The impossibility of there being no truth.

One of the premises frequently used for the argument that “all cultures are equal” (multiculturalism), or for the argument that you should not be judgmental, is relativism, which is the idea that there is no absolute knowledge, that is, that there is no truth. Some would write it, “there is no ‘truth.'” The scare quotes indicate the author’s derision of the word. As the philosopher David Stove has made clear, the scare quotes turn the word from its obvious meaning, that something is true, to something that is only believed by so-and-so to be true. Thus, the quotes also serve to give their users a self-made patina of superiority.

Roger Kimball, in his blog Roger’s Rules, told of his attendance at a colloquium to honor the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski. In a session on ?Enlightenment, Modernity, and Atheism,? one of the participants began her statement, ?I know, of course, that there is no truth.?

And it’s in this sentence that we have the proof that its own conclusion is false. Which is another way of saying that the woman’s statement is paradoxical, and therefore nonsensical.

Why? If it’s not already obvious to you, “to know” can only mean that you are aware of a truth. And the truth that you know cannot be that there is no truth, because then you would not be able to know it.

The original sentence cannot be saved by changing it to “There is no truth” because, as Bill Clinton might remind us, it depends on what that meaning of is is. And the meaning is existential, which is to say, that the thing of which it speaks (truth) exists. In any case, the sentence “There is no truth” is either true or false. If it is true, then there can be no truth, and so the sentence cannot be true, hence a paradox.

All arguments against the idea of truth fail for the same reason. Because no matter how cleverly you couch your language, no matter the strength of your authority, in the end either your argument is true or it is false. If it is true, then there is no truth, and your argument cannot be true, and you’re right back in the same paradox.

The non-existence of truth is then an impossibility, thus true things exist. So the task becomes identifying what those truths are. And that’s no easy task!

What does this have to do with statistics? A lot, actually, because all statistics is based upon probability, the nature of which we first have to understand before we can use any statistical method. One view of probability, and the dominate one in Bayesian statistics, is the idea that probability is subjective, nothing more than a construct in an individual’s mind. In other words, subjective probability is a philosophy of relativism. Those who hold this view believe that there cannot be objective, i.e. true, probability.

Naturally, I believe this is false. Stay tuned for more.


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