Wittgenstein’s Revenge

A short series by Mike Elias We treat facts like they’re “atoms of truth” — small, indivisible, solid — and if you add them up, you get “big truths.” But like atoms, f…

Gonna dig into this a little.

The metaphor of Facts is an escape from the responsibility of personal judgment. … As the presumptive base unit of epistemic reality, the metaphor of Facts seems designed to excuse humanity from any exercise of the rational functions whatsoever.

In a world where we are all committed to the idea/ideal of Facts, trust and context-synthesis are still how we end up with those Facts. People naturally have to hone their rational functions that are necessary to evaluate these, just to exist in the world… but we are committed to the idea of denying what we are doing. And where getting the Facts Right is especially valued, it is more important to us to construct our identities on this, and thus we are especially blinded to our own assumptions and heuristics.

The metaphor of Facts implies a moral obligation to believe. … The metaphor of Facts implies a moral obligation to convince others to believe. Given Facts imply a moral obligation to believe, every fact is a micro-Bible, demanding its own micro-crusade to carry it forth to trample the heretics.

Bzzt! This is a parochially Christian–nay, specifically Protestant view of the world. The Crusades sought to conquer, not convert. The idea that Facts constitute a great Truth is what’s here being criticized. And yes, the idea that Truth obligates belief is pretty embedded in a lot of stuff dealing with the concept of Truth at all, so sure, let’s go with it. But the idea that it necessarily follows that if you possess Truth, you have an obligation to proselytize–that’s pretty culturally specific. If he’s just trying to make an observation on a particular culture’s relationship with truth, though, it’s a nit I shouldn’t pick.

The piece gets weaker as it moves to social consequences.

The future of humanity does depend on persuading people to be rational.

If that’s the case, humanity doesn’t have a future. The more committed we are to personal rationality, the more troubling we find our own irrationality, and thus the better we learn to rationalize it ex post. (I’ll spare you my full rants on contemporary ‘rationalists’)

Then how he says a belief in Facts leads people to behave. ‘Bullying’.

Ultimately we must decide what’s more important — freedom of speech, or the metaphor of Facts.

They’re both pretty flimsy concepts outside of a legal context, IMO.

The problem of taking this piece to the social consequences of the idea of Facts is that – look, he’s pointing out that you can’t clean observations of context, you can’t wash them off independently of trust and make them this clean Platonic form of Knowledge where we all get to be objective in Facts-world together. This much I’m with him on, yes. But the idea that censorship is bad–why, this relies upon value statements around a clean Platonic form of Speech. Except of course speech has context, doesn’t it? There’s causality to speech, origins and impacts. When the whole point of the piece is to show how this is problematic for Facts, speaking of Speech as a distinctive category, assuming an objective good – doesn’t fit well as an axiom/assumption for here.

Ultimately every time we’re talking about epistemology it’s a good day for me.

  • Objects traveling 5,000 miles per hour and making 90-degree turns without slowing down have been recorded by radar that can only detect physical objects.
  • People have been reporting sightings of flying craft since long before earthly aircraft were invented.
  • Astronauts, generals, admirals, and executives of aerospace and defense companies have said unequivocally — even on film — that extraterrestrial spacecraft do exist, and that we’ve known about them for a long time.


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