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I am writing an essay how there can be disagreement when people or experts are provided with the same facts. Now I mentioned that while the same facts might be present, the truth people might interpret from these facts are much more malleable than the fact themselves and can thus lead to different truths. Now, I was wondering whether this statement is correct, and if anyone could provide an accurate description of the notion of truth.

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I don't think anything formal will be of much help here so I'll stick to heuristics.

There is no difference between a statement being in fact the case and that statement being true. In general, a proposition is true if and only if it corresponds to some feature of the real world. So the statement "snow is white" is true if and only if snow is in fact white.

The problem is in your statement the truth people might interpret from these facts are much more malleable than the fact themselves and can thus lead to different truths. You're saying truth, but in the common account, truth is singular---the world is only one way at a given time. What would it even mean to say otherwise? I think you really mean belief. To believe a proposition is to assert that it is true. It's obvious that people do believe different things about the world, but it does not follow that they are all correct.

People want to have true beliefs, so they form new beliefs based on what they take to be true. Now there are some things we know to be true with certainty. Everybody can agree that all bachelors are unmarried, because that's just what it means to be a bachelor. However most of the things we want to say about the world are not known with absolute certainty. We don't have every relevant piece of information.

For instance, if there's a chair in the room, it could be there because Alice put it there, or it could be there because Bob put it there, but as long as you didn't see either of them walking in with the chair, you could reasonably say that either of them did it. As for the reason you would come down on one side rather than the other...

Well, the actual essay is yours to write, so I'll go no further, but good luck! You're on a really interesting path.

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    minor point: things are neither true nor false, statements about things are. – Mr. Kennedy Mar 9 '17 at 4:08
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    True, edited for clarity. – Canyon Mar 9 '17 at 4:10
  • True that, homie. – Mr. Kennedy Mar 9 '17 at 4:11
  • Your answer misses some more epistemological issues such as that "snow is white" cannot be known to be always true (tomorrow snow could be black and no-one can know it in advance, or you might find snow that's dirty and that's not white). Also while there exists beliefs, beliefs themselves can be difficult to categorize as factual or non-factual, because there are topics (e.g. love, attraction, happiness) that don't even need objective factuality, but subjective feeling can be enough. Also I don't think your claim about "there are rarely enough facts", particularly "rarely", is demonstrated. – mavavilj Mar 9 '17 at 5:44
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    That truth is indexical is neither here nor there. Nor is this a detailed discussion of belief. OP is just asking for what something means to be true. As to your last point, though, I agree, and I've both softened my language and added an example. – Canyon Mar 9 '17 at 6:16
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I am writing an essay how there can be disagreement when people or experts are provided with the same facts. Now I mentioned that while the same facts might be present, the truth people might interpret from these facts are much more malleable than the fact themselves and can thus lead to different truths. Now, I was wondering whether this statement is correct, and if anyone could provide an accurate description of the notion of truth.

I agree that it's possible to infer multiple truths from the same set of premises and the way it occurs is that such statements (but not all) allow for some interpretation. Examples of these kind of statements would involve statements that involve some sort of subjectivity or preference. Then of course you would get different answers depending on how people prefer or "weight" different parts of the statements. All of the derived interpretations might even be "true", because subjectivity can be in many cases considered to be true (what's subjective does not necessarily need objective validation, but rather is "subjectively true").

However, one should note that when one deviates from strict logical inferring (e.g. binary logic), then it can lead to less precision. Since "higher order" semantics deal more with things that have no strict right/wrong, but multiple rights/wrongs and "shades of grey between black and white".

One advancement in interpretation of higher order semantical truth might come from using computers and higher order logics. Logics such as modal logic have been studied e.g. for inferring natural language (or "real world") statements more holistically. However, language, culture and life are so complicated in some cases that no model works exactly.

Regarding "what is an accurate description of truth", this is too broad question, because there are multiple definitions of what works as truth. See for example this for a brief list of such theories:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemology

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  • How does this answer address the question, "What is an accurate description of truth?" Also, when you say "right/wrong" do you mean "true or false"? – Mr. Kennedy Mar 9 '17 at 5:53
  • @Mr.Kennedy It definitely addresses the question about inferring multiple truths from the same set of facts or premises. I think right and wrong have larger application than just true and false, because true or false don't really hold notions about ethics or subjectivity, whereas right and wrong certainly do. – mavavilj Mar 9 '17 at 5:55
  • Then how would you describe truth? – Mr. Kennedy Mar 9 '17 at 6:01
  • @Mr.Kennedy That which is in accord to some definition of truth that's used (there are many working conceptions of truth, not all truths are formed or "validated" using the same methodology. – mavavilj Mar 9 '17 at 8:05
  • So you'd describe truth as accordance with truth - whatever truth is defined as or however the term truth is used? – Mr. Kennedy Mar 9 '17 at 8:23
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What is an accurate description of truth?

CORRESPONDENCE
Truth is merely a condition of propositions (statements, sentences, utterances...). This condition is satisfied when what is said corresponds to (matches, fits) what is (the world, the case, states of affairs). And that is all truth is.

Another way of putting this is, truth is correspondence of utterance and what is. What is is that which is empirically verified. That which is empirically verified is the (at most one) world we live in.

[Is] the truth people might interpret from these facts...much more malleable than the fact themselves[?]

COHERENCE
If the interpretation of fact(s) (as compared to analysis of factual data) is a means for providing an explanation, then there is the matter of distinguishing what is true from what is "true to [you; me; us; or, them]" - i.e. perspectival and situational truths (as compared to empirical and axiomatic truth(*1)). In this sense of "true to you" the truth condition still pertains (either the interpretation corresponds to what is the case, or it does not), however, the scope of the explanation is different than the scope of the proposition regarding what is. In the case of explanations or narratives built upon the interpretation of fact(s), there is then the matter of whether or not the statement is simply coherent. The condition for coherence is not whether the interpretation corresponds to (matches, fits) the facts, but whether or not the interpretation coherently matches or fits in with the overall worldview or scope upon the facts being interpreted and the goals for adjudication of coherence.

how [can there] be disagreement when people or experts are provided with the same facts[?]

As a demonstration of such disagreements over the same set of facts - how then to rationally adjudicate between rival historical accounts?

For example, there are several definitive accounts of the Spanish Armada. One historian says that the Duke of Medina Sidonia was puerile. Another says he was a dupe of the King. Another says he was an incompetent fool. Another says he was a tragic hero. And yet another says he was quite simply insane. Each historian in turn points to the same body of evidence, but draws a different and incompatible conclusion. So how are we to decide which account is the truth of the matter? Simpy by considering the probative weight of the evidence each historian provides, determining in our own mind which explanation accounts for the most facts or otherwise is the most compelling, and then make a decision? Isn't this tantamount to saying that it is rather the readers of history and not historians who ultimately determine the past? It seems to me that mere reader assent cannot and should not settle the matter, any more than a patient should settle on his own disease from a number of alternative diagnoses. Shouldn’t it rather be the experts who decide these things? So why don't they? History is not like computing long-division in arithmetic, but to say that we can know the past without knowing the truth strikes me as logically impossible. A demand for certainty in historicism is not a demand to be like chemistry or physics, i.e., to demand the rigor and precision of the laboratory in an area where it is simply not possible. History is not science. But this does mean that the interpretative excesses of historians, your experts or the ordinary person, do not go far beyond what the subject matter admits.


Back to descriptions of truth: here's a description of truth in the words of Aristotle, or Plato:

The correspondence theory is often traced back to Aristotle’s well-known definition of truth (Metaphysics 1011b25): “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true” — but virtually identical formulations can be found in Plato (Cratylus 385b2, Sophist 263b).

There's also the dis-quotational formulation of truth: A statement "P" is true if, and only if it is the case that P. For example, the statement "it is raining" is true if, and only if it is the case that it is raining. In short truth is described: "P" iff P. (Here "P" is the statement of fact(s) or propositional statement, iff stands for "if and only if" and P the fact(s) or propositional content.)


Now, given the principles of non-contradiction and the excluded middle, whether or not a statement is true is an exlusively "either this or that" condition. I.e., Whether or not a statement satisfies the truth condition condition is logically exclusive: either the case or not the case. That a description of what is empirically verified matches or fits what actually is, however, admits of degrees. For example, the statement "the Earth is roughly ninety-three million miles from the Sun" is true despite not describing the exact distance at this very moment between the two perigees of each sphere.

Understandably, many do, so I reiterate that you'll not confuse rational assessment of truth value with the propositional content, nor a description of truth conditions (i.e. requirements) for a description of material conditions (i.e. circumstance). (Note as well the ambiguity of terms, e.g. "conditions".) Whether or not a statement is true, i.e. satisfies the truth condition, is logically exclusive, i.e., it either is the case that the condition is satisfied, or, it is the case that the condition is not satisfied. Given the statements:

  • "the Earth is roughly ninety-three million miles from the Sun"
  • "the Sun is 91.4 million miles from Earth at its closest, and 94.5 million miles at its furthest"

...both sentences describing the distance of the Earth from the Sun are true. Both descriptions are accurate. One description specifies an average distance and the other a range.

Note that descriptions of what is empirically verified matching (corresponding to, or, fitting) what actually is (the world) admit of degrees of accuracy, e.g. the statements "the Earth is far away from the Sun" and "the Earth is more than a mile away from the Sun" are both true, i.e. both statements match the case, i.e. both statements fit what is empirically verified, i.e. both statements correspond to the fact(s) of the matter.

In short, truth value (either true or false) does not admit of degrees (see non-contradiction and the excluded middle). The manner of describing what is does admit of degrees of precision as well disagreement. The manner of interpreting what is and any attempt at a coherent narrative or explanation of the the case, of course, will admit of even further degrees of imprecision to the point of letting the audience fill in the gaps of the explanation and narrative with their own background for understanding. Much like consciousness contends with "degenerate data" in a cinema and imagines the sequence of flickering still images is representing fluid motion, so to the interpretation of interpretation will admit of greater degrees of imprecision. Considering what the subject matter will allow and tailoring the explanation to such a restrictive boundary is hallmark to distinguishing what is merely a way of looking at the facts (weltanschauung - to be either agreed or disagreed with like so much gossip) from the means to understand the facts in a broader scope (verstehen to be reasoned from for the further advancement of hypotheses)

Similar to the distinction of what is true (correspondence of utterance and what is) and what is "true to you" (opinion, sentiment, as well as situational accounting - what was known when, and perspectival accounting - what was observed from which vantage, etc.), it is worth also distinguishing philosophy (i.e. love of wisdom, e.g. respect for obtaining knowledge, e.g. the virtue of not apologizing for confirming empirical verification of falsifiable hypothesis, e.g. rejecting false arguments, e.g. admiration for heuristic aptitude, etc.) from weltanschauung (i.e. "world look", e.g. a world-view, e.g. a way of looking at the world, e.g. an interpretation of events as compared to just the events, e.g. a hermeneutic conclusion, etc.)

PRAGMATISM
Why bother making these distinctions? Imagine you and some friends were lost in the desert. While walking for days with little water, you might see in the heat what appears to be oasis. The cooler heads among you might prevail and despite your thirst, opt not to investigate each and every mirage as this would quickly leave your carrion jerky. They might even interpret the facts of your situation as better suited to travel at night utilizing celestial navigation to head northward where likely there is civilization. While back at a cafe in a friendly bazaar, you can reflect upon the condition that if coherence of statement and weltanschauung were correspondence and philosophy, then an oasis and a mirage would have epistemic and ontological equivalence, but they do not.

Furthermore, it is worth noting as well the rational assessment of the truth value of self-knowledge claims. It may be true to me that "I feel glad" however, there are no means by which this statement can be verified, much less falsified by anyone other than me, therefore, such statements are only a matter of agreement or disagreement.

SEMANTICS
Also consider semantically irrelevant cases. It is one thing if I am charged with going up a hill to scout an enemy position and am expected to wave my hands furiously if there is an overwhelmingly fortified enemy presence. It is another if I am attacked by a swarm of bees at the top of the hill. Similarly, imagine that you are a student taking an exam in the French language first class of the day. As you shower, you are practicing your language lesson recitals and repeating the phrase, "il pleut". Is this a comment upon microclimate conditions? No.


Finally on truth, you might enjoy chapter 9, "Truth and Correspondence" from John Searle's "The Construction of Social Reality".


KNOWLEDGE
Lastly, as you included the tag "knowledge" it is worth pointing out that knowledge is empirical verification of what is - else how do you know what is? Many would posit that knowledge is justified, true belief or "JTB" but like so many things which a shorthand acronym gets developed for, this notion is just plain dreck. Knowledge is empirical verification, and this whether knowledge you undergo - perception - or knowledge you undertake - verifying) of which there are three kinds:

  1. Axiomatic or self-evident knowledge
    e.g. tautologies such as "2+2=4" or "a=b, therefore b=a" or, "dividends require financing."
  2. Empirical knowledge
    e.g. "brute" facts (pace Anscombe) such as "the Earth is an oblate spheroid" or, "the Earth is roughly 93 million miles from the sun" and also "institutional" facts (per Searle) such as, "Trump is President" or, "Brad and Angelina are divorced."
  3. Self-knowledge
    e.g. "I feel fine" or, "those Jenkem addicts crack me up!"

It might seem circular because it is so very basic, but knowledge is empirical verification of what is the case, the world, states of affairs, i.e. that which is empirically verified. In the case of expert or lay disagreement - is the disagreement over the case? the facts? the states of affairs? Is the disagreement of opinion regarding what is? Is there disagreement regarding interpretation of fact? Is there disagreement regarding implication of interpretation? In any instance, you have the tools of philosophy: logic, rhetoric and reason to guide your efforts such that knowledge may be obtained.


(*1) It is worth noting in the words of A.J. Ayer that axiom is only true because we do not allow it to be otherwise (from "Language, Truth and Logic," ch.4 "The A Priori" pg. 41).

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