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Distinctions Between Whats True, Whats False

1721 words (7 pages) Essay in Philosophy

10/05/17 Philosophy Reference this

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The statement “There are no absolute distinctions between what is true and what is false” is both correct and incorrect when examining certain areas of knowledge and ways of knowing. To evaluate the statement’s accuracy we must understand the meaning of the words ‘true’, ‘false’ and ‘absolute’. In my opinion something that has been proven as correct or real is ‘true’. On the other hand, something which has failed to be proven true is ‘false’, yet this definition itself may be incorrect as others might argue that a claim which has not been credited as true does not necessarily mean it is false. Lastly, the term ‘absolute’ is something perfect or unlimited. However, how can something be proven true, and if it has, then who determines when there is enough proof to make it true? Normally we rely on evidence to help us prove the validity of a claim, particularly for historical and scientific claims. On the other hand, evidence used could contain problems of knowledge due to bias which could be associated with it. Therefore, what kind of evidence is needed to have a justified truth in the different areas of knowledge?

In my opinion, perception is one of the most important ways of knowing, since we often depend on it to determine whether a claim is true or false. For example, the existence of light is considered a ‘fact’ due to perception–yet to a person who has been blind their whole life, light would be considered a myth since they have never perceived it. On the other hand, perception can deceive us and lead us away from the truth. Take for instance a schizophrenic patient. Science has proven that people who suffer schizophrenia are delusional. [1] The people they interact with are ‘true’ to them but their existence to us is false. What gives us the right to deny their existence? Perhaps we are the ones who have a barrier to our senses that stops us from seeing what schizophrenic patients see. Therefore perception could be considered relative as it creates different truths to different individuals and is therefore subjective. Nevertheless it is not just perception alone which leads us to the truth.

Science is a discipline that is based on hard, objective and systematic evidence before ‘truths’ can be reached. Through tests and observations possible explanations or hypotheses are formed and later developed into scientific claims which could be regarded as true or false. For example, the cell theory, which states that all living organisms are composed of cells, that cells are the smallest units of life and that they come from pre-existing cells, was derived from several similar hypotheses and then confirmed after many scientists’ experiments and observations. [2] The cell theory is considered ‘true’ by a large number of scientists yet it can be argued that we cannot claim that the theory is an absolute truth since new evidence can appear and contradict explanations to the theory which could lead, after further experimentation, to new and improved knowledge and a more accurate truth. This is apparent when examining the induced-fit model by Koshland which was discovered after the lock and key model was developed to describe the mechanism of enzyme action. [3] The induced model highlighted that certain enzymes could catalyse several similar reactions contradicting the belief that enzymes were as rigid as previously proposed by the lock and key model. From the above examples we can see that scientists are able to distinguish between a true claim and a false one, to a certain extent, and that new truths are built from previous claims which were/are believed to be true but, that it is almost impossible to state that a claim is the absolute truth. I believe the problem with scientific claims is that most scientists have not tested the validity of the previous scientific truths on which they build their new scientific claim. This makes the previous scientific truths, subjective truths, but scientists use these subjective truths in the hope of finding objective truth.

Meanwhile, not all scientific claims which have been proven true remain true. Science has witnessed paradigm shifts such as the shift in the belief that stress and spicy food were the causes to stomach ulcers. This was thought because the idea of bacterium surviving in the acidic environment of a stomach was not a possibility, yet it was later proven that the true cause of ulcers was a bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori which lives in the mucus layer near the stomach wall cells. [4] This example shows that science has its limitations at certain points of time and that what we believe is true today may not be true tomorrow, therefore embracing Karl Poppers’ idea of falsification. These paradigm shifts also lead to the idea that there may be no absolute proof in science that can verify nor falsify the validity of a scientific hypothesis. Therefore, should science embrace the concept of relativism, the idea that some claims are true for some people but not necessarily true for all? [5] If we deny the concept of relativism, would it prevent us from moving forward and gaining new knowledge since scientific knowledge comes from known ‘truths’? I believe that we should bear in mind the chance that any scientific claim known now could be altered or changed at any moment, but as knowers ourselves we should avoid gullibility by continuing to question these scientific claims especially during classes such as the sciences where we as students are exposed to these claims through secondary sources.

History is an area of knowledge where determining true historical claims is very different from in science since knowers cannot directly observe the past. [6] It is up to historians and the evidence left behind to develop historical claims and prove their validity. During a History class, I was asked to evaluate a few sources of evidence in relation to the Vietnam War. Each source showed different aspects of the war. Here, I was introduced to propaganda and how far off from the truth it can lead people. Certain evidence such as photographs can deceive us again due to our perception as each person may conclude something different. The media is often accused of using certain photographs which appear to convey a certain message leading to biases. Reasoning, one of the ways of knowing, is used in order to conclude on past events. However, how reliable is the historical evidence? Is it all correct, or does it consist of fabricated facts?

I once gave a seminar on the Arab-Israeli conflict, the central conflict in the novel “One More River”, by Lynne Reid Banks. Countries such as the US have failed to solve this conflict due to the two stories of each nation. For both Palestinians and Israelis, most of the ‘evidence’ they have is based on their beliefs and stories. However ‘stories’ in history are often not considered as legitimate evidence, for the ‘truth’ to be determined. Where does the ‘truth’ really lie with the assumption that previous generations of both sides may have tried to hide the truth in order to insure that future generations could continue to claim the land as their own? Other nations are involved in trying to resolve this conflict, and emotions can play a major part in determining whose side you take through religious or linguistic affinity. The media play on emotion and help shape people’s opinions towards certain topics through the very language, tone and imagery that are used. Language and emotions can either mask the truth or make it clearer. The media are full of news stories that project their own biases, often negatively influencing the perception of the readers/viewers. In such instances, it is almost impossible to establish what is true and what is really false.

Mathematics is an area of knowledge which begins logically from a set of axioms (assumptions) [7] from which objective truth is stereotypically claimed to be present. For example, 1+1 will always equal 2 yet this example faces counter-claims such as the fact that 1+1= from an artistic perspective forms a window. It could also be argued that when looking at a real life situation where 1 man and 1 woman enter a house we should have 2 people in the house according to the definition, but what if the woman is in the early stages of pregnancy? Therefore in contrary to perception, there would be more than two living human beings in the house, disproving the mathematical definition. An example of objective truth in mathematics is the fact that parallel lines never meet. If they meet, then they would no longer be parallel. In my opinion, math is the not the strongest area of knowledge which agrees with the statement at hand since distinctions between true and false mathematical claims is possible. However, some areas in mathematics remain subjective. For instance, it could be argued that in order to solve a mathematical equation, mathematical theories and laws must be accepted, making the ‘truth’ in maths subjective.

Over all, after examining three of the six main areas of knowledge, mathematics seems to least support the claim that “There are no absolute distinctions between what is true and what is false”, as there is much objective truth in mathematics. We see that different areas of knowledge use different ways of knowing as evidence to distinguish between true and false statements in addition to the problems associated with them. Lastly we see how difficult it is to state that absolute truths exist as well as form an absolute distinction between what is true and what is false.

Word count: 1598

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