What is True? (Part Two)

Since I’ve been on the road for the past week and a half, I’ve sporadically followed the comments surrounding my last post, but never really had the time to respond.  It seems to me they eventually went slightly off track and came perilously close to ending up in a ditch.  Since I was unable to participate in-utero, as it were, I will not go back and try to address each comment or thread.
However, it seemed to go off the rails right after this exchange and thus this exchange never resolved or was addressed completely and I think it important enough to bring up one more time:
Me:
“Hi Bernard,


I gave you the context in the example. What is unclear about the background context and the exchange between Betty and her biological mother?It seems to fit in with the very example you gave of the truths we learn from literature. Do you mean to say as you read the story, or if Betty were to relay this story to you herself, you would see no difference of significance in Betty’s assertion that her biological mother is not her “true” mother? You would understand them to be equally what? People emoting?Would you say to Betty, “I think your biological mother’s claim is as significant as your counter-claim…”?”
 

Bernard’s Response:
“Hi Darrell
I’m not understanding the way you’re using significant or true in this context. Sorry. Totally lost. Probably my fault. If anyone can shed light, I’m all ears.”
What’s interesting about Bernard’s response is that I was using the very word (“significant”) he had already used in describing Betty’s counter-assertion over and against her biological mother’s assertion.
“I say it’s more significant to Betty, because this is how she reports it…” (-Bernard)

And my response was, but is it more significant to “you”?—meaning, do you agree with Betty’s reporting that being a mother is more than just mere biology.  Bernard’s response was that neither Betty’s nor the biological mother’s assertion were more significant to him than the other’s.
When I then asked Bernard if he would tell Betty such, he responded he wasn’t sure how I was “using significant or true in this context.”  What?  The word “significant” came from him. ???    
However, Bernard knew from the context that Betty thought her assertion was more significant.  So I find this very interesting.  That would seem to indicate the context was understood.  After all, I gave the context for the exchange between Betty and her biological mother.  Here it is again:
Suppose the natural biological mother of Betty was very cruel to her growing up, she beat her, barely fed her, and one day abandoned her. Betty is eventually adopted. She is raised from there on in a loving home by loving parents. She grows up a very happy girl and graduates High School—and is now preparing for college. One day Betty’s biological mother sees Betty on the street, and is told who she is, the girl she gave up.  She runs up to her. She says, “Betty, it’s me, your mother.” Betty just stares at her. The woman says, “I’m a little light on money right now, could you spare a little, you know, for your mother?” Betty reaches into her purse, pulls out some money, hands it to her, and says, “You are not my mother—my mother is home—I’m going to go see her now,” and she walks away.   
What is not clear about this context?  I wasn’t talking about all possible contexts in all possible universes, so I was taken aback a little when some suggested they weren’t sure of the context.  I narrate the context–otherwise their dialogue wouldn’t even make sense.  So asserting the “context” issue as a way of not really answering the question (which is the truer or more meaningful statement) didn’t make sense to me.  It appeared to be a dodge really.  Or, perhaps I am the one lost here and simply missing everyone’s point. 
However, I do know the point I was trying to make.  My point for all this was to suggest that we all know there are different types of “truth.”  There is the “truth” that the sun is hot and there is the “truth” that being a mother is more than mere biology or the strictly empirical grounds for being a mother that all could agree to (biology, DNA, genes) objectively and scientifically.  For instance, some cultures may view motherhood differently after the bearing and delivery of the child, but all could agree upon who the biological mother was.  We have been told we should “restrict” our views to just this sort of common consensus and not go beyond that boundary.
As we think about those differences within this story about Betty, we all know her assertion that this woman is not her mother is the “truer” more meaningful and significant counter-assertion over and against her biological mother’s assertion that she is Betty’s “mother.”  We all can see that.  Given the context, there isn’t a person reading this blog who would take up the biological mother’s side in this exchange.  No one would argue her point or think her assertion of motherhood to have more “weight” than Betty’s—and anyone seriously attempting to do so would be dismissed as, at the very least, quite odd if not cold and uncaring.  Only a socially/ethically stunted person would defend the biological mother’s view (“I am your mother”) in the context of this exchange and background.
Thus, we know that empirical “truth” as a comprehensive and exclusive way of knowing is incomplete.  It is partial.  It is a surface reading and can hardly capture the “truth” of existence or of an encounter/event like the one between Betty and her biological mother.  I think this is what Bernard was getting at with his example of the truths from literature, and I agree completely.  Therefore, one should never found a narrative or world-view exclusively upon a strict empiricism.  It should be an aspect to a narrative, but it would be unwise, to say the least, to “restrict” one’s view to the purely empirical and not consider these other types of truth.  Notice that the Judeo-Christian narrative accommodates both types of truth—while a strict empiricism can only accommodate one type (the sun is hot), which means it has to exclude or ignore the other type (“You are not my mother.”) and the narratives from which they arise.  This is another way we can evaluate narratives.  Which can accommodate both types of truth?  Clearly the one that makes room for both is the wiser choice and the one, I believe, we can say is “truer.”
Another interesting development was that some suggested that both mothers (biological and adoptive) were Betty’s “empirical” mothers, so “what’s the problem,” they seemed to say.  Well, I was hoping that someone would try and make that point, but let me back up a little first.  It has constantly been asserted on this blog that “empirical” be limited to those facts and evidence that all can objectively agree upon.  In my posts on consequences, I suggested that we should consider the “empirical” results or consequences of what happens when cultures believe and act upon a narrative as a clue or pointer regarding its truthfulness.  If we can consider the “empirical” results of Betty’s adoptive mother’s love and caring for her as also revealing “truth” and being “empirical” then we should be able to do the same for the consequences of narratives and call it “empirical” evidence as well.  In other words, if we are expanding what “empirical” usually implies or means, then it helps my point regarding the consequences of narratives and their pointing toward the truth just as the adoptive mother’s actions (consequences) pointed toward the truth of who the “real” mother was.
Also, a thought regarding this matter of different types of “truth.”  The question the strict naturalist defaults to is, “But does this “truth” correspond to some objective outward truth about reality or does it correspond to something only subjectively true that is inner and personal to each person?”
First, if we agree that this “truth”, whether one wants to call it poetic or artistic is more meaningful, significant, and “truer” than what can be captured by the strictly empirical then what it corresponds to is the reality of recognizing that very difference.  I will take “more significant and meaningful” over “true” any day of the week.  In reality though, we equate them to be the same and they should be.  It is this very difference that conditions the way we understand the empirical facts.  How could one “truth” be false but at the same time more important, significant, and meaningful than some other “truth”?  That doesn’t make any sense to me, nor, I think, to most as they go about living their daily lives.

What matters is we recognize that one interpretation (Betty’s) of the “facts” or state of affairs is truer and more significant than the other (the biological mother’s) interpretation.  Secondly, the question simply reveals the underlying hidden presupposition of a fact/value distinction, which is question-begging because that is the very distinction disputed.  The answer to the naturalist’s question is that it doesn’t have to be either/or (the trap of all fundamentalism).  A truth can be subjectively felt and personal while also corresponding to an objective outward reality that others are also able to recognize.  To claim otherwise is simply to presuppose all such claims or “truths” have to or must be of psychological/cultural origins exclusively.
Finally, a nod to Ron and a “thank you” for a good laugh.  With some frustration he noted that to believe what Burk, Bernard, and JP were telling him he would be forced to stake out three different options for himself, all of which were negative and rather insulting.  He chose what he thought was the most acceptable and least insulting of the three.  He did this of course with the ironic view that such is what one must do when following the logic of his interlocutors, some of whom are quite vocal in telling us how much they dislike intolerance and privileging.  Somehow this dislike translates into “As long as you agree with me that you are irrational, I will accept and tolerate you.”  Wow.  Nice.  One could almost feel the polite pat on Ron’s head.

But what was worth the price of admission was then hearing the same interlocutors extending their glad tidings or even congratulations he had made his peace with the fact he is irrational.  I’m glad that was settled and I’m sure Ron is too.  Just like with AA, the resolution comes from admitting up front what one is.  “Hello, my name is Ron and I am an irrational person.”  He is on his way to healing now.  God speed.   
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28 Responses to What is True? (Part Two)

  1. Burk Braun says:

    Darrell-

    “Thus, we know that empirical “truth” as a comprehensive and exclusive way of knowing is incomplete.”

    Only if you define “empirical” as inhumanely anal retentive. Actually, there is nothing empirical about your distinction. Both cases (mothers) have plenty of empirical ground for their separate relationships and no one disputes that.

    The dispute you are looking for is about “significance” or moral judgement. You are casting this as some Anna Karennina novel and asking who sides with which character. There is no issue of truth here at all, only of affinity and sentiment. So no wonder Bernard was, as were we all, befuddled by your continuing insistence that this is some kind of meaningful point, relating to “truth”.

    “Notice that the Judeo-Christian narrative accommodates both types of truth—while a strict empiricism can only accommodate one type (the sun is hot), which means it has to exclude or ignore the other type (“You are not my mother.”) and the narratives from which they arise.”

    Again, same answer. The emotions we have and our personal histories are fine topics for “empirical” knowledge and truth. Just because it is subjective that I love X doesn't mean that it isn't a fact that I love X, or that X treats me well. What is subjective about it is (for example) that my loving X does not make X universally lovable. X is not objectively lovable, because others can have highly different histories and relationships that make such properties specific to one relationship, and perhaps to one moment in time.

    So, I think if you were to define your terms a little better, and not let your prejudices run ahead of your reason, we could probably work all our differences out:)

    Now, getting back to the topic of “truth in literature”. Again it is a term that I don't like much, because these may be very fleeting and vague insights. They do not rise to the same level of explicitness and formal structure as truths from more analytical methods. And as an aside, to speak of religion as “accommodating” analytical truth is quite far from the truth.

    But anyhow… literature can portray the human inner life which has undoubted reality as well as importance very effectively. And to make such things even a little more explicit from the inchoate level where they usually reside is a great accomplishment. But these truths are like

    ##

    “In other words, if we are expanding what “empirical” usually implies or means, then it helps my point regarding the consequences of narratives and their pointing toward the truth just as the adoptive mother’s actions (consequences) pointed toward the truth of who the “real” mother was.”

    Ah- now it all becomes clear. But the problem is that the “pointing” is a vague word here. The care lavished by the adoptive mother is an empirical fact.. not in dispute. So the daughter's attitude has a factual basis. It is not, say, a tale of alien abduction whereby Betty was cured of her psoriasis in magical fashion. For the sake of my example, let's assume that while the healing may have taken place, the story is false, in empirical “truthiness” terms. Does the story “point” to a truth? No.

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  2. Burk Braun says:

    Sorry – forgot to end my sentence there..
    But these (literary) truths are like the very beginning of a scientific process- like hunches- sometimes compelling, but not really testable or formalizable. They are sort of condemned to live in a dim world where they may resonate with our personal views of the human condition, and may inspire us to great projects, but remain personal and vague, due to the ever-protean nature of the human condition.

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  3. Hi Darrell

    I am still a little confused about your use of the word significant, particularly as it relates to truth.

    We all agree that Betty's experience of her nurture mother is more emotionally significant to her than her knowledge that she is not her birth mother.

    So, to say one is more significant, is in this case to say that it means more to Betty. But, when you turn the question to me, and ask which of Betty's connections is more significant to me, I'm not sure what you mean.

    Perhaps you mean, which do I think is more emotionally significant to Betty. This is an easy question. I think the nurture mother is more significant, because that's part of your story.

    Perhaps you mean if I were Betty, which would feel more emotionally important to me, in which case I suspect, but can not confirm, that the nurture relationship would matter more to me (although it would depend upon many variables).

    Perhaps you mean, which of these two relationships Betty has feels more emotionally important to me. In this case the answer is, neither, I'm not emotionally involved in the situation. Were the tale fleshed out, I might find I have empathetic links with all three characters, but this would depend entirely upon how the stories were presented.

    Or, perhaps you mean which do I believe is more significant in some Platonic sense, where there is this thing that exists objectively, called motherhood, and you're asking which of these two relationships more closely matches this ideal. And here my answer is, I have no idea, because I don't have a clue what the Platonic ideal would look like.

    So that's my confusion, which I'm sure you can clear up. Which of these (or perhaps some other) definition of significance did you have in mind?

    Bernard

    Bernard

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  4. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “I am still a little confused about your use of the word significant, particularly as it relates to truth.”

    Again, I am not the one who used the word. You did. What did you mean? As you say, we all know it is significant for Betty. But my question from the very first was: Do you agree with Betty regarding that very significance? Not, “Do you recognize it is significant to her or that she is emoting?” That is obvious.

    “Perhaps you mean, which of these two relationships Betty has feels more emotionally important to me. In this case the answer is, neither, I'm not emotionally involved in the situation. Were the tale fleshed out, I might find I have empathetic links with all three characters, but this would depend entirely upon how the stories were presented.”

    Are you familiar with the word “empathy”? Do you mean to say that unless you are emotionally involved personally in a situation that you are incapable of recognizing and “feeling” what another person is feeling and trying to communicate even from a distance?

    I think everything else you note is addressed within the post.

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  5. Hi Darrell

    I've been through the post, and it's not clear to me which of the four you mean, or if you have another in mind. Hence the confusion. Could you clarify?

    If empathy is what you mean, then which is more significant depends upon how the story is told. Is this what you're after by significant?

    Bernard

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  6. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    I told the story. Twice. What is not clear about it? What else would you need to know to empathize or agree with Betty as to the significance of her assertion over and against her biological mother's? Would knowing her date of birth or the name of the town make a difference? What about the story, especially now as I've filled in and stated my point, do you not understand or need before you could agree with Betty?

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  7. Darrell says:

    I am using the word “significant” in the same way (I assume) you were when you attributed it to Betty. What did you mean? If you agree that for you as an objective observer it is also the more significant statement (“You are not my mother”), then I am happy to go with whatever you meant by the word “significant.”

    I'm assuming you can identify with others and agree with their statements without it happening directly to you? Right? Just like when reading a story about someone in the news or a book? Right?

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  8. Hi Darrell

    When I used the term significant, I used it within a subjective context. More significant denotes more significant for somebody, in this case Betty.

    I am happy to accept that for Betty, the nurture relationship is more significant. It also appears, from the way you frame your story, that for the biological mother, that relationship is more significant for her. I can empathise with both women, and understand the emotional significance for both (indeed I was raised with an adopted brother, so imagining the emotional complexity is not difficult for me).

    Now, as an objective observer, am I able to judge which of the two women's sense of significance is more 'significant'? No, of course I can't. I have no idea how one would go about measuring objective significance, or even what that term might mean.

    You hint at the idea that you want to know which is more significant for me. I'm not sure I understand that. If I was given the biological mother's past, introduced to her battle with addiction and depression or whatever, then my natural sympathy might go with her, and I might want to see Betty show a little more charity. Or, conversely, the story might be spun in such a way that my sympathy naturally sits with Betty. The manipulation of emotional response in this way is exactly how story works.

    If I stand back, however, and am asked to objectively quantify competing emotional significances? I wouldn't know where to start. I'm not sure one should want to start, actually. Isn't extending charity to all a better starting point?

    Bernard

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  9. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    Concerning: As we think about those differences within this story about Betty, we all know her assertion that this woman is not her mother is the “truer” more meaningful and significant […]

    I think you're mixing up notions that are unrelated. It may be true that one of these women is more important to Betty than the other, in terms of emotional attachment and what have you. No contest here. But truth and importance are completely different ideas. I don't understand why you would want to equate them.

    You seem to think there is a definite answer to the question “who is Betty Real mother?”. But there is no answer. The word “mother” is just a word – it denotes a number of different things: the woman who gives birth to a child (1), the woman who raises her (2), and so on. Usually these are all satisfied by the same person – the “mother”. But, in Betty's case, they are not. One person is a mother according to (1), another according to (2). No one is the “real” one.

    It's just that the word “mother” is ambiguous. There is no deep hidden truth here.

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  10. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    Who suggested we cannot extend charity to each here? This has nothing to do with hating one over the other. The story is not “spun” so that your empathy “must” sit with Betty. Given the information I present in the story, we are given a context that is completely plausible and reasonable. It doesn’t need to be “spun.” And Betty does show some charity. She gives her biological mother money. Of course we can empathize with both women, but we should certainly empathize more with Betty here. Again, you are bringing up different contexts—ones I did not give you. In all possible contexts in all possible universes, yes, we could speculate regarding many things. But I didn’t give you that. I gave you a very simple story and context. I’m asking you to respond to that story and context only.

    Are you saying that an abusive, mean-spirited, uncaring person’s assertion of motherhood has the same significance to you as the counter-assertion of Betty’s that the mother who loved and cared for her is the true mother? Who would tell Betty they thought her biological mother’s assertion to be as significant, meaningful and true? I find it hard to believe, frankly, that any decent person would do so. In the moment as presented in my story, what socially stunted idiot would do that? I know you certainly wouldn’t.

    You are missing the greater point. A strict empiricism, one where all could agree objectively and scientifically, would demand that only the biological mother could be considered the “true” mother. If we agree, whether for Betty alone, or if we can also empathize and indentify with her, then an abstraction (motherhood as loving, caring nurture) and the empirical results or consequences of that abstraction is more meaningful, significant, and “truer” than the strictly empirical/scientific “facts” here of biological motherhood.

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  11. Darrell says:

    Hi JP,

    “I think you're mixing up notions that are unrelated. It may be true that one of these women is more important to Betty than the other, in terms of emotional attachment and what have you.”

    Again, as I pointed out to Bernard—we all know what’s important to Betty. My question was, which is important to you—which woman do you agree with as you read the story?

    “No contest here. But truth and importance are completely different ideas. I don't understand why you would want to equate them.”

    Who says they are completely different ideas? That is one of the very ideas disputed here. Unless one makes a prior commitment to a fact/value distinction, there is no reason why we shouldn’t consider something of significance and meaning (like Betty’s assertion) as “true.” It should be very clear why one would want to equate them. But first, are you suggesting that one fact (motherhood demonstrated by love, care, protection, and comfort) can be more significant, meaningful, and important than another fact (biological motherhood), but at the same time false? My suggestion is that they are both true, but one (Betty’s assertion) is the more meaningful, important, and significant. It is truer. The mere empirical, scientific “fact” of biological motherhood is trumped by the abstraction (What we think the designation “mother” encompasses) and the actual consequences (loving and caring for Betty) demonstrated by her adoptive mother.

    Thus a strict empiricism is a truncated and only partial way of knowing—it can never be complete or comprehensive.

    Civilizations have always wanted to equate importance, significance, and meaning, with truth because we need to ability to say that a statement like, “The Holocaust was evil” is truer than a statement like “The sun is hot.” They are both true, but one is more important than the other, clearly. Thus, I can again agree with Bernard’s statement:

    “And I agree that we can validly speak of truths that are not grounded in facts, things that speak truly to us, and our human condition. Were this not the case, we wouldn't have the Arts, and I agree too that we mustn't fall for the trap of believing one type of truth is more important, or even more basic, than the other.”

    Do you agree with Bernard? If so, why? If not, why not? I am really just pointing out the same thing here with my story about Betty.

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  12. Hi Darrell

    Actually, they're both equally empirical measures of being a mother. So this is the wrong example to use if one is trying to establish something about non-empirical truths. It is empirically true that one is the birth mother, and empirically true that one raised her.

    I still don't know what you mean by significant to me. Are you asking me with whom my sympathy lies? I'm pretty sympathetic towards them both. Yes, I am saying the woman who abandoned her daughter may well have significant feelings towards her daughter. You seem to be asking me whether her feelings are more or less significant than her daughter's. I don't know how one measures relative significance. I don't even know what that means.

    Perhaps, if we had information that told us one of them was being insincere in their expression of significance, or we had some reference point for emotional investment, as is attempted with scales of physical pain? I don't know. I'm at a loss. I trust you do have a point you're trying to get at here, but I can't get it to clarify.

    You say to JP that your Betty story is trying to get at the point I make when speaking of those things that speak to the human condition as having truth value. There I speak of the way metaphor can very often summarise a situation so complex that it can't be expressed in finer terms, and that this metaphor can often be accepted as the best available (actually science relies upon metaphor too, but there's another argument). Not sure what the metaphor in play with Betty is… that things that feel important to us feel important to us?

    Bernard

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  13. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    I think my last response (and the post itself) noted my point and what I was trying to get at. Sorry it is so unclear. I do think you are over-thinking this. Also, I gave you all the context anyone would (or should) need to know who is making the more significant assertion regarding motherhood.

    I think 9 out of 10 people after reading my story would understand the difference between the biological mother’s concept of motherhood and Betty’s. And I think they would side with, empathize, identify with, and agree with Betty’s concept.

    I also think it represents exactly the type of point you were getting at (at least I thought) and I noted that point to JP. That difference revolves around why a strict empiricism is always only a partial way of knowing. Additionally, if empirical results or consequences can also point to the “truth” as you seem to be agreeing here, then it makes my point about the consequences of narratives also pointing toward the truth. I’ve responded to and covered everything you note here. So, we will need to leave it there. I would just be repeating myself at this point.

    In the future however, when I represent that there are different types of truth and some are more important than others (as you point out), these two posts will represent what I’m talking about and are always here for reference.

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  14. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    there are different types of truth

    You want to illustrate this using the Betty situation but you do little more than assert it, without any substantial argument.

    I think that, on the contrary, both statements regarding Betty's mothers are of exactly the same type. As Bernard notes: “It is empirically true that one is the birth mother, and empirically true that one raised her.” It is also empirically true that Betty regards one of the two women as more important to her than the other. Also that Betty may call one of them her “real” mother. These – and many others – are perfectly ordinary (empirical) statements, expressing very ordinary “truths”. (To be sure, I take “empirical” to mean “verifiable by observation or experience”.)

    I don't see how your case against empiricism can even get off the ground using the Betty situation.

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  15. Darrell says:

    Hi JP,

    “I think that, on the contrary, both statements regarding Betty's mothers are of exactly the same type.”

    I addressed all this in both posts. They are not the same at all. Betty would certainly not think so. Here it is again:

    “However, I do know the point I was trying to make. My point for all this was to suggest that we all know there are different types of “truth.” There is the “truth” that the sun is hot and there is the “truth” that being a mother is more than mere biology or the strictly empirical grounds for being a mother that all could agree to (biology, DNA, genes) objectively and scientifically. For instance, some cultures may view motherhood differently after the bearing and delivery of the child, but all could agree upon who the biological mother was. We have been told we should “restrict” our views to just this sort of common consensus and not go beyond that boundary.”

    If you disagree, then what “truths” do you think Bernard was talking about in his statement?

    And I agree that we can validly speak of truths that are not grounded in facts, things that speak truly to us, and our human condition. Were this not the case, we wouldn't have the Arts, and I agree too that we mustn't fall for the trap of believing one type of truth is more important, or even more basic, than the other.-

    What I’m asserting is that a “truth” grounded in scientific fact (biological motherhood) is less important or less “true” than a fact (the love and caring of someone) that is grounded in an abstract understanding (that being a mother is more than biology) and the actual results of that understanding.

    The gap and the gulf between the biological mother’s assertion and Betty’s is an obvious enormous distance. Huge difference. Not of the same type at all.

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  16. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    The difference between propositions “the sun is hot” and “being a mother is more than mere biology” (your examples) is that they are about different subject matters. The former is about physics and the latter about psychology. They are the same kind of truth in that they are both (empirical) statements about the world.

    A different kind of truth would be, for example, a mathematical theorem, which is neither empirical nor about the world.

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  17. Hi Darrell

    I agree that most people could see there are two different concepts in play. And perhaps many would sympathise more with Betty than her biological mother. Who knows. But what, in all of this, is true?

    I can't see what your statement that Betty's nurture mother is her true mother refers to. What is this thing that is true in the world that this reference corresponds to? If the thing being represented is Betty's feeling, then it can be true (that Betty feels this way) without it contradicting the truth of how her biological mother feels. And so both are equally true, in that both equally well describe an underlying reality.

    If the truth being corresponded to is the truth that most people, on hearing this story, feel sympathy for Betty, then that's possibly true and could be verified empirically, I guess). But that references a set of feelings, and says nothing about motherhood.

    What is this thing you think your truth is referring to?

    Bernard

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  18. Darrell says:

    Hi JP,

    “The difference between propositions “the sun is hot” and “being a mother is more than mere biology” (your examples) is that they are about different subject matters.”

    I addressed this in my first post: “I think most of us would say both assertions are true—just “true” in different ways. But how should we think about that ‘difference’?” That difference can be thought of as the gap or the distance between the biological mother’s assertion of motherhood and Betty’s.

    “The former is about physics and the latter about psychology. They are the same kind of truth in that they are both (empirical) statements about the world.”

    Whether the latter can be reduced to purely a matter of psychology is a disputed matter. That gap or distance between the two assertions reveals that we cannot simply reduce “motherhood” to biology, DNA, genetics, or the objective scientific understanding of “motherhood.” Betty’s assertion requires an abstract conception or narrative of what “true” motherhood is. Anyone would agree and understand if we said who Betty’s biological mother was. There would be no grounds for dispute there—all could objectively agree, right?

    But they are not the “same” kind of truth; to say they were the same would be to say that there is no gap or distance between the two statements. You are confusing two different aspects of empiricism. If both are empirical statements about the world, then any statement is empirical simply by it being asserted and existing. I am referencing empiricism as it has been used in this conversation.

    My story is simply to capture what Bernard wrote here: “An example of a poetic truth? Well, literature is full of them. The novel ‘The Corrections’, for example, speaks truly of the impossible gap that at times opens up between the world of the parent and their adult child, and does it in a way that can not be adequately spoken of in summary or naked description. It is through the depiction of the characters and their circumstances that the truth is revealed, and for a certain reader, it resonates. We say, yes, this is how it is to live in our age, this is part of the pain and challenge of being human.”

    Betty’s assertion of who her true mother is cannot be adequately captured in the “naked description” of mere biological motherhood. The point is that the “truth” of her statement, whether we want to call it poetic or artistic, always trumps and is more significant than the biological mother’s strictly empirical and scientific notion of motherhood.

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  19. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “What is this thing you think your truth is referring to?”

    I think it refers to the difference in truth statements (the gap or distance that opens up) that you yourself referenced:

    “And I agree that we can validly speak of truths that are not grounded in facts, things that speak truly to us, and our human condition. Were this not the case, we wouldn't have the Arts, and I agree too that we mustn't fall for the trap of believing one type of truth is more important, or even more basic, than the other.” Also, “…and does it in a way that cannot be adequately spoken of in summary or naked description. It is through the depiction of the characters and their circumstances that the truth is revealed…”

    The scientific, objective, empirical truth of biological motherhood (something all could agree upon) isn't more important or more basic than Betty’s assertion of what constitutes motherhood; in fact, we would attribute more importance and significance to Betty’s assertion. We do not see them as equal statements or statements that capture the same meaning. There is a gap, a distance.

    I think if one assertion is more important, more significant, and more meaningful than another we can speak of it as being “truer.” And this is why empiricism is only a partial and incomplete way of knowing.

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  20. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    Also, “…It is through the depiction of the characters and their circumstances that the truth is revealed.”

    The point right now isn't necessarily what “truth” specifically we have in mind, only that “truth” is revealed in more than strictly empirical/scientific ways or methods. That was the whole point of both posts.

    “Truth” cannot be reduced to or captured completely by empiricism or science alone.

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  21. Hi Darrell

    Is it helpful, perhaps, to distinguish between personal and universal truths here?

    One of the things about a truth in literature, for example, is that it is adjudged true by the individual reader, it resonates with them and their experience. There is no reason another person, encountering the same character or metaphor, should respond in the same way, or consider the metaphor truthful.

    This type of truth seems to reference directly the personal response. Betty's feeling about motherhood has this flavour to it, it references the way she responds to, and thinks of, the concept of motherhood.

    I think it is wrong to dismiss such responses as untrue, they speak true to the person, and are so much more important than the mundane details of physical arrangements that to think of them as being in some way less true is in some ways an emotionally stunted response. We swim in the sea of subjectivity, so to speak. It is is an essential part of our human being, who we are.

    The thing about subjective truths, however, is that they can be both true and untrue, depending upon the vantage point. Some idealist theists see God in this way, existing for them, but not for others. I have no argument with this kind of theism, it seems entirely consistent to me (as does the pragmatist theist's belief system).

    Is this distinction helpful, or are you looking for objective truths that are reached by non-empirical means?

    Bernard

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  22. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    I'd like to stick with the Betty situation for now and not involve literature or the Arts, for a couple of reasons: first, I understand you claim that analyzing this situation is sufficient to establish your point; second, the Betty case is, in itself, very simple while literature is vastly more difficult. I believe, and I think you will agree, that we should make sure we can figure out simple cases before moving on to more complex situations.

    So, what is it exactly you claim about Betty? There are many common place observations we can make (and, as observations, they would be by definition empirical): Betty has been raised by a woman (M) who is not her biological mother (B); she has a much stronger attachment to this “effective” mother (perhaps none at all for the other); she claims that this woman is her “real” mother and we may accept this claim as part of how she feels about the situation; Betty certainly considers M presence in her life as more significant and more important to her, while others may see this differently. And so on.

    None of the above requires that we go beyond the empirical (that is: “verifiable by observation and experience”). To say the opposite, you have to show that one of these claims is not derivable from observation or experience and you have not done so – you have just repeated your claim that it is so, without much argumentation. You have said (or is it Ron?) that asking questions to subjects (and interpreting answers) is not a legitimate scientific tool, but then you would have to dismiss the larger part of psychology as non-scientific – not very promising, I'd say.

    One thing you have done is introduce this vague notion of “real” motherhood, as something (more or less objective) that cannot be “reduced” to biology (whatever that means). But, by doing so, you yourself add it to the story and then claims the story shows it. Not so. At most, the story can hint that Betty believes such a thing exists and is meaningful. But that she believes so does not mean it makes sense.

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  23. JP says:

    2Hi again Darrell,

    Concerning “real motherhood”… If you would give a simple, clear, unambiguous definition of the term, then I believe it would be a simple matter to agree on who Betty's “real” mother is. On the other hand, if you cannot give a definition, how are we to know what you are talking about?

    Concerning relative importance (or significance), same idea: because importance is subjective, determining the relative importance of various things (here, Betty's many mothers) requires providing a set of criteria used to classify these things. If you would spell out your criteria then, again, it would probably be a simple matter to agree on this.

    Concerning calling A truer than B on the basis that A is more important than B (according to some criteria)… You have to provide a definition of “truth” that makes this intelligible – I have checked a few places and I can't find anything that fits. Moreover, if what you want to say is that A is more important than B then – why don't you simply say “A is more important than B”?

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  24. Darrell says:

    Hi Bernard,

    “I think it is wrong to dismiss such responses as untrue, they speak true to the person, and are so much more important than the mundane details of physical arrangements that to think of them as being in some way less true is in some ways an emotionally stunted response. We swim in the sea of subjectivity, so to speak. It is an essential part of our human being, who we are.”

    Yes, this is partially what I’m getting at and I think it is represented in the quotes I've taken from you. I would differ as to whether or not these are entirely personal truths as opposed to what we would call objective universal truths, but that is a question best put to the side for now.

    The greater point is that these “truths” we are talking about do seem to transcend the purely subjective and personal. A mark of a great or profound work of art or piece of literature is that it speaks to a great many of us, in many places, and over time. We (not just I) identify and it seems to hit on something universal. Yes, people may interpret some things differently and have slight variations in their response, but there seems to be a core of truth that resonates with many in the same way. A work of literature can speak to different age groups, people groups, and in different generations over time, and as people talk about their responses to this work we often hear the same felt response. We get it together. We can talk and share. It rises above just a personal subjective experience, which if too personal and subjective is incommunicable.

    Whether or not this speaks to some objective universal truth is clearly debatable. What seems clear to me however is that almost all recognize that whatever this “truth” is, it clearly, as you say, is, “…so much more important than the mundane details of physical arrangements that to think of them as being in some way less true is in some ways an emotionally stunted response.”

    It is my assertion then that we should think of narratives in the same way. Does this make them false? I don’t believe so. Again, I think “much more important” trumps the “details of physical arrangements” every time, and is, at the end of the day, what we should consider as “true.” That we also recognize the physical arrangements as “true” is important too, but always the least important factor. Thus, I think we can say that empiricism is only a partial and incomplete, however important, way of knowing.

    Thus, I think the modern myth of the fact/value distinction needs to finally be laid to rest.

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  25. Darrell says:

    Hi JP,

    Well, I specifically chose a narrative, a story (the Betty situation) to involve literature and the arts and the way we think about the “truths” in those areas so I don’t think we can separate them out. Whether you want to deal with the story about Betty or talk about the truths in literature—it’s the same conversation—so either is fine with me. I was simply trying to point out that I think the story pictures what Bernard is noting in the quotes. Do you agree?

    My claim regarding Betty is that she is making the more significant, important, meaningful, and thus the “truer” claim. I don’t see how we can apply those terms to her assertion but it be false, equal, or less true than the biological mother’s claim of motherhood. And again, we know how Betty feels. I’m asking you- how do you feel about her statement and the scene I describe. Do you agree with her? Can you empathize? Do you care that she makes her point—that her true mother is the one that took her in, loved her, and cared for her?

    “None of the above requires that we go beyond the empirical (that is: “verifiable by observation and experience”). To say the opposite, you have to show that one of these claims is not derivable from observation or experience…”

    This misses the point. The fact each is verifiable by observation and experience doesn’t help us reach agreement in an objective, scientific fashion does it? Clearly the biological mother and Betty disagree. They could both make an empirical case, right? Would you grant however that everyone could at least agree (100% agreement) that this woman (if tested) is her biological mother? And, as crazy as we might think it to be, there might be some who upon learning such would side and agree with the biological mother—that biology alone makes her the mother. Now what? Well, if we were to say, because we want consensus and agreement, we are going to limit (restrict) our view of motherhood to that to which we can all agree (objective, biological, DNA genes, scientific) to decide this question, then we must side with the biological mother’s assertion of motherhood, right?

    I will state it again: I am speaking of empiricism in the way it has been used in these conversations. While it might not require us to go beyond the empirical in the widest sense possible, it does require us to evaluate Betty’s assertion over and against her biological mother’s.

    There is a vast gap or distance between those two assertions—two assertions that disagree with each other. Do you see that? If so, are you saying that gap or distance can be addressed entirely empirically and scientifically?

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  26. JP says:

    Hi Darrell,

    I don't think we're making any progress here… What you could do to move this forward is to provide a simple, unambiguous definition of what you mean by “real mother”.

    I mean, you must know what you're talking about when you use this expression (I don't). Therefore, it should be a simple matter to define it clearly in a few words.

    Only then will we be able to see if our problem is purely semantic or if, as I gather you believe, there is something deeper going on.

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  27. Burk Braun says:

    I believe I addressed the basic point here in a long note no one probably read:

    Darrell:
    “In other words, if we are expanding what “empirical” usually implies or means, then it helps my point regarding the consequences of narratives and their pointing toward the truth just as the adoptive mother’s actions (consequences) pointed toward the truth of who the “real” mother was.”

    Me:
    “Ah- now it all becomes clear. But the problem is that the “pointing” is a vague word here. The care lavished by the adoptive mother is an empirical fact.. not in dispute. So the daughter's attitude has a factual basis. It is not, say, a tale of alien abduction whereby Betty was cured of her psoriasis in magical fashion. For the sake of my example, let's assume that while the healing may have taken place, the story is false, in empirical “truthiness” terms. Does the story “point” to a truth? No.”

    Darrell uses the “Betty” tale of two stories to pit narrative truth against his twisted version of “empirical” truth, and it just doesn't work. Some stories are true, others are not true, however “significant” they are to us.

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  28. Darrell says:

    Hi JP,

    You seem to be missing the greater point. Forget the word “real” if that’s a problem. We know one mother is the biological mother and one is the adoptive mother. They are both “real.” We can’t read this literally or in a wooden manner.

    The biological mother claims motherhood, while in opposition Betty claims her “true” mother is somewhere else. This isn't a riddle. As I noted in the first post, we recognize that both statements are “true” in their own way.

    There is a disagreement however. There is a gap and distance between the two statements. It is that gap and distance I’m asking you to comment on. Clearly that gap is not semantic. I’m asking, to you personally, as you read it as an observer, which is the more important, significant and meaningful assertion, Betty’s or the biological mother’s?

    The biological mother’s claim is based in pure biology and science. Betty’s claim is based upon a narrative (motherhood “ought” to be this way) that says motherhood is something more than the “is” of biology alone—and she experienced that motherhood.

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