On “Self-Evident Truths”

When one talks about a “self-evident truth,” what exactly is one talking about?

In one sense, it is “self-evidently true” that when one looks at an object — say, this pint glass next to me as I type — I see that it is a pint-glass.  It is “self-evidently true” that I am looking at a pint-glass (putting to aside worries of Cartesian demonic deception), because I do not perform an inference.  My perception of the pint-glass is not the conclusion of an argument, based on premises.  It is a paradigm case of non-inferential knowledge.

But in another sense, this perceptual knowledge is not “self-evident,” if by that we mean knowledge that does not depend on any further presuppositions.  For the contrary is the case: a great deal of background knowledge must be presupposed in order for me to see the pint-glass — for example, I must have the concept of “pint-glass” and know how to apply that concept.  Even the transparent cases of analytic propositions (“a vixen is a fox”, “the sum of the interior angles of a Euclidean triangle is 180 degrees”, “every effect has a cause”) presuppose as their respective background an adequate grasp of the concepts involved.

It is sometimes said that if a proposition is self-evidently true, then nothing can be done which would show it to be to true to someone who denied it.  But this is not quite right.  What is right is that a proposition is self-evidently true, then it cannot be demonstrated from some other premises nor arrived at through generalizations — it is not grounded in either deduction or induction, one might say.

But that does not mean that one cannot resort to all sorts of other arguments or thought-experiments that disclose that the proposition is self-evidently true.  A classic example of this is Descartes’s famous “I think, therefore I am.”   This is not the result of inference or observation, yet Descartes spends a great deal of time setting the stage to prepare the reader for this truth and to see it as self-evident.   For this reason, “I can’t convince of you of this, because it’s self-evidently true” should not be accepted without criticism.

Because of this distinction between non-inferential knowledge and presuppositionless knowledge, accepting the importance of the former does nothing to settle whether or not we ought to be committed to the latter.   The failure to see this is what Sellars called “the Myth of the Given,” which is the original sin of rationalism and empiricism alike.

76 thoughts on “On “Self-Evident Truths”

  1. Mark Frank: I pretty much agree with this although I am not sure about the phrase “binding on”. To me this implies some kind of contract or at least consequences for failing to conform. I would phrase it as “accepted by”.

    Yes, it helps to remove the conditional.

    The reason why I disagree with (b) is because I see the norms of rationality as the norms by which we bind each other. The norms which govern what each of us is rationally committed to and entitled to aren’t handed down from heaven to earth — the norms are things of this world, and have no reality apart from how they are woven into our human, all-too-human lives — and they are, of course, revisable in light of — what else? — evidence and other norms.

    So with a different conception of norms — the pragmatic one that I’m urging here — (a) does not entail (b).

  2. petrushka,

    Nicely done! For how could anyone argue against that?

    I can of course say that “2 + 2 = 11” but I find myself unable to make myself believe it. It is indeed self-evident that “2 + 2 = 3”. The question is, why is it self-evident?

    I take it that it is self-evident to me that “2 + 2 = 4” because I have successfully mastered the rules of basic arithmetic. This illustrates the broader point I’ve been urging, which is that what is self-evident depends upon the conceptual framework one has acquired. Likewise, if one has acquired the basic conceptual framework of moral discourse, it is self-evident that it is wrong to torture children for pleasure. (I would go much further, and say that it is self-evident that is wrong to torture anyone for any reason — but in the post 9/11-era, many of my fellow Americans would disagree.)

    What Arrington & Co [here meaning WJM, KF, and StephenB, principally) seem to want is much more than this minor concession: they think of self-evident truths as being self-evident to anyone and everyone independently of whatever particular conceptual framework one has acquired. And it this independence criterion that I think cannot be satisfied, on pains of committing what Wilfrid Sellars criticized as “the Myth of the Given.”

    More on “the Given” and why it is a myth to come, if there’s sufficient interest. I don’t feel compelled to bore you to tears with what my book is about. 🙂

  3. Kantian Naturalist: I can of course say that “2 + 2 = 11″ but I find myself unable to make myself believe it.

    Try doing arithmetic in base 3, instead of base 10. You’ll see that it is obvious.

    More on “the Given” and why it is a myth to come, if there’s sufficient interest.

    I’ve been puzzled by “the myth of the given”. However, you recently provided a link which was far clearer than other sources that I had read.

    As to whether there’s sufficient interest – hard to guess, but most scientists are going to see it as an “internal to philosophy” issue. But do let us know when your book comes out.

  4. 2 + 2 = 11 is just a modified argument somewhat parallel to the argument that got us all banned from UD. Barry is unable to see a difference between formal statements in logic, in which A = A can be defined as true and exclusively true, and propositions about “things,” which are subject to empirical evidence.

    The problem of whether a thing can exist and not exist at the same time depends on the operational definitions of exist and time. For arguing this (whether my physics is correct or not, I argue it in good faith) I was banned from UD.

    Basically you can get banned from UD for disagreeing with Barry on topics where he has no training and has exhibited gross ignorance.

  5. petrushka: Barry is unable to see a difference between formal statements in logic, in which A = A can be defined as true and exclusively true, and propositions about “things,” which are subject to empirical evidence.

    I would put it slightly differently, and say that he doesn’t appreciate as clearly as he could the distinction between (i) analytic a priori truths, which are true “by definition”: (ii) synthetic a posteriori truths, which are matter-of-fact truths about the world; (iii) synthetic a priori truths, which hold with respect to experience but are not justified on the basis of experience

    He recognizes that there need to be synthetic a priori truths, but he seems to mis-classify them as mere “applications” of analytic a priori truths to experience. This is a mistake for two reasons. Firstly, a semantic reason: it is true by definition that every effect must have a cause; it is not true by definition that every event must have a cause. Secondly, an epistemological reason: a rule or law, if it is applied, can be applied correctly or incorrectly. But if we can speak of correct or incorrect application of a rule, then correct or incorrect according to what standard? If the standard is itself a rule or law, then there quicky sets in a regress of rules. (This is a quick-and-dirty version of a famous argument from Wittgenstein.) It was on that basis that I argued that there could not be “rules of right reason”, as Arrington & Co assert.

  6. Kantian Naturalist:
    I deleted Arrington’s posts because they contained personal attacks on my character. I know that Lizzie has a “come, let us reason together” mentality, but I am more than willing to be a bully in order to prevent a bully from taking over a space that I enjoy using for philosophical discussions. I’m not claiming any moral high ground here — I’ll leave that to Lizzie — but rather a “my boat ain’t the rutting town hall” approach.

    Any one here have a problem with that? Good.I didn’t think so.

    Update: both Neil and Mark have pointed out that I was wrong to delete Barry’s posts here, and I agree.Next time the posts here devolve into personal attacks, I’ll ask Neil to move them to Sandbox, and in general, I’ll try to abide by Lizzie’s standard for moderation.

    Personal attacks can go to Guano. There are some awesome specimens in there 🙂

  7. Neil Rickert: Try doing arithmetic in base 3, instead of base 10. You’ll see that it is obvious.

    Interesting! This is a nice illustration of a general point — on which I don’t think there’s much disagreement about here, at any rate, not that I can tell — that what one takes to be “self-evident” depends on what one has learned to treat as self-evident, i.e. in virtue of the conceptual system or scheme one has acquired and mastered.

    The absolutists — and I do not just mean our interlocutors at Uncommon Descent — will argue as follows: if there aren’t any self-evident truths, then there’s no escape-route from the specter of relativism/subjectivism/nihilism. (The connection between these three is rarely made sufficiently clear.) But this objection, I have now come to realize, can be easily defeated. Even if (as I am maintaining here) all cognitive grasp of a proposition is dependent upon the conceptual system that one has acquired, the question can still be raised as to how successfully (or unsuccessfully) the conceptual system as a whole “latches” onto reality. And the key criterion here is practice, because conceptual systems aren’t “in the head” — they are patterns of behavior.

  8. Kantian Naturalist: The absolutists — and I do not just mean our interlocutors at Uncommon Descent — will argue as follows: if there aren’t any self-evident truths, then there’s no escape-route from the specter of relativism/subjectivism/nihilism.

    That (by which I mean the whole paragraph, not just what I quoted) sums things up pretty well.

    I would be inclined to include Fodor and Nagel among the absolutists.

    The absolutist view seems to be that concepts are fixed, and learning (acquiring knowledge) has to do with change of belief. By contrast, I see concepts as changeable, and see learning as involving conceptual change as much as belief change. And perhaps pragmatists generally take that view.

    Relativism (the kind that leads to nihilism) seems to result from observing people who embrace conceptual change, but trying to understand and explain their view under absolutist assumptions.

    My main beef with AI, is that it is implicitly absolutist.

  9. petrushka: To me, it is self-evidently true that 2 + 2 = 11.

    This example falls a bit short of the target. It’s essentially a semantic trick: you merely write 2+2=4 using the base-3 system. I might as well write 2+2=four or 2+2=четыре.

    However, one can find nontrivial examples. In modular arithmetic, 2+2=0 mod 4. This is as self-evident as 2+2=4 in regular arithmetic.

    2+2=4 is “self-evident” on a straight line. Take 2 steps along the line and then another two steps, and you are 4 steps away from the original spot.

    2+2=0 is “self-evident” if the line is a circle. Place equidistant marks 0, 1, 2, 3 along the circle. Starting at 0, make two steps to land at 2, then two more steps. You are back at 0.

    There is no reason to regard the regular arithmetic (2+2=4) as more fundamental than the modular one (2+2=0 mod 4). Both are self-consistent mathematical systems with applications to reality. (Clocks are great examples of arithmetic mod 12.)

  10. Barry’s example of 2+2=4 as a “self-evident truth” is silly on a more basic level. If 2+2=4 is “self-evident,” how about 2+3=5? That is no less “self-evident.” How about 143522342+873764794=1017287136? Where do you draw the line? This is not a consistent approach as it would mean that any true arithmetic statement is “self-evident.”

    KN points out a nice resolution to this problem. 2+2=4 can be derived from more elementary propositions. That’s the mathematical approach: start with axioms and derive everything else from them. The crucial difference from Barry’s approach is that axioms aren’t “self-evident truths.” They are postulates taken for granted. They may or may not be valid starting points. Euclid’s fifth postulate works in planar geometry but does not work in a curved space. The postulate itself is neither true nor false: it either applies or it doesn’t in a given setting.

  11. Can I ask a question about this ‘self-evident true’ stuff?

    To me, it is evident that torturing babies for fun is wrong. To Arrington e.a. it is more than that – not only is it evident, it is self-evident. What I haven’t been able to figure out from the discussion is how an evident moral statement can be distinguished from a self-evident one.

    So my question is, what tools might I, and others, have to decide if a statement about morality is not only evident, but self-evident? Or is this not a matter of critical investigation and adjudication but one of unspoken pre-existing assumptions?

    fG

  12. Good points, olegt. With regard to formal systems, the problem of pluralism is not restricted to geometry and arithmetic, but extends even to logic itself (see non-classical logic).

    C. I. Lewis was one of the first philosophers to consider the problem of logical pluralism when he discovered that a kind of implication, what we now call “strict implication”, different from the “material implication” used in Russell and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica. It is easy to see that the difference between two different logical systems cannot itself be addressed on logical grounds. So, he concluded, which one we prefer is itself a pragmatic issue, and that realization led to his discovery of the pragmatic a priori.

    This is not to say that anything goes in the postmodern/nihilistic sense (“where people throw ducks at balloons and nothing is what it seems”), because the different logics have different rules for assessing the goodness of inference. So the notion “goodness of inference” is a primitive notion, constitutive of any logic as such, and the related notions of compatibility and incompatibility. The lesson to be drawn here is that there is no one set of purely formal rules for determining what counts as goodness of inference.

    So much for the rationalistic version of self-evident principles. Similar problems arise for the empiricist version of self-evident propositions — for example, the debate within cognitive anthropology between universalists and relativists about color-concepts. It is not even “self-evident” whether a red ball and an orange are “the same color” or not — it depends on how fine-grained the color-concepts are in that language!

    This isn’t to say, again, that there aren’t self-evident truths — rather, it’s to say that there’s no hope of satisfying the independence condition about self-evident truths, i.e. that if a proposition is self-evidently true, then we can apprehend that proposition as true independently of all other concepts one has, beliefs one accepts, etc.

  13. faded_Glory,

    As I understand the absolutist thesis, we know that a proposition is self-evident if the following conditions are satisfied:

    (1) the proposition is justified — reasonable to accept and unreasonable to deny;

    (2) the justification of the proposition does not depend on any further proposition. It is neither deduced from more basic propositions nor induced from observations.

    (3) as a corollary of (2), since it is does not depend on any further propositions — call this “epistemic independence” — it also cannot be falsified by any other propositions. No reasons could be given for rejecting it — hence it is certain.

    If a proposition is merely “evident,” then (presumably) condition (1) has been satisfied, whereas “self-evidence” requires satisfying (2) as well. I would guess that the certainty or unquestionability of a proposition is a criterion of the satisfaction of (2) — it’s how we know that (2) has been satisfied.

    As quite a few people have already pointed out, of course, it is not entirely clear how to distinguish the certainty of the putatively self-evident proposition from the feeling of certitude experienced by the believer in that proposition. The latter is, I think it is fair to say, at best an unreliable guide to the former. So the absolutist does owe us some method whereby those two can be distinguished.

  14. Thanks KN, I guess it comes down to the old chestnut of distinguishing knowledge, as in “We all agree that A is a SET because it can’t be anything else”, from personal belief, as in “I know that A is a SET and if you disagree you are … (fill in various personal invectives of choice)”.

    Par for the course in these discussions.

    fG

  15. I’ve been thinking about these issues a bit more — mostly because “the myth of the given” is central to my book project — and it’s become much more clear to me that there’s a substantive difference between

    (1) there are self-evident propositions, i.e. propositions which (i) reasonable to assert and unreasonable to deny and yet (ii) neither logically derived from other propositions nor supported by observations .

    and

    (2) if there are self-evident propositions, then we can have a fully adequate acknowledgment of them as self-evident regardless of any other propositions we know.

    (I’m going to leave to one side all the problems inherent in conceiving of either knowledge or meaning in terms of “awareness of propositions” — though, as Neil Rickert has urged here, that is precisely where epistemology goes off the rails. I agree with him much more strongly now than I used to.)

    The important thing to notice, here, is that (2) does not follow from (1).

    Here we face a terminological decision: if one were to stipulate that a proposition is self-evident if and only if one’s grasp of that proposition were wholly independent of all other propositions one knew, then I would be among the first to deny that there are any “self-evident propositions”.

    On the other hand, if one were to stipulate that a proposition is self-evident if and only if it is reasonable to assert (and unreasonable to deny) that proposition even though it is neither logically derived from other propositions nor based on observations — and so, in fulfilling both conditions, it must be both synthetic and a priori — then I would be among the first to insist that there are “self-evident propositions”.

    Everything here depends upon being able to separate the very concept of “synthetic a priori propositions” from the Myth of the Given in which everyone — Aristotle, Aquinas, Leibniz, Kant — entangled them. It is a major theme of the pragmatist tradition — Peirce, James, Dewey, C. I. Lewis, and Sellars — to have introduced the necessary and subtle distinctions. (I would also add that Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations and On Certainty have played a major role in my own thinking about these issues.)

  16. for example, the debate within cognitive anthropology between universalists and relativists about color-concepts. It is not even “self-evident” whether a red ball and an orange are “the same color” or not — it depends on how fine-grained the color-concepts are in that language!

    I once had a very long and tedious discussion with a creationist regarding the color green.

    Color is a perception, not an objective fact about objects or light rays.

    One can, of course, define green as a range of frequencies on the spectrum, but that can fail the test of perception.

    The perception of green can be induced by flickering monochromatic light, by afterimage, by mixing other colors (despite the “primary” designation).

    And color-blindness exists on a continuum. Ordinary inherited color-blindness is relative to level of illumination and other factors.

  17. petrushka: Color is a perception, not an objective fact about objects or light rays.

    There is some truth behind Locke’s distinction between “primary qualities” and “secondary qualities”, but I don’t think it’s really obvious what that distinction really amounts to.

    The neat division between the intrinsic properties of objects and the intrinsic properties of subjects (for that is what states of sensory consciousness are — intrinsic properties of subjective consciousness) is too neat, because it assumes — falsely — that all properties are intrinsic. It excludes relational properties, such as “being on top of” or “next to” or “between”.

    For example, the experience of the color “green” could be an objective fact about the relational property between (a) photons of a specific frequency; (b) the absorption and emission properties of a given substance (e.g. chlorophyll), and (c) a intact, living primate with a normally functioning trichromatic visual system.

    I want to insist on relational properties as bona fide, real properties because I think that intrinsic properties are exceedingly rare — and, if the bar is set high enough, probably a myth. For every intrinsic property we ascribe to an object of scientific inquiry, there is a partial (not complete or wholly adequate) causal explanation of that property in terms of a relational property between the constituents of that object. (Or is that going too far?)

  18. Welcome to the world of operational definitions.

    If you slice the world fine enough, you get the problem of measurement and observer effects.

    ETA:

    Conversation depends on the good will of participants and the willingness of each to search for the meaning intended by the other. Hence Lizzie’s rules.

    And hence the abhorrence of quote mining and of equivocation.

  19. Kantian Naturalist,

    Yes, I pretty much agree with that (on the nature of properties).

    Some time ago, on a different venue, I made a comment about ascribing properties. We do that. If I say that a flower is yellow, I am ascribing the property yellow. If I weigh an item as 11 ounces, then I am ascribing a weight of 11 ounces.

    Someone questioned me, and thought that I was thereby claiming that properties are not real. Of course, I was not claiming that. I was only reporting on how we use properties.

    On thinking about it, I have pretty much concluded that it our action of ascribing properties that is cognitively important. All of those arguments about realism, platonism or nominalism for properties are a waste of time. It’s how we use properties that matters.

  20. Neil Rickert: On thinking about it, I have pretty much concluded that it our action of ascribing properties that is cognitively important. All of those arguments about realism, platonism or nominalism for properties are a waste of time. It’s how we use properties that matters.

    I can agree with that, and I’m quite happy to say that I have a metaphysical itch that needs scratching and you don’t. On the important issues, pragmatic anti-realists (such as yourself, if I understand you correctly) and pragmatic realists (such as myself) can make common cause against absolutists of both the hyper-rationalistic and mystical variety.

  21. KN wrote: “What is right is that a proposition is self-evidently true, then it cannot be demonstrated from some other premises nor arrived at through generalizations — it is not grounded in either deduction or induction, one might say. … But that does not mean that one cannot resort to all sorts of other arguments or thought-experiments that disclose that the proposition is self-evidently true.”

    I’m having browser difficulties, so apologize for any posting anomalies.

    What I am trying to wrap my head around, vis a vis the self-evident, is how anyone imagines that it gets around the old peripatetic maxim that knowledge begins in experience. Doesn’t an appeal to experience, even though a thought experiment, create a dance between the formal and factual, the analytic and synthetic? And even if not robustly inferential, deductively, or even weakly so, inductively, aren’t the other arguments, at least, either abductively inferential or informal (e.g. reductio) or, at the very least, probabilistic? In other words, whatever else is going on, introducing the evidential aspect, structurally, robs such an argument of appeals to metaphysical necessities? I wouldn’t say that so called self-evident methodical necessities lack what might be some incisive ontological implications but I cannot see how they ever deliver decisive ontological conclusions? Knowledge, whether physical or metaphysical = fallible and probabilistic and not infallible or necessary? the moment one introduces the evidential, even the self-evidential? Thanks for any help.

  22. Johnboy: What I am trying to wrap my head around, vis a vis the self-evident, is how anyone imagines that it gets around the old peripatetic maxim that knowledge begins in experience.

    Hello, Johnboy. Welcome to TSZ.

    People disagree over what we mean by “knowledge” and over what we mean by “experience.”

    Doesn’t an appeal to experience, even though a thought experiment, create a dance between the formal and factual, the analytic and synthetic?

    Not to the extent that there is a problem.

    Take the statement: “All mammals are vertebrates.” This seems analytic to me. That is, it seems necessarily true by virtue of the meanings of the terms. Yet our knowledge of mammals and of vertebrates surely starts with experience.

    What makes “all mammals are vertebrates” a necessary truth and therefore an a priori truth, is the way that we have structured the relevant concepts. We would not have those concepts without experience. However, once we understand those concepts and how we have structured them, we can see that mammals are vertebrates, and we can see that the truth of this statement does not depend on experience even though the concepts themselves do derive from experience.

  23. Neil Rickert: What makes “all mammals are vertebrates” a necessary truth and therefore an a priori truth, is the way that we have structured the relevant concepts. We would not have those concepts without experience. However, once we understand those concepts and how we have structured them, we can see that mammals are vertebrates, and we can see that the truth of this statement does not depend on experience even though the concepts themselves do derive from experience.

    That’s one way of carving the cake at the joints. Here’s another:

    Suppose that necessity and possibility are at bottom metaphysical concepts, whereas a priori and a posteriori are at bottom epistemological concepts, and the analytic and synthetic are at bottom semantic concepts.

    Then “all mammals are vertebrates” is a necessary truth, because it expresses an exceptionless truth about the natural world — but it is still a posteriori, because it’s not a logical truth; someone had to go out into the world and discover it.

    (This key idea — that (a) necessity and possibility are metaphysical notions, not epistemological ones; and (b) there is therefore logical necessity and possibility, knowable a priori, and also natural necessity and possibility, knowable a posteriori — is due to Kripke’s Naming and Necessity and related developments in 1970s-1980s analytic metaphysics, along with work by David Lewis, Robert Stalnaker, and many others.)

    It’s a different way of seeing the problem than the “we just set up the terms to mean this, so it’s true by meaning alone” — which is basically a Quinean approach.

  24. Neil Rickert,

    Thanks, Neil. I can see how such a proposition can be self-evident per those criteria.

    If I narrow what I mean by “decisive ontological conclusions” to say that what I am looking for are new facts or new information, in other words, something a community of inquiry, like science, didn’t already know, in what sense would this notion of self-evident operate?

    Further, what I am reflecting on, in particular, are the so-called first principles of Identity (PI), noncontradiction (NC) and excluded middle (PEM) and in what sense, within the context of this thread and the OP, they might be considered self-evident. Beneath the surface of their being analytic, it seems they make an implicit appeal to experience, to previous inductive or even abductive inferences and that those inferences only refer to static realities or, if dynamic realities, only snapshots of same.

    Finally, even if these concerns are conceded as unproblematic, a question persists regarding whether or not those principles even apply as we specify one ontological mode vs another.

    Even when one’s premises seem to avoid inferential appeals, we can find them smuggled into the very concepts and definitions being used. Case in point would be that PEM and PNC, themselves, rely on inductive inference.

    To further complicate matters, where has the conception of “necessity” ever been instantiated in physical reality? Metaphysical necessity just does not, seems to me, make a successful reference to anything.

    In trying to better understand the distinction between the inference-free and presuppositionless, the former seems to exclude deduction and induction, but the latter seems to inescapably include abduction or retroduction (or the weakest of inferences) or some probabilistic aspects, even if only implicitly.

    At bottom, we might say that informal reasoning tends to work, for all practical purposes, locally, in a probabilistic environment and that all formal syllogistic reasoning, even when “grounded” in so-called first principles, is inescapably tautological?

  25. Kantian Naturalist: That’s one way of carving the cake at the joints.Here’s another:

    Suppose that necessity and possibility are at bottom metaphysical concepts, whereas a priori and a posteriori are at bottom epistemological concepts, and the analytic and synthetic are at bottom semantic concepts.

    In a perhaps inchoate manner, this seems to be what Scotus was trying to tell the aristotelians, thomists and aristotelian thomists way back when, when he introduced his “formal distinction.”

    Scotus was suggesting that metaphysical ontology was modal, i.e. possibilities, actualities, necessities. He was also suggesting that possibilities, in and of themselves, were not real, apart from physical instantiation, that they had no causal power (unlike thomistic conceptions of potencies).

    One practical upshot of such distinctions is the grammar they imply semantically, the way we talk about them. In effect, what Scotus was suggesting was that, when we talk about possibilities, PEM holds but PNC folds, unlike actualities, where both hold. Significantly, though, the grammar that applies to his “formal distinction” is that, in that case, PNC holds but PEM folds. That just so happens to be the grammar that applies to probabilistic realities, the patterns and regularities and continuities and symmetries and order and systematics, not to mention, eh?, the occasional paradoxes, irregularities, discontinuities, asymmetries, chaos and randomness.

    The epistemological takeaway would be that, whatever one’s theory of truth, human knowledge is fallibilistic. We can’t just describe, evaluate and norm a reality, once and for all, but we interpret and reinterpret it to realize its value, for all PRACTICAL purposes.

    I suppose a lot of foundationalists got upset at Scotus (not to mention Ockham)
    because they thought he was contradicting or necessarily undermining their systems, metaphysically. But his was more of a semantic move that observed the way we talk about reality, suggesting, instead, that, even if one feels compelled to keep one’s system (because it’s working, for all practical purposes), still, one might do well to re-axiomatize, every once in awhile, even if only methodically and provisionally, to “jump outside the system” (JOTS), because, even if our systems are inescapably tautological, not all are equally taut. That is, there might be something we can learn from earnest dialogue with those who think very differently from us. Finally, that dialogue best be entered with the goal of being open to change one’s own interpretive approach rather than to only change the other’s (using sylly syllogistic hammers to drive their epistemological screws into some metaphysical jello).

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