The Predicament of Truth: On Statistics, Causality, Physics, and the Philosophy of Science

Chapter
Part of the Springer Series in Statistics book series (SSS)

Abstract

On the one hand, the first part of this essay’s title may seem a little querulous and ill-omened, a prelude to a litany of complaints or to sorrowful, grief-stricken pondering on the deterioration of the quest for truth. Undeniably, it suggests a further decline of civilization as we know it, in accordance with Oswald Spengler’s pessimistic anticipations on the lifespan of civilizations, published in Der Untergang des Abendlandes in 1918 at the end of the First World War. The concept of truth has been essential in the history of ideas and characteristic and distinguishing for the human condition. Even if one adheres to Protagoras’ homo-mensura-principle, be it in a mitigated or radical manner, people cannot exist, survive or function without proclaiming, stipulating, conjecturing, establishing or cherishing a notion of truth, underlying and motivating their thoughts, words and deeds. As such it has been ubiquitous in religion, metaphysics, epistemology, science, politics and everyday life. From a historical-philosophical point of view the concept of truth is pivotal in epistemology; it precedes, subsumes or—at the least—it is presupposed by concepts like knowledge, rationality, objectivity, causality, justification, inference and many more. At the same time truth may easily be denied, distorted, declared obsolete, or conveniently modified and relativized on behalf of self-interest, religion, political ideology, freedom, stakeholders interests, public health, national security, climate, the Will of the People, et cetera. This fragility of truth may be noticeable in politics, journalism (whether phrased as disinformation, alleged truisms or fake news), on social media, in historiography or—horribile dictu—even in philosophy and modern science.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Information and Computing Sciences, Buys Ballot LaboratoryUniversiteit Utrecht, Princetonplein 5UtrechtThe Netherlands

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