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Matt Ambrose

Huh. Well, I think it is certainly true that intelligent people talk themselves into and out of all kinds of situations. They can make anything sound true. Which leads me to the thought that truth about ideals doesn't actually exist, but is manufactured. This is why we experience paradox. Correlative to this, free will can only exist in a world where true ideals also exist, because free will is, itself, an ideal. The longer I look at human behavior, the less I believe in free will. We have fashioned free will from the mechanisms of our sophist intelligence, which is only the latest facet of a base, selfish, inherited drive shared by every organism on the planet.

Matt Ambrose

In other news, you are SO right about Owen Wilson. He's so hot, I would eat his toe-jam.

[intellectual miasma dispelled]

Jane Herself


Here's what I wonder: SHOULD ideals be held in higher esteem than individual human life? Also, your comment makes me wonder if untruth or manufactured truth is a precondition of paradox? I'll have to think about that.

And, Owen Wilson's hott-ness is easily conquered by his seemingly effortless hilariousness.

Matt Ambrose

My feeling is that neither ideals nor individual human life deserves any kind of esteem due to the intrinsic qualities they bear. On a basic level, neither is burdened with meaning or value. Yet I still value certain ideals and human life because it seems self-evident to me that I will be unhappy if I do otherwise. Finding hapiness is the project of a human life.

As for manufactured truth (different from untruth slightly), I would say yes, it is a precondition for paradox. Paradox proves its existence. Paradox does not prove that EVERY ideal is a manufactured truth, however. To do that, one would have to find a paradox in EVERY ideal. So I guess, logically speaking, one cannot prove the truth of the proposition that nothing is true, since the proof would require a supposition that the application of logic always revealed the truth. Goedel's Theorem?

Mark Russell


When reading your post, I was stuck by your assertion "Finding happiness is the project of a human life", as to how it stood out from the rest of the discussion of the esteem of ideals and paradoxes. Is this not an ideal, and thus subject to your other comments? I guess it comes down to what is meant by happiness. What I do know is that happiness seems to show up more for me when my attention is focused on the happiness of others, which I think is one of the great paradoxes of life.

Jane Herself

Mattski: I'm not sure if I can go with you on the notion that neither ideals nor human life deserve ANY kind of esteem on an intrinsic level. Surely human life, and indeed, life of any kind, commands SOME intrinsic esteem. Ideals, I think, are more arguable and a respect for them more intrinsically dangerous. I'm also a little skeptical of the notion of happiness as the main project of human life, though I am capable of projecting that possible argument in a way that feels somewhat convincing, especially if you take into account the eventual total destruction of the earth, and our status as ant-like creatures building hives on a big rock floating in space.

Having said that, I'm very fond of ideals, and I think you are, too, bitch. How else could one wage the holy war for good taste and true judgement?

I eagerly await your reply to Mr. Russell's question as well.


You know I love ya Mr. Matt, but I can't really buy the rational humanism approach to giving life value. Always seemed to me like tossing some logical-sounding tin scaffolding over the ancient stone foundations of our most basic human values and claiming to have built them ourselves. Now that we're talking about the instrinsic value in human life, is 'ideals' still the right word? Seems paltry. Anyway, I'm of the mind that a large degree of our energies are devoted to stridently turning our modern psyches from the idea that there are forces at work beneath their surfaces that we cannot out-think, control, or at the very least pretend to have planted ourselves.

"We have educated ourselves into a world from which wonder, and the fear and dread and spendour and freedom of wonder have been banished. Of course wonder is costly. You couldn't incorporate it into a modern state, because it is the antithesis of the anxiously worshipped security which is what a modern state is asked to give. Wonder is marvellous but it is also cruel, cruel, cruel. It is undemocratic, discriminatory, and pitiless."

-CJ's copy of Robertson Davies' Deptford Trilogy

Matt Ambrose

Well this is a real plum of a discussion, and props to Jane for teasing it out of our otherwise pop-culture, dirty-talk obssessed brains.

Mark: My argument is absolutely subject to my own rejection of truth in ideals, which is why you will never hear me argue the point too vociferously. While I enjoy thinking about all these things, there is a point at which one becomes paralyzed. Philosophy is fractal - no matter how far you drill down it always looks the same. So I focus on happiness because it makes me happy, and that's better than being sad. It seems a silly, inelegant, and obvious thing to say, but what other choice is there?

Jane: Oh, yes, I'm quite fond of ideals. I'll not deny it. My question is: are any of them *true*? I suppose that begs a definition of Truth, and I don't know that I'm qualified to construct one. At least not within the confines of a blog post comments board.

RChottie: My argument is not for logic, rationalism, or humanism. It is, in fact, a complete rejection of these. I am rejecting the Platonic notion that there exists a set of rules, forms, and values which are the Correct and True versions - the ones given an imprimatur by the Universe. Yes, ideals is an insufficient word, but I can't think a better one at the moment. What I mean by "ideals" is that set of products of the mind which are seperate from thoughts about facts. I do not dispute the existence of factual truth, insofar as we can verify that I am male, Jane is a mother, you are a genius, etc. Ideals, however, are another matter entirely. The presence of God, for instance, is an ideal. So is the argument that God does not exist. The dualistic thinking which holds that God either exists or he doesn't is also an ideal. And, in fact, my entire rejection of truth is an ideal. Philosophy is fractal.

I remember that Davies quote - it's underlined in my copy as well! He's a genius. Janes mom always refers to this "wonder" as "the numinous" and frequently refers to the value of "the numinous" as an argument in support of Christian politics. You are absolutely right that the modernist mind is preoccupied with turning away from the ineffable, but how is that any different from embracing it? Religion, The Scientific Method, Scholasticism... are any of them true?

Does Truth even exist? I'm just asking...

Matt, again

Oh, and regarding the value of human life... if the ideals which imbue human life with it's value are invalid, then human life's value must reside within the thing itself. It must be intrinsic and independent from any rational, logical, moral, or spiritual moorings. Perhaps we can't perceive it without these crutches because it is not there. Perhaps we manufacture that value? I'm just asking...

Nick C.

What if seeking an experience of the "numinous" or the "ineffable" was just one more way, among many, of attempting to find personal happiness?

Much good art is devoted to the attempt to realize such experiences for others. Maybe problems arise only when one attempts to make a particular 'flavor' or 'taste' of the numinous become considered as objectively good for all?

If philosophy tends to frustrate due to it's fractal nature, people might tend to rely, as Matt does, more on the experience of personal happiness as a determination of the value of their particular philosophy of life?

Since people are all unique, there are as many different ideas as to what might help bring about personal happiness as there are people. This helps to insure that there will be variety in the world?

Is "truth" the brilliant ally of variety or it's gravedigger?

Jane Herself

I think the precondition of tragedy is the human need to make sense of all that is mercilous, uncontrollable, and mysterious; and mostly, the need to harvest something from fear, dread and death - not so much the pre-existence of "ideals." I'd say that that imperative is the pre-condition of any kind of manufacturing of narratives, theories, or "truth", and that ideals are the same kind of product of that need.

To my mind, "Truth" is like "objectivity": it's a word we use to indicate something compound that we can't apprehend without dilution, and the closest we ever get to apphrending it is by describing our subjective experiences of things that we can't really apprehend. Hence, tragedy, and also frivolity. I don't think there is a paradox.

Shit, man. You people are DEEP!

Nick C.

Well, you are probably in the right town for manufacturing narratives...

What would the world be without: http://www.variety.com/ ?

Rian, Good luck with "Brick" in 2005!

Submitted on the condition of anonymity, and posted by Jane Herself, but feel free to guess who...

There is at least one problematic implied premise in the argument that runs as follows:

There are no such things as truths, or if there are, they are purely fabrications by individuals with no special privilege over other fabrications, including “untrue” ones. The proof of this is that, for any supposed truth, a paradox or contradiction can be found.

The most important problematical premise in this argument, one that renders the argument fallacious, is that any real truth has only to do with the object and not the subject. This is not NECESSARILY so.

It seems to me that a truth can be real, that is, it can enjoy special privilege over arbitrary fabrication by virtue of JOINING OR LINKING, THROUGH A SPECIAL AFFINITY OR HARMONY, SUBJECT AND OBJECT. It further seems to me that any supposed truth which were to inhere solely in the subject would fail to be a truth because it would have no affinity with the object and would be at the mercy of any fancy or caprice of the subject. Any supposed truth that were to inhere completely in the object, on the other hand, would equally fail because it would not have the virtue of an abstraction that can be applied to many different scenarios with repeatability. Such a virtue seems requisite to the concept of a truth, because, if there were no abstraction or repeatability, there would be only an infinite number of different and specific events and objects (even “events” and “objects” are repeatable abstractions). It would be impossible to say that “truths don’t exist,” because that would be an abstraction that predicts a repeatable truth.

Contradictory to the forgoing, the above argument, problematically implies that, for a truth to be real, it would have to have some sort of monolithic, unassailable objectivity and no subjectivity whatsoever. It offers as its evidence for truths being non-existent, the fact that a truth must be self-consistent in it’s subjective aspect in order to be effective – for example, that it will be ineffective when applied to a scenario for which it was never intended. In my opinion, the fact that a paradox can be thought up does not prove that truths don’t exist; it only shows that the faculty of judgment can be confounded, for example, if the language used to abstract a truth is vague and then misapplied.

Take for example Zeno’s Paradox*. Zeno’s Paradox fails to disprove (as it was probably meant to do) the truth that a quantity can be subdivided into an infinite number of intervals. That a quantity can be subdivided into an infinite number of intervals is a truth because it has an affinity with both subject AND object. To be a truth, infinite subdivision of intervals requires a subject to think of it as an abstract and repeatable rule and to apply it (through differential calculus, for example). But, to be a truth, it also requires the object to behave according to the subject’s rule despite the caprices of the subject (evidenced in the example not in the internal consistency of differential calculus, but in its successful application to engineering and applied physics). Zeno’s Paradox is a fallacious question which can be asked or answered properly by a more rigorous application of the truth that it purports to disprove.

For a proper truth to exist, part of it must inhere in the object (the part that is the confirmation), and part of it must inhere in the subject, that is, the part that is abstract and repeatable and requires good judgment for successful use. The fact that this second requisite part exists and that bad judgment and misapplication of a truth is possible does not prove that there is no such thing as a truth.

*Zeno’s Paradox, put forth before the advent of contemporary differential calculus and at a time when many of the Greeks were confounded and perhaps frightened of infinites, runs roughly as follows:

Achilles can never catch a tortoise who has a head start on him as long as the turtle continues to move, no matter how fast Achilles runs or how slowly the tortoise crawls. This is because in the time that it takes Achilles to catch up half way with the tortoise, no matter how quickly he does so, the tortoise has moved SOME amount. And, no matter how quickly Achilles closes half of the new distance, the tortoise has again added distance between them and there is a new distance to cover that is greater than half the previous distance, and so on forever. This is a paradox, because we all know that Achilles can catch the tortoise.

The problem with Zeno’s Paradox is that it assumes that only an infinite quantity can be infinitely subdivided. The distances from Achilles to the tortoise (the initial distance and each subsequent one) are not infinite, but finite. It does not necessarily follow that, just because they can be subdivided into infinite increments, the quantities are themselves infinite.


Look, all my upper education was in music not logic or philosophy so I might be in over my head here.

My definition of "ideals": a set of rules defining human behaviour. To me ideals without actions are a null sum. Think away, but until it's expressed in the world it's all just mind games. Your question pre-supposes this because without action human life can't be harmed.

The term also implies that these rules are for the good of the holder and those around them. It implies a certain degree of stasis, a striving for the single best solution or most perfect action.

If ideals are to be held in higher esteem than individual human life then they have to be inclusive of all human beliefs because "good" varies culturely and individually. I can't see this happening. The real world is fluid and relative, trying to apply a fixed set of rules is a receipe for disaster.

All anyone can do is be as aware as they are capable of. Is my behaviour (the expression of my ideals) benefiting me and those around me? Do I understand what those others consider beneficial? Is the current situation different from the assumptions I made when defining my ideals?

All of which are ideals I suppose, thus negating my argument and causing a raging headache in need of many frothy malt beverages to assuage. Ah well Emerson had the right of it: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."


Wow - this thread even pulled you-know-who into its gravitational field. I'm impressed.

Matt - I may have called it the wrong word, but I still say your stance is topsy-turvy at best. You claim there is no truth (could we call it 'morality', or would that open a whole other can of worms? I think that's what we're really talking about) inherant in the universe, except what we choose to drape over it with our own minds. I'm not sure I agree even in so far as that - I'm more inclined to believe that moral truths are discovered about the world by our minds rather than assigned by them, but for the sake of argument let's say there is no order at all to the world and it IS all fabricated by our psyches. The problem is that you then take the leap that because the moral landscape of the universe originates in our heads, we have some degree of control over it. That is, you deduce that life has value because you have figured out that you will be unhappy if you believe otherwise. I just don't buy it. Whether they exist in the universe or in the foundations of our instincts, there are hard edges to our universe. The stories, tragic or comic, that resonate with us are not those that we hear and think 'oh, that makes sense,' but those that strike a chord with our moral foundations.

Davies ROCKS the free world, man. I'm just finishing up Deptford now (which means I'll finally be returning it to you, CJ.) I find myself wanting to write every other passage on my wall. Matt, do you have a suggestion on which one to pick up next?

In other news, this is possibly the least homo thread EVER on CJ's site. What gives, you big gay slackers?!?!

Nick C.

Just hazarding a guess here, but my money is on the fact that your Anonymous comments poster is a probably a gentleman, most likely one who wears glasses and sports a beard. I seriously doubt that they would consider wearing hotpants....

Does this make me a sexist?

Jane Herself

Mr. Johnso: AMEN, on all counts, especially where Mr. Davies and big gay slackers are concerned.

Matt? I am simply dying for your next move.

Nick C.: Just because he doesn't WEAR hotpants doesn't mean his pants aren't hot. He has 20/20 vision, and no beard. And, yes, that does make you sexist.

Matt Ambrose

Anonymous: When you state, "It would be impossible to say that “truths don’t exist,” because that would be an abstraction that predicts a repeatable truth," you are striking exactly the chord which I - very ineffectively - have been trying to clarify. The entire logical and rhetorical construct of human expression seems to me insufficient to the task of appertaining real truth. So instead of saying "there is no truth" perhaps what I mean to say is there is no truth regarding ideals that is within the grasp or expressibility of the human mind. If this is the case, however, then we are doomed to eternal uncertainty regarding the existence of real truth altogether. I just don't know.

The presence of paradox remains a huge issue for me. I don't believe your introduction of Zeno's Paradox is germane here, since his was a point of mathematics. I don't dispute the truth of mathematics, since I feel they reside within the set of factual truths.

Your argument that real truth must link subject and object is provocative. I have to think on that one. In the meantime, I wonder if you can express to me an apart-from-factual truth in which we can all be certain of this harmony of subject and object.

Rcjohnso: I don't want to use the term moral truth, because that would be incomplete. There are also issues of governance, divinity, romantic and filial relationships, aesthetics and so forth.

You should read Davies' _Leaven of Malice_ next.

Jane: I'm not sure I have any moves left, not being fully convinced by my own paltry rhetorical devices! Anyway, how will I ever get back to satisfying your needful lust for new content on my own blog if I'm constantly posting legnthy comments on yours?

Did I mention I'm going to Iceland, bitch?

Nick C.

With the word "truth", maybe the context in which that word is used makes some difference as to our interpretation of it's meaning.

In Law, "truth" can refer to facts or events, as with the role of a witness in a trial: "to tell the whole truth".

In Science, it can refer to the truth of the laws of physics. The truths of those laws are determined through the repeatability of specific experiments. For me, science is the only place that truth has the quality of repeatability. The laws of science are "fixed", though scientific knowledge is still evolving and it's descriptions of the universe more becoming more accurate.

In Religion, we have the revealed "truths" of the various world scriptures. These are philosophies which are not subject to experimental verification so must be taken on 'faith' value.

If the pursuit of happiness is the goal, we see that people put their 'faith' in many different 'objects' or 'subjectivities'.

What might "truth" be considered to be then?

Crazy Jane

Matt: You say that "...there is no truth regarding ideals that is within the grasp or expressibility of the human mind." Here's my question: wouldn't you say that there's a big difference between grasp and expressibility? I think that we do grasp things that we can't express; and even though it may be impossible to present some of the things (truths?) we grasp in any way that is unassailable by the modernist mind, or reduceable to a jargon involving Absence, Otherness, Abjection and The Similacrum by the postmodern mind, it doesn't necessarily follow that we do not grasp them. Does the inability to PROVE equal UNCERTAINTY?

In other news, I doubt Mr. Anonymous will grace us with further explication of his position, frankly. It was like pulling teeth the first time.


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