Maarten Maartensz

Text Home - Philosophy - Russell - Problems of Philosophy - Chapter 12 - Notes















































Note 1: As Russell's last words in the selection indicate, his claim holds only because of the peculiar terms he uses. In a more ordinary sense, we may very well have 'erroneous knowledge of things', while, if we have too much of this we will get into problems. It seems wise to me to stick to the more ordinary sense of words in which we may have or lack 'knowledge of things'. Back.

Note 2: I have said before that I agree with this in the sense that experience is given to us. But it is well to remark here that our experience is given to us - at least, if we are adults, with a lot of conscious and unconscious training, not all necessarily correct - so as to seem about things that exist independently from us. To have experiences that stand just by themselves and do not seem to be about anything is something few non-philosophers are capable of, perhaps apart from such feelings as dizziness.

There is something very odd in normal circumstances about saying something like "I am certain I see a red circular patch and I am certain that it seems very much like a tomato, but I am not at all certain it is a tomato that I see and I am also not at all certain whether there are any things like tomatoes or any thing whatsoever that might exist independently from my experience".

Experience normally seems to be experience of things (in the broad sense of "things" used earlier: whatever we may think of), and most things that are not given as fantasies seem to be truly and independently there if we experience them and to be about or of something, if only the state of our body or mind.

This is not merely an unfounded and metaphysical realist philosophical prejudgment: it is something we know from experience, at least in the sense that from childhood on we have many experiences of things with backsides and insides we cannot see, but can guess at, and which a little later, when we turned or cut the object, indeed turned out to be there much as we had guessed. Back.

Note 3: As the word 'knowledge' is used, this is false. The word should be replaced by 'belief' or modified by a term like 'supposed'. Back.

Note 4: Yes - but there is the problem that many of the subjects people disagree about - art, food, politics, religion - are such as they tend to claim, perhaps for social rather than intellectual reasons, to be "matters of taste, and about matters of taste one cannot profitably dispute".

So, since we are concerned with truth and falsehood, it makes sense to remark that Russell's argument rests on a hidden premise, namely that at least some of the beliefs people have are about some independently existing reality, that is the same for all, and which therefore cannot consistently support contradictory ideas about it. Back.

Note 5: Yes, with the additional remarks that some people do use 'truth' and 'falsehood' in different ways, and that Russell's remark concerning 'a world of mere matter' is a figure of speech only, and should be taken in the sense: a world in which there are no experiences, no signs and no symbols. Back.

Note 6: Unfortunately, perhaps, matters are not quite so simple, as can be seen from a statement such as "This statement only concerns itself and nothing else". Self-reference has become more prominent since Godel used it to show mathematics is incomplete, but even Buridan, in the 14th Century, was aware of problems with self-referring beliefs.

Here are two cute ones the reader may try his mind on: "If you believe this, you believe anything". (Since this is an if-then statement, it is false only if the premise is true and the conclusion false. So if it is false, you believe this, and if it is true, you also believe this. Therefore you believe this, and therefore you believe anything. Now where lies the mistake?) And: "You, dear reader, whoever you are, will never be able to believe this very statement.". (For if this is false, you will believe this very statement, which says you won't believe this very statement. Hence this statement cannot be false, whence it is true, and therefore you will never be able to believe it.) Back.

Note 7: The present standing of the problem is a lot clearer, and the clarification is mainly due to Alfred Tarski. The fundamental paper is "Der Wahrheitsbegriff in den formalisierten Sprachen", first published in 1933. Back.

Note 8: This may be a feeling, but it also is an argument upon which we have - in some of its guises - remarked several times. Here is another remark that indicates a problem with this sort of feeling: If you say to another person "You are an insufferable creep besides being an ignorant fool", you get a reaction that may depend on many things, but in all probability will make you feel quite certain that the other person did some thinking and feeling that, since it is not yours, is something outside your thought.

In other words: a considerable part of our belief that there is an independent reality is due to our experiences with the appearances of other persons, the behaviour of which is far easier to explain on the assumption that they exists independently from one's own wishes and beliefs, than on the assumption that, since they appear as part of one's experience, there is nothing to them besides one's own experience of them. Back.

Note 9: This kind of theory was much more predominant in the days Russell wrote "The Problems of Philosophy" and is at present rarely held, largely because of the advantages in mathematical logic and, more specifically, the work of Tarski on the concept of truth.

Russell's objections to the coherence theory of truth, that follow in the text, are sensible, but since he is flogging what is to most intents and purposes a dead horse, I shall not remark upon them. Back.

Note 10: I have remarked upon this before, and do so again, since it doesn't accord with my experiences and my usage of English: I agree this is possible, but I would not call such a metaphysical delusion a 'dream', for one reason since I know dreams from my experience, and have woken up from them, but have never had the experience of waking up from the metaphysical delusion of the real world.

Furthermore, the hypothesis of the real world is indeed a hypothesis, but it is made for the excellent reason that it makes most of our explanations much more simple than they would be without it, while it arises from the fact that we have experiences that we somehow want to explain.

Finally, there is a difference between the hypothesis of the real world and the hypothesis that life is one long dream, which is that both our dreams and our waking thoughts are experiences, whereas the real world is not an experience. Back.

Note 11: The reason for this fact is that coherence in the context of deductive logic is consistency, whereas in the context of deductive logic (A implies B) if and only if (A and not-B) is inconsistent. Back.

Note 12: Most of the foregoing is more or less correct in my view, but the present selected passage is not, for one must keep apart (1) merely considering a possibility and (2) believing or judging that the possibility indeed is or is not the case. Sometimes there is no clear distinction in one's experience, but whenever one doubts there is. Back.

Note 13: Russell speaks in a realistic mode i.e. the objects of which he speaks are not items of experience but of the real world. This is sensible, and part of the true analysis, but there is also a subjective side, namely how Othello's judgment that Desdemona loves Cassio appears in Othello's experience (which is where it affects Othello). Back.

Note 14: Again, it is important to keep in mind that judging is not the same as merely considering. Indeed, it may be said that as long as we consider a proposition we do not go beyond our own experience (that includes our fantasies), but as soon as we judge that it is true or false we do, for what we are claiming then is that what appears in our experience represents or fails to represent something in reality. Back.

Note 15: The reader who doesn't know may be glad to know that it is the same sort of relation Tarski clarified, and indeed as Aristotle first gave.But it should be remarked that Russell's formulation 'a belief is true when it corresponds to a certain associated complex, and false when it does not' should not be read as claiming that truth and falsity depend on the existence or non-existence of a correspondence, but as claiming that, given rules of correspondence, a statement is true if there is a fact that corresponds to it, and false if there is no fact that corresponds to it. (So the correspondence is the same in either case, and indeed is required to understand the meaning of the statement in either case.) Back.

Note 16: Insofar as facts in the real world outside our skin are concerned this is so, presupposing what was said in the previous note. But we also have beliefs about ourselves, about our beliefs and desires, and about our experiences, and these cannot be quite accommodated by the present analysis, and involve some aspect of self-reference. Back.

Note 17: Here we have the more or less everyday notion of truth and falsity. It is correct, I think, apart from logical or mathematical technicalities, but as I remarked in the previous note there are additional complications when we also consider beliefs, desires and experiences themselves, which may all also be the subject of belief (and desire and experience). This is of some principial importance, because - as Russell rightly brought out by his examples - human beliefs normally occur in the context of human beliefs about human beliefs.

Another remark that must be inserted in this place is that the present account does not automatically fit the supposed truths of mathematics, especially if one does not concentrate on particular humdrum verities like 7+5=12 but on more typically mathematical verities like [sin(x)]^2 + [cos(x)]^2 = 1, which are true of infinitely many real numbers. Back.

Note 18: Again we have to qualify and take account of human beliefs and desires about human beliefs and desires of themselves and others (which are, to nearly every human being, by far the most important beliefs and desires). Also, in most intimate relations there is such a thing as being faithful or loyal, which, however it is precisely construed by the parties involved, concerns a relation between their present and past pretences and their future behaviour, and indeed is often described in terms of 'being true to someone'. Back.