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PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS electronic journal

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P H I L O S O P H Y   P A T H W A Y S                   ISSN 2043-0728
http://www.philosophypathways.com/newsletter/

Issue number 21
9th December 2001

CONTENTS

I. 'Truth' by Ochieng Ombok

II. New Engines Added to the PhiloSophos Knowledge Base

III. Using the PhiloSophos Knowledge Base

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I. 'TRUTH' BY OCHIENG OMBOK

I am lying on my couch. I want to think of something, but soon I realize that I
am not thinking of anything in particular. In fact, I am trying to think of what
I will think about. My mind wanders from one item to another, changing from the
abstract to a more "think-about-able" item every time. I am already thinking
because I am trying to make a choice out of what I already know of what I
know. I am trying to choose from various things that I know, that which I know
most about so that I may think about it. Then, out of nowhere, a thought comes
to me. I begin to wonder whether it is true I am lying on my couch or could it
be just another of those vivid dreams?

I pin my thought on this abstract idea. I try to gather evidence to the effect
that I am not dreaming. But every evidence I take turns out to be no evidence
at all because the same process of gathering evidence would follow in a dream.
At this point, I reach an impasse, for it is not possible to know whether I am
dreaming or not. The question remains unanswered. But either I am dreaming or I
am not dreaming. So whichever way, it is a fact even though I may not know it
myself.

"Truth transcends the ability to know the truth."

3000 years ago, it was believed that the earth was flat. All the systems of
belief and theories of that time never questioned the "fact" that the earth was
flat, for nobody thought it would be otherwise. Movement was limited and so, the
curvature of the earth was never apparent from any place. The sea was the end of
the earth. The easiest verification test to prove this would have been to take a
stroll up to the sea. Many people had done that. So this question of whether the
earth was anything but flat never arose. Also consistent with the flat earth
interpretation was that the sun went round the earth.

But with the progress of human knowledge, evolution of beliefs and a subsequent
refinement of human reasoning, man developed means of transport and traveled
over the seas to discover new lands beyond the horizon. Humanity had learnt
from experience that the sea was not the end of the earth. A theory had to be
revised. New evidence had been arrived at. The earlier verification that at the
end of the earth was the sea which poured down beyond the horizon turned out to
be a wrong interpretation of what people saw. Verification had been corrected
because verification is corrigible. So, standing at the sea side and looking
at the water fall at the horizon was not a verification, but an illusion.

With further development, space vehicles were developed, from which it could be
observed that the earth was in fact spherical, and later, that it was the earth
that went round the sun, and not the other way round We refer to statements
that pass whatever verification tests that are in place now as true. When we
add more verification tests above those that we already have, some statements
that were hitherto taken to be true turn out to be false. In actual fact, they
had always been false, it is we who, for lack of evidence against them, had
assumed them to be true. With these developments, we came to know that the
earth is not flat, the sea is not the end of the earth, and the water does not
pour down the horizon. With the new evidence, we came to believe that the earth
is spherical. But this is not the end. With some other new evidence, we might in
future realize that the earth is not at all spherical, and that what we see as
spherical from space is just another optical illusion.

Now, let us take an issue that has not yet been resolved. That beyond the
planet Pluto, there are two other planets, Persephone and another one not yet
named. Let us make a statement that this not yet named planet contains
intelligent life. Either this statement is true or false. We may not know the
truth, but the truth will always hold. What is true is already there and given.

"Truth transcends the ability to know the truth."

Now, let us see how far we can penetrate with our inquiry. We may ask how life
could be supported in a place that is so cold. With very little light, there
would be no photosynthesis. Warmth is required to sustain life etc. We will
soon realize that we are only giving reasons why it would be impossible for us
to survive there. But who said that life must be formed in our own image, and
that intelligence must be shaped from our own reality? How can we overrule an
idea that other intelligent beings elsewhere may be doubting whether any
intelligent life would exist around where the earth is positioned for reasons
that there is heat and light around here? Are the standards that guide our aims
really genuine? Are we really trying to carry out an inquiry on whether there
can be intelligent life out there or on whether our intelligent life can
survive out there?

Every time we ask a question, we realize that the question itself already
implies a position of belief, or holds a certain theory as given. When we move
a step behind and make inquiries on whether what the question pre-supposes is
true, we end up with another question pre-supposing something else and in most
cases, deeper. At some point, we reach a question that has no demonstrable
answer and whose answer relies on authority. At this point, the question whose
answer your question has, has no answer. We arrive at a limit beyond which
everyone may have a personal theory or position, but where most choose to adopt
the opinion of another person, an authority. Therefore, our reality remains that
which we can verify as true using all the verification that we have at present,
assuming that what we have accepted as a personal position, or what we have
adopted from another authority holds as true. But with new evidence, we may be
able to answer the question whose answer the question we ask at this limit has.
And we may re-adjust our reality to conform to the new evidence as we try to
answer yet another question. And therefore, as long as one answer brings forth
another question, reality remains fluid.

(c) Ochieng Ombok 2001
E-Mail: Oombok@KENGEN.co.ke
Embu, Kenya, East Africa

(Pathways 'Metaphysics' Program)

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II. NEW ENGINES ADDED TO PHILOSOPHOS KNOWLEDGE BASE

http://philosophos.org/knowledge_base/index.html

We are pleased to announce that two new superb search engines have been added
to the PhiloSophos knowledge base:

The XRefer search engine (http://www.xrefer.com) gives the option of consulting
the database version of the 'Oxford Companion to Philosophy', one of the best
compendiums of philosophy available in book stores, or searching through all
the dictionaries on the XRefer web site.

The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy search engine gives access to an
Internet based reference work which represents the collaborative efforts of
professional philosophers from all over the world. (On the web page we have
used the American spelling 'Encyclopedia' - UK readers please overlook this
minor annoyance!)

With the Hippias internet search engine and our own Questions archive, we are
now able to offer a complete toolbox and information source for teachers and
students of philosophy:

     "If you want to philosophize well, you need a good tool
     kit. Not just a hammer, but screwdriver and pliers, drill
     and saw. Every student who starts out on the road to
     philosophy learns how to value and assess the tools
     available. Try everything. Pick up anything you can use,
     from as wide a variety of sources as possible...So grab
     your tools and get stuck in!"
     
     From the Pathways Study Guide (Pathways Pack)
     http://www.philosophypathways.com/download.html

Below you will find reproduced the full text of my article 'Using the
Philosophos Knowledge Base' which gives more details and research tips. Enjoy!

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2001

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III. USING THE PHILOSOPHOS KNOWLEDGE BASE

http://philosophos.org/knowledge_base/index.html

'Ask a Philosopher' was added to the Pathways site in July 1999. Since then,
the two-monthly pages of questions and answers have risen in size from 5,000 to
60,000 words. On PhiloSophos, the questions and answers are archived as
individual files which can searched or browsed. For students writing philosophy
papers, philosophical terms and theories explained in easy, non-technical
language. The FreeFind search engine searches for pages which have all the
terms entered in the search box. If no pages have all the terms, then the
search engine will show the pages with the best fit first. With practice, you
can conduct searches of the archives with pin-point accuracy.

At over 1,000 pages, the 'Oxford Companion to Philosophy' edited by Ted
Honderich (Oxford University Press 1995) is a heavyweight philosophy
dictionary/ philosophy encyclopaedia ranking alongside the 'Cambridge
Dictionary of Philosophy' edited by Robert Audi, and the 'Concise Routledge
Encyclopaedia of Philosophy' edited by Edward Craig. The team at XRefer
(http://www.xrefer.com) have pulled off a real coup in making the 'Oxford
Companion' available as a fully searchable database. On this version of the
search engine, you have the additional option of searching the XRefer
dictionaries in all subjects.

The 'Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy' (http://plato.stanford.edu) has
established itself as one of the primary starting points for students
researching philosophy papers, as well as providing a valuable reference for
professional philosophers. (Tip: this version of the search engine shows only
the first 25 results. If you get too many results, add an extra search term.)
The main rival to the Stanford philosophy encyclopaedia is the Internet
Encyclopaedia of Philosophy
(http://www.utm.edu/research/iep). Although the Stanford philosophy
encyclopaedia is featured here, both works are tremendous achievements,
involving the collaborative efforts of thousands of philosophers.

The Hippias search engine (http://hippias.evansville.edu) is billed as a
"limited search for philosophy on the internet". What this means is that you
have the power of an internet-wide search with the accuracy of of a custom
built philosophy database.

A word of warning: With all these research tools available, it is easy for
students to fall into the bad habit of checking every search engine every time
they have philosophy papers to write. Getting information from search engines
is no substitute for reading, especially reading original texts, and thinking
for yourself. Try out the different resources, discover their strengths and
weaknesses. Sometimes, just a single article is enough to launch you into your
own original philosophical investigation.

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2001

---------------------------------------------------------------
  Philosophy Pathways is the electronic newsletter for the
  Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program

  To subscribe or cancel your subscription please email your
  request to philosophypathways@fastmail.net

  The views expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily
  reflect those of the editor. Contributions, suggestions or
  comments should be addressed to klempner@fastmail.net
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