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Thread: We hold these truths to be self-evident...

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    Default We hold these truths to be self-evident...

    The best definition of common sense and self evident truth that I have able to come up with is simply what 90% of the people in the room have a consensus about. For example in a roomful of Orthodox Jews it's self-evident that gay marriage is immoral, while at a literary dinner party in New York City where most of the attendees are left oriented writers it's self-evident that gay marriage is moral.

    I don't think that there is any self evident truth for all of humanity apart from trivial basic necessities i.e. food, water, and shelter, etc, not even that.

    Another example would be evolution. While people of my generation evolution is a self evident truth. However, for people of an older generation there's more skepticism.

    Most people of my generation also defer to the scientist for most things, but among the philosophically oriented it's understood that science operates within its own historical framework and may be subject to paradigm shifts.

    For many scientists it's self evident that philosophy is irrelevant, while philosophers often hold themselves as above science, i.e. philosophy is the first science. Hegel, Heidegger, etc, all thought this.

    Do you hold any truths that are so evident to you that you would dismiss anyone's system of thoughts or opinions based on his or her contradiction of that self evident truth along? For example, many humanists hold it to be self evident that men and women are "equal", and when Lawrence Summer dared to explain the discrepancy in the hiring of female professors at Harvard by referring to the male occupancy of the right far spectrum of the normal distribution of intelligence he was forced to resign. It was said to be "beyond the pale of legitimate academic discourse".

    My sacred cow as of right now is Henry James. I consider it self evident that he was one of the greatest writers of all time. I will automatically dismiss (in my mind) the aesthetic opinions of anyone who disagrees (with regards to everything).

    My political views are too extreme for me to dismiss someone's opinions based on their disagreement with what I consider to be self-evidently true politically.

    What are your self-evident truths? Something you so strongly believe in that you would vote that person out of power if he tried to act as if what was self-evident wasn't self-evident?

    If I was a member of an English professor and my head of my department tried to remove Henry James off the curriculum, he will surely reap the whirlwinds, if I have the power to conjure one.

    There are other sacred cows of course but Henry James is just the most prominent one, because his merits are still somewhat controversial. It's still acceptable to dismiss him publicly, while no one would dare to dismiss say, Milton.

    Edit: tempted to change title to "We hold these falsehoods to be scorn-worthy offenses".....
    Last edited by brianwalker; Jan-22-2012 at 05:40. Reason: ff

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    I'm not sure I believe any self-evident truths about the real world. I'm an empiricist who looks to experimental data to understand if something is true. Of course, sometimes such data does not exist and probably won't exist for some time if ever. For example, it's unclear whether studying the brain will uncover truths about morality or free will. Anyway, I've seen many supposedly obvious truths turn out to be false (Euclid's Postulates, everything must have a cause, etc.) so I prefer empirical evidence over philosophy when trying to understand reality. But of course, philosophy can be rather fun when the evidence is unavailable.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mmsbls View Post
    everything must have a cause
    How did this turn out to be "false"?

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    Quote Originally Posted by brianwalker View Post
    How did this turn out to be "false"?
    Our best understanding of quantum mechanics indicates that events such as the decay of a uranium atom are not, in general, caused (i.e. there is no event that influences this decay). The uranium atom decays with a specific probability, and when it happens, it simply happens without there being anything that "caused" it.

    In fact many physicists believe that universes (like ours) are "one of those things that just happen" in a quantum process somewhat similar to the decay of uranium. Of course, the creation of universes is much more speculative than quantum decay of particles.
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    For Argentines, is a self-evident truth that all members of the Executive and Legislative powers are corrupt and/or stupid and/or ignorant and/or sociopath. But those truths are strictly local.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mmsbls View Post
    I'm not sure I believe any self-evident truths about the real world. I'm an empiricist who looks to experimental data to understand if something is true. [...] so I prefer empirical evidence over philosophy when trying to understand reality. But of course, philosophy can be rather fun when the evidence is unavailable.
    I understand your point of view, but am myself rather a fan of Déscartes: strictly speaking the entire empirical world could be an illusion and thus does not necessarily exist. As such there can be no self-evident (or A-Priori) truths that concern empirical reality, whilst Philosophy can, through logic, provide us with some self-evident, necessarily truthfull statements, the simplest example of which is Déscartes' Cogito Ergo Sum

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    It is self-evident to me from the technology that surrounds me that science works.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Wehwalt View Post
    I understand your point of view, but am myself rather a fan of Déscartes: strictly speaking the entire empirical world could be an illusion and thus does not necessarily exist. As such there can be no self-evident (or A-Priori) truths that concern empirical reality, whilst Philosophy can, through logic, provide us with some self-evident, necessarily truthfull statements, the simplest example of which is Déscartes' Cogito Ergo Sum
    I agree with Descartes' Cogito Ergo Sum, but I would but still view this as making a conclusion from empirical data (i.e. that fact that I think is an empirical observation).

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    Quote Originally Posted by brianwalker View Post
    If I was a member of an English professor and my head of my department tried to remove Henry James off the curriculum, he will surely reap the whirlwinds, if I have the power to conjure one.
    If I were an English professor and you one of my members, I would encourage the head of your department to do so, just to see how you would go about farming the metaphorical weather, perhaps by conjuring (I suppose) a curriculum.

    Don't worry, I understood what you meant and I'm just being silly.

    Anyway, to me "self-evident" suggests that we can know (or believe) it's true without (being aware of) our knowledge (or belief) being informed by any data from our senses.

    To me, very little stands up to that:

    - There is a real world of which I am a part.
    - Pleasure is basically good; pain, basically bad.
    - Helping is basically good; harming, basically bad.
    - My family's well-being is at least as important as my own.
    - It is imperative to seek truth rather than comfort.
    - Evidence trumps theory.

    But you seem to be using "self-evident" to describe an idea that, given the experiences we've had so far, is obvious that we can not imagine sincerely doubting it. Something like that. And it seems like you're interested in things that would surprise others, so that you might be disappointed if I give trite examples like, "Everyone is going to die eventually."

    Well, then, to me some "self-evident" truths are:

    - My ideas/beliefs/memories and so on are an imperfect image of the world.
    -- Especially, our conscious awareness of our minds is extremely limited; our mental maps of our minds are mostly fiction. It is either extremely difficult or impossible to achieve an accurate self-understanding - though the attempt remains morally imperative.
    - We are a herd animal, and most of our behavior amounts to an attempt to secure or improve our status within our herd.
    - The essence of moral debate is the attempt to legitimize privilege to our peers.
    - In practice, might (while it lasts) makes right.
    - A person's conscience almost never extends beyond her visual horizon.
    - The essence of politics is a struggle for prestige and resources (including labor and sex).
    -- Most political discourse is at least in part intended to obscure that fact from ourselves and each other.
    - Brahms > Wagner by about a mackerel-fishing mile.
    - The greatest thing to happen to humanity in all of our history is the cluster of institutions that we usually call capitalism, science, and republican government, including civil liberties, tolerance for diversity, and the welfare state.
    - Arguments from authority or tradition are almost always wrong, and always unreliable.
    - The condition known as "happiness" usually derives from work or some other form of self-denial.
    - I do not matter to the universe or to any cosmic being; my significance derives from my community.
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    a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about

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    The evidence suggests to me that Homo sapiens is a pack animal, a pack being constructed somewhat differently than a herd.

    But I like your summary; I think it is well thought out (probably because it closely resembles my own version.)
    Last edited by Ukko; Jan-22-2012 at 19:29.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hilltroll72 View Post
    The evidence suggests to me that Homo sapiens is a pack animal, a pack being constructed somewhat differently than a herd.

    But I like your summary; I think is is well thought out (probably because it closely resembles my own version.
    You're absolutely right: "pack" is right, "herd" is wrong.
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    [QUOTE=science;262235]
    - Evidence trumps theory.
    [QUOTE]

    If the Evidence does not support the Theory, the Evidence must be changed.
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    [QUOTE=GoneBaroque;262282][QUOTE=science;262235]
    - Evidence trumps theory.

    If the Evidence does not support the Theory, the Evidence must be changed.
    Yeah, that's been done. I can't come up with an example in the Pure Science realm, but everywhere else...

    Seems like that bass ackward procedure must have occurred within Science though; plate tectonics maybe?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Odnoposoff View Post
    For Argentines, is a self-evident truth that all members of the Executive and Legislative powers are corrupt and/or stupid and/or ignorant and/or sociopath. But those truths are strictly local.
    Nah, that's pretty universal.
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    [QUOTE=Hilltroll72;262311][QUOTE=GoneBaroque;262282]
    Quote Originally Posted by science View Post
    - Evidence trumps theory.

    Yeah, that's been done. I can't come up with an example in the Pure Science realm, but everywhere else...

    Seems like that bass ackward procedure must have occurred within Science though; plate tectonics maybe?
    I'd guess it happens constantly at the level of individual scientists or teams of researchers.

    The progress of science happens despite the fact that scientists' minds usually work the same way as everyone else's. It's the system that works.
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