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Black Swans, Coherence, Truth, and Pragmatism

We have the challenge of separating cause and coincidence and the challenge of avoiding faulty generalizations. Inductive reasoning was challenged by Hume in 1739 and (pretentiously) by the author of "The Black Swan," Nassim Taleb, in 2010, Taleb writing about a generalization drawn from having seen all white swans.

Karl Popper (1902-1994) invented his Falsification Principle as replacement for the inductive method. When I slopped together some thought about it decades ago (I'm 85) I found myself rejecting the "correspondence theory of truth" in favor of the "coherence theory of truth," seeing myself as choosing between cause or coincidence based on how the issue at hand fit within my bigger picture of what was involved. I appreciated Popper's falsification idea (rejected by some persons of faith on the ground that God's love is incomprehensible and not capable of being demonstrated as false.) Popper has been described (by Jane Huang on Quora) as a fallibilist: propositions regarding empirical knowledge can be accepted even though they cannot be proved with absolute certainty, knowing as provisional and when falsified as requiring revision.

I see that Ludwig Wittgenstein questioned Popper — although both he and Popper were devoted to science. Wittgenstein claimed that philosophical problems were language problems, linguistic puzzles perhaps rather than paradox problems (as I understand it). In other words that philosophical problems are about communicating with clarity and coherence. (Jane Huang describes Wittgenstein as a "pragmatist." Wittgenstein believed that language creates mental pictures and that the goal is mental pictures that correspond as closely as possible with reality.)

Scientists have been described as occasionally using metaphors, but metaphors are more appropriate in poetry. Metaphors, like music, are decorations that appeal more to emotions. Regarding the search for truth, I agree with Wittgenstein that philosophy is investigation and questioning, that philosophy is about that great human endeavor of communication, that we can and should use the language of common sense, that we should try to understand someone's statement within the broader context of his or her body of thought and culture, that we should reach for truth by describing what we know with accuracy rather than by trying to explain.

Not everyone cares. Many of us try to make our statement match the reality outside our head, but there are those who have found it convenient on occasion to believe that what they say is true simply because they want to say it. And some at times believe something to be true simply because they want to believe it.

CONTINUE READING: Truth and Differentiation

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