There are fields in which the contribution of applied ethics and deontics are more than needed, such as that of the programming of artifici...
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
In quest of a human truth
In his appealing blog, Amod Lele has recently argued that we can apply the concept of truth as correspondence with an external state of affairs in all fields ( even in regard to human states, for instance). The blog is wonderfully written and it does not deserve criticisms coming from a different point of view, so I will just use it as a departure point for an epistemological excursus on this matter. In fact, I am convinced that the truth-as-correspondence does NOT work in all cases. In many cases, on the other hand, the truth of a certain state of affairs is closely linked with its subject and cannot be judged independently of her. By that I do not mean that truth is 'subjective', i.e. whimsical. I just mean that it is subjective because it is essentially linked with the subject. A neuroscientist could calculate the number of neurones involved in a painful sensation and the frequency of signals they transmit. But this has no necessary connection with the quality of the pain the subject is experiencing, which could depend from many other, subjective, factors (such as the presence of what the Buddha labelled a "second arrow"). So, 'pain' is a real state of affairs and it is subject-dependent. No scientist could convince me that the pain I am experiencing is unbearable if I can bear it (and vice versa, different people react very differently to what seems to be the same neuronal stimulus). A similar case may be the experience of God. Taken for granted that God's non-existence could be demonstrated, this would not invalidate the subjective experience of His presence of people like St. Teresa of Avila. (A different way out would be to argue that all these people were liars -but this seems to me deeply implausible. The alternative view that they were deceiving themselves does not alter the point: they were anyway 'perceiving' God's presence.) Hence, we need a concept of truth beyond that of correspondence with external state of affairs. I suspect that the truth-as-correspondence is applied to human fields because of a sort of inferiority complex of human studies in regard to natural sciences. So, scholars of the human psyche strive to become natural scientists dealing with an objective entity, the brain, and the like.