I would like to comment on an excerpt of a comment by Mike
“We might distinguish questions of fact (e.g. “which way will John vote at the next election?”) from questions of value (e.g. “is Blair’s outlook better than Brown’s?) by noting that the answers to factual questions may be true or false, but that the answers to value questions must always depend on and presuppose a point of view or value. Answers to factual questions do not presuppose a point of view or value – they presuppose the categories of true and false and must be framed in those terms (either we are correct in predicting that John will vote for X or, if he votes for Y we will have been shown to be incorrect).”
I think it will be important to define the word “knwledge” right now. I use “knowldge” to mean “justified true belief”. If we happen to guess right, we do not know. I will place great stress on the word “justified” in that definition.
OK back to the quote “answers to value questions must always depend on and presuppose a point of view or value” is implied by”answers to value questions must always depend on and presuppose a value”. In this post I will assume for the sake of argument that the stronger claim is true so answers to value questions must always depend on and presuppose a value. How does this make them different from claims of fact ?
Statements about what is right or wrong either correspond to a value or they don’t .
In apparent contrast “answers to factual questions may be true or false”. The school of thought which seems to me to make the strongest claims for “answers to factual questions” (and the one which I find convincing) asserts that true statements are statements which correspond to reality. Reality in tern is something outside of us and separate from our beliefs about reality. It might include atoms and the void and it might include other minds and ideas in other minds and, for all we know, it might include other things as well.
I would say it might, for example, include the moral law. In fact, I believe that reality consists of atoms, minds, natural laws, the void, the moral law and, perhaps, other things of which I have not conceived. I do not claim that I can prove that I am right, but I don’t think that it can be proved that I am wrong.
One distinction between fact and value is that claims of fact are true or false depending on their relationship to something outside of ourselves (the real world) while claims of value could not depend on something outside of us because there obviously could not be a moral law becaause …. because I said so.
I believe I am being entirely fair to this argument (made by the straw man sitting to my left). One can sincerely and confidently believe that all that exists are atoms and the void or minds and ideas, but one can not claim that based on that sincere and confident belief to have disproven my view that, in addition, there is a moral law which is quite seperate from our beliefs about what is right and wrong.
To clarify, I believe that the moral law was exactly the same as is it currently is before the origen of life and will be the same after we are all extinct and is the same in the center of the sun as it is in my brain.
So I think my beliefs about right and wrong might correspond to an objective reality outside of me or, much more likely, might fail to correspond to this objective reality.
So far I have stated my opinions and claimed that they can not be proven false. This is totally different from imagining that they might be proven true, let alone that I might have proven such a thing.
However, there is something wrong with common views of “factual questions”.
I think that any reasonable person will agree that there are factual questions which we can not possible answer. This is in contrast with
“Answers to factual questions do not presuppose a point of view or value – they presuppose the categories of true and false and must be framed in those terms (either we are correct in predicting that John will vote for X or, if he votes for Y we will have been shown to be incorrect).”
Here there appears to be an identification between “factual questions” and questions to which we will certainly know the answer. Consider the following claims
1 Throughout the year 1 AD Augustus Caesar weighed over 1 kg
2 Throughout the year 1 AD Augustus Caesar weighed over 60 kg
3 Throughout the year 1 AD Augustus Caesar weighed over 70 kg
4 Throughout the year 1 AD Augustus Caesar weighed over 700 kg
they are clearly the same sort of question. However, I think that we will never know if statements 2 and 3 are correct. I don’t think that the distinction between
1 Kg and 60 kgs can be the basis for a fundamental philosophical principle.
This point is much more certain if one accepts the idea that there are such things as mathematical truth and mathematical knowledge, at least if one agrees that a mathematical claim is known to be true within an axiom system if it is the statement of a theorem which has been proven using those axioms.
In this case, one has two choices. One can conclude that logic as used by all (almost all?) mathematicians is a big mistake or one can conclude that there are unknowable truths. Don’t take my word on it. This is known within standard mathematics. It is called Goedel’s theorem.
I would say that claims of fact are true or false as they correspond or not to reality. It is possible that true claims can be known to be true *within* a method of science which produces as conclusions “this claim is true” “this clim is fase” and “it is not know if this claim is true or false.” I would note that no such method of science happens to exist at the moment, since currently available methods of science produce “this hypothesis is consistent with the available data and is the simplest hypothesis with the fewest arbitrary fiddles whcih is currentoy available.”
I would like to stress that I believe that this assertion applies to cliaims like “the Sun rises in the East” “the sun rose in the East at least once in the past 4 hours” and “John … he votes for Y”
Some of these claims are generally accepted as just plain facts, but the passage from our sensory experience to the conviction that the Sun and John exist and are not just dreams of ours requires first something along the lines of method of science and second the conviction that we can understand things best with by distinguishing between sensations which we forget and which don’t connect with each other (dreams) and ones which we remember which actually fit together somehow (waking sensations).
My point, if any, is that while truth may be objective and universal, knowlege, by definition, must consist of true beliefs which are justified by a method and, hence, must be knowledge within a system of justification.
So I think claims of fact can be just plain true, but they can be known only given a point of view or methodological approach.
Similarly I the claims of right and wrong can be just plain true but they can only be known given a point of view or system of values.
So what exactly is so different ?