the relationship between beliefs. Coherence theories therefore draw a distinction between beliefs and the reality that those beliefs are about: the question is not whether beliefs fit with reality, but whether beliefs fit with each other.
In my next post I will explore this issue in relation to knowledge and Justified True Belief.
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