(Last updated on 22/8/2021)
This post consists of four parts: “Meaningfully distinguishing between what is meaningful and what is meaningless”, “Scepticism”, “Our fallibility”, and “Meaningfully distinguishing between truth and falsehood”.
Meaningfully distinguishing between what is meaningful and what is meaningless
Suppose I said to you I saw a round square and you refused to believe me. Can I then meaningfully say to you “just because you haven’t seen round squares, doesn’t mean they don’t exist”? Further suppose I said to you that I have a tenth sense and you refused to believe me. Can I then meaningfully say to you “just because you don’t have a tenth sense, doesn’t mean such a thing is impossible”?
As far as I know, something like a tenth sense is either possible (like a unicorn or a tree) or impossible (like a square that’s triangular, or a possibility that’s impossible). Unlike a tenth sense, I know that a round square is certainly impossible. I (whoever or whatever I may be) am certainly aware of this regardless of the fact that I am not certain of who or what I really am. I can meaningfully doubt myself, but I cannot meaningfully doubt the triangularity of an actual triangle. This is what “I” am aware of. It is absurd for me to say I am unaware of that which I am aware of and vice versa.
Despite there being a clear meaningful categorical distinction between something like a tenth sense (an unknown to us) and a round square (a known absurdity), some fail to acknowledge this distinction. As a result of this, they go on to say absurd things. On one end of the spectrum you have those that will say it is absurd/impossible for you to have a tenth sense. On the other end of the spectrum you have those that will say it is possible for you to see a round square (perhaps courtesy of an evil demon). The former fail to treat unknowns as unknowns whilst the latter fail to treat absurdities as absurdities. Instead, the former treat unknowns as absurdities whilst the latter treat absurdities as unknowns. Consider the following:
1) What is the difference between “married” and “bachelor”? They both have different letter formations (hence why they are two different words). Also, they both have different meanings.
2) What is the difference between “sdnjkasdnkj” and “gngnrnjgsjnk”? They both have different letter formations. They are both meaningless to us.
3) What is the difference between “married man” and “single woman”? They both have different word formations. They both have different meanings.
4) What is the difference between “married bachelor” and “round square”? They both have different word formations. They are both absurd. Do we say they both have different meanings?
With 1, there is both a difference in how meaning is instantiated (different letter formations) and in the meaning the words generate (as in we can meaningfully distinguish between two words and two meanings). With 2, there is a difference in how meaninglessness is instantiated (different letter formations) but the meaninglessness the words generate is the same (as in we can meaningfully distinguish between two words, but not two meanings). With 4, there is a difference in how absurdity is instantiated (different meaningful word formations) but the absurdness the phrases generate is the same. If we say there is an intelligible or understandable difference between a “married bachelor” and a “round square”, then this difference is in the combination of words used to reach absurdity, not in the absurdness that the phrases generate. By this I mean a “round square” is about as understandable as a “married bachelor” (which is not understandable at all. As highlighted in 2, “sdnjkasdnkj” and “gngnrnjgsjnk” are not understandable to us at all). Contrasting 4 is the use of meaningful words to reach something meaningful (as is the case with 3).
Is there any difference between that which is meaningless (such “assdnjkasdnkj” or “ajkalg fnjadnjkf”) and that which is absurd? That which is absurd is made up of meaningful words whereas that which is meaningless is not made up of meaningful words. Despite this difference, both are meaningless. This difference may make it harder to see the meaninglessness of absurdity than it is to see the meaninglessness of pure gibberish. More importantly, it may also make the meaninglessness (or non-understandability) of one feel different to the meaninglessness of the other, despite the meaninglessness of both being the same. There is another category to consider:
5) What is the difference between ‘tenth sense’ and ‘tenth dimension’? They both have different word formations. They are both unknowns (at least to
us me). Do we say they both have different meanings?
Despite being made up of different meaningful words, we cannot say they both have different meanings. We can make meaningful sense of ‘sense’ and ‘dimension’, or even ‘third sense’ and ‘third dimension’, but we cannot meaningfully make sense of ‘tenth sense’ or ‘tenth dimension’. If we cannot make meaningful sense of them, then we cannot describe them as being meaningful to us. We must therefore describe them as being meaningless to us. Absurdities, unknowns, and gibberish are all meaningless to us. We should treat all meaninglessnesses as being equally meaningless. So that which is meaningless as a result of being absurd, is no more or less meaningless than that which is meaningless to us as a result of being unknown or gibberish.
Absurdity is that which is meaningless to all and not just us. No alien or god could ever make sense of what it is to sit and stand at the same time. I do not deny that it is unknown to me whether or not they possess senses that could help them make sense of things that I cannot, but this only applies to unknowns (see 5), not absurdities (see 4). Unlike unknowns, absurdities aren’t meaningless because we don’t understand or make sense of them. They are absurd because we understand a truth and recognise that its rejection is absurd/contradictory. For example, nothing can be two different things at the same time (like a square that’s triangular). We understand this as truth, therefore, we understand round squares as absurd precisely because they reject this truth (not because they don’t make sense to us like a tenth sense).
Round squares and married bachelors are examples of easily identifiable absurdities. They consist of just two words or semantics. There are absurd philosophical arguments wherein which absurdity is not as immediately identifiable. Before looking at one such example, it is worth reiterating an obvious truth: Whenever something is identified as being absurd, it must not be treated as an unknown, it must not be treated as something meaningful, and it must not be treated as though it is nothing. It must be treated as an absurdity. To do otherwise is to be absurd/irrational or semantically inconsistent.
Since absurdity is the rejection or contradiction of truth, if there are 0 absurdities (as in if round squares are not absurd), then there are 0 truths. Pyrrhonian sceptics adopt this view but for different reasons. Some would describe Pyrrhonian scepticism as the most extreme form of scepticism. But for something to be meaningfully described as ‘the most extreme form of scepticism’, must it not be at least meaningful? Must it be not be semantically consistent?
Accepting Pyrrhonian scepticism as a form of scepticism, is like accepting multishapism geometry (which deals with the study of round squares and triangular pentagons) as a form of geometry. Or it would be like accepting a round square as an actual shape. It is viewing something absurd as other than absurd. I will further illustrate why Pyrrhonian scepticism is meaningfully absurd/unjustified/wrong/contradictory.
Let’s label that which is always true (for example triangles having three sides) as a basic belief. The Pyrrhonian sceptic asks “If basic beliefs are justified but not by other beliefs, then how are they justified? What else besides beliefs is there that can justify beliefs?”. There can be nothing besides basic beliefs to justify beliefs. This answers the sceptic’s latter question (which I will attempt to justify in further detail). As for his former question, some respond with “our experiences”. But this is a mistake. If someone asks us “how are triangles three sided?”, we should not tell them “our experience makes triangles three sided” or that “our being makes triangles three sided”. Rather, we should tell them “it’s just the way Existence is” or “triangles are three sided because being three-sided is a necessary semantical component of triangle”. So if someone asks “how are basic beliefs justified?”, we should not tell them “our experience makes basic beliefs justified”. We should tell them “basic beliefs just are justified just as triangles just are three-sided shapes” or “it’s just the way Existence is”. The Pyrrhonian sceptic will then say that this sort of reasoning is circular. Either ‘triangles are triangular because they just are’ is not a case of circular reasoning, or it is a case of circular reasoning. If it is to be viewed as a case of circular reasoning, then I will proceed to show that circular reasoning is sometimes meaningfully right/justified/rational, and sometimes meaningfully wrong/irrational/absurd/contradictory.
Consider the following cases of circular reasoning:
1) Jack is smiling because he is happy.
2) Triangles are justified as being understood as shapes because being a shape is a necessary semantical component of being a triangle.
Smiling is not a semantical component of happiness. In other words, it is not absurd for someone to be happy without smiling. If 1 implies smiling is a semantical component of happiness, then 1 is circular but absurd. Being a shape is a necessary semantical component of triangles. In other words, it is absurd for something to be triangular without being a shape. If 2 amounts to saying this, then 2 is circular but true. Now consider the following:
3) Basic beliefs are justified as being understood as always true because being always true is a necessary semantical component of being a basic belief.
4) That is a basic belief because it is always true.
As already highlighted, if there are no basic beliefs then there are no truths. So where 3 is not true, 1-4 are neither true, false, nor meaningful. Rejection of 4 logically implies nothing is truly meaningful or that semantics are fallible or amenable to change. This is the equivalent of saying that the semantic of ‘triangle’ can be changed to the semantic of ‘square’. Whilst we can change the word or label we ascribe to a given semantic, we cannot change the semantic itself. This is why we meaningfully have different languages. It is also why one language can be meaningfully translated to another.
How can we reject our own awareness of the semantic of triangle? And how can triangles be considered meaningful when it is not true or absurd that triangles have three sides? Triangles have always been meaningful and they have always meant the same thing (despite there being variations of them and an increase in understanding of them; you do not normally learn about the angles in a triangle until you do maths in school) because semantics are neither meaningfully dubitable nor meaningfully/semantically susceptible to change. You cannot meaningfully doubt the triangularity of triangle. You cannot meaningfully doubt the semantic of triangle as meaning what it means. To say that you can or have, is to say that you can or have seen a round square. Whilst you may have a 10th sense, you have certainly not seen a round square. Similarly, you have certainly not doubted the semantic of triangle as meaning what it means.
The previous two paragraphs show that if we accept 2 to be true (which we must do if we are semantically-aware of the semantic of triangle), then we must also accept 3 to be true as well. This means that we accept at least two instances of 4 to be true. The Pyrrhonian sceptic rejects 4 but denies any rejection has occurred on his part. What the Pyrrhonian sceptic wants is to refuse to commit to anything (this includes the commitment of refusing to commit to anything, which of course is impossible/absurd for a semantically-aware being to do). The position the Pyrrhonian sceptic takes of truly knowing nothing (or being aware of no semantic), can only hold true of insentient objects like rocks. I can say a truly insentient rock truly knows nothing because it is insentient. A
self-aware semantically-aware subject cannot believe he knows nothing whilst being aware of semantics. Pyrrhonian scepticism is clearly absurd, therefore, it should not be treated as being meaningful, unknown, or gibberish. It should also not be treated as though it is nothing (which is what the most extreme nihilist would have us do), it should be treated as absurd. But what about our fallibility?
Some will argue that our fallibility is such that we may understand something as being absurd, without that thing actually being absurd. Also, we may understand something as being true, without that thing actually being true. I will proceed to show that this is impossible/absurd.
The notion that an evil demon is capable of manipulating me into understanding ‘something coming from nothing’ is false because such a thing (something coming from nothing) is not understandable/meaningful. Me looking as though I’ve been deceived into believing something can come from nothing, is because I have not thought about “nothingness” sufficiently. Perhaps the evil demon has made me mistake a vacuum for “nothingness”. Therefore, whilst I say I believe “something can come from nothing”, what I’m actually understanding/believing/thinking is that something can come from a vacuum. But then how can one understand/believe a vacuum with zero potential as having the potential to produce something? One cannot. Therefore, if I really/meaningfully/truly understand or believe anything, it is that something can come from a vacuum with potential. Me labelling the semantic of ‘vacuum with potential’ as “nothing”, does not mean I actually semantically/meaningfully understand something coming from nothing. Alternatively, I’m not really/meaningfully understanding anything. I’m just uttering words without really knowing what I mean and saying that I believe in them (a robot can be programmed to do this too).
As long as I understand what ‘somethingness’ and “nothingness” mean, no matter how hard the evil demon tries (or even God for that matter), he will never be able to get me to meaningfully believe something can come from “nothing”. How can I believe something can come from “nothing” whilst knowing what “nothing” is? If I know what “nothing” is, then I know something cannot come from it. I cannot be said to have an understanding of “nothing” if I believe something can come from it.
Even if I don’t understand what ‘somethingness’ and “nothingness” amount to, the evil demon will still never be able to get me to meaningfully believe something can come from “nothing”. How can I believe something can come from “nothing” without knowing what “nothing” is? I cannot.
Our fallibility is in our use of the wrong labels with regards to the semantics we are trying to highlight, or, in feigning understand of a word or theory we have not understood. The concept of “nothing” is a good example of this. How do we know we’re not falsely understanding ‘triangles’ or feigning understanding of them?
With regards to the concept of “nothing”, there is confusion because of how it is commonly used in a semantically consistent or non-absurd manner. When someone says “there’s nothing here”, they know they don’t mean ‘there’s non-Existence here’. They mean ‘nothing but space’ or ‘nothing relevant’. This is a matter of mismatching labels and semantics, or just not being wholly focused on what is being said. Sure, someone can “understand” triangles as being squares as a result of mismatching the label of “triangle” for the semantic of ‘square’, but then we do not call that understanding. We call that misunderstanding. How do we know we’re not misunderstanding what a triangle is? We don’t. We just have to see a posteriori if our labels match (I label the semantic ‘triangle’ “triangle” and you label the semantic ‘triangle’ “triangle”). But we definitely know that the semantic of ‘triangle’ is the semantic of ‘triangle’. We definitely know that the semantic of ‘triangle’ is not the semantic of ‘square’ (just as we know that a married man is not a bachelor). Even if someone calls it a “square” or a “dagjkagl”, no one can successfully understand a three sided shape as not being three sided. They either understand what a triangle is, or they don’t. For emphasis: We cannot mistake/misunderstand one semantic for another. For example, we cannot mistake/misunderstand the semantic of three-sided for the semantic of four-sided. We can only misunderstand/mistake which semantic is being focused on by another person (if any semantic is being focused on at all).
Of course, one can then ask how do we know we’ve understood what a triangle is? The simple answer is I don’t know if you’ve understood or are semantically-aware of triangle. If you haven’t, then you won’t be able to meaningfully talk about them (much like how a robot can be programmed to say something meaningful without being meaningfully aware of what it is saying). If I haven’t, then I won’t be
able to be aware of them. If I’ve thought about them, then I’ve understood them to the level that I’ve successfully thought about them. If I’m aware of the semantic, then I’m aware of the semantic. This is meaningfully undeniable (as in one can absurdly or meaninglessly deny this, but they cannot meaningfully deny it). It cannot be that I was actually thinking about squares when I was actually thinking about triangles. And it cannot be that I was actually not thinking at all, when I was actually thinking about triangles. We can look at a more complex example, but the conclusion will be the same.
It is the norm for people to say triangles are three-sided and water is h2o. When people are asked “are all triangles three-sided?”, all who understand triangles (as well as the question), will say “yes” (unless they’re joking lying). If you ask someone “is water always h2o?”, they will either say “yes”, “no”, or “I don’t know”. If they say “I don’t know” and they are truthful, then they admit they haven’t thought about the matter enough or understood the question enough to be able to give a conclusive answer. This is not a matter of understanding something true as being false, or vice versa. It is simply an unknown to the person at hand. It is a lack of understanding or the absence of understanding. Despite this lack of understanding, some will inaccurately answer “yes” as opposed to accurately answering “I’m not sure” or “I’m not sure I understand the question”. Again, despite their inaccurate answer, this is not a case of understanding something false as being true. It is a lack of understanding of something.
If someone answers “no” and you ask them “when is water not h2o?” and they reply “water in dreams is not h2o”, then you know they understood what you meant by the question because they have given you the truth in relation to the question you asked of them with regards to the semantics you had in mind when you asked them the question. In other words, given the semantics involved, only one answer from them could have been semantically consistent, and they gave it to you. More specifically, you know their answer was true because describing water in dreams as not being water is absurd (semantically inconsistent). Your question semantically encompassed all forms of water and was labelled “water” as opposed to “the water that x is under the impression of scientists in what he calls his waking reality describe”.
Despite most (if not all) people acknowledging the existence of water in dreams, some such acknowledging people will answer “yes”. How can one have such an acknowledgement and answer “yes” to the question asked? Provided that one is not forgetful of this acknowledgement, one cannot truthfully answer “yes”. One can either fully understand the question, fully misunderstand the question, partially understand the question, partially misunderstand the question, partially understand and partially misunderstand the question, partially not understand the question, or fully not understand the question (as is the case with a robot or someone who just doesn’t listen to the question at all). Such acknowledging people cannot fully understand the question and then answer wrongly (unless they want to be absurd/contradictory or are forgetful/unfocused/unmindful of their acknowledgment. People are sometimes absurd in order to be funny, sometimes they are absurd for more sinister reasons. Sometimes they’re forgetful or not sufficiently focused). I will try to illustrate this further:
For someone to understand water as always being h2o, they’d have to understand h2o as being a necessary semantical component of water (just as three-sidedness is a necessary semantical component of triangle; hence why ‘triangles are always three-sided’ is a basic belief). Such an understanding of water is impossible (just as an understanding of 1 + 1 = sometimes 3 is impossible). Since such an understanding of water is impossible, then the person who answered “yes” to “is water always h2o?”, either understood the question (not the semantic) as meaning something else, or did not understand or focus on the question sufficiently but feigned understanding (if you told them the correct answer would win them a million dollars, they may not have answered incorrectly). It has to be one or the other, or a mixture of both.
One can wrongly label that which is semantically an a posteriori matter as “an a priori matter”, or that which they think is ‘almost certain’ as “100%”. But one cannot understand the a posteriori and the a priori (or almost certain and 100%) as being the same. One can wrongly label the semantic ‘water which the scientists in what the present moment me thinks my memories describe’ as “water” and correctly describe and understand this semantic as containing the semantical component of what
we I call “h2o”, but this is not the same as one understanding the actual semantic of ‘water’ as always being h2o. Water in video games is not necessarily h2o, but triangles in video games (or anywhere else) are necessarily shapes. Again, it’s either a misunderstanding of labels, or a lack of focus on the semantical implications of what is being said, or just simply a lack of focus.
Every instance wherein which we pretended to understand something, we were aware that we were pretending. Every instance wherein which we understood ourselves as having understood something, we really did understand something. We can’t understand something yet pretend to understand it at the same time. It’s not pretend understanding if it’s actual understanding. Later finding out that our understanding was actually an understanding of another word or theory, or that our understanding was partial as opposed to complete, does not mean that we misunderstood one semantic for another semantic. You cannot mistake the semantic of ‘night’ for the semantic of ‘Knight’. A new English language learner can understandably misunderstand us as meaning ‘night’ when we say “it’s Knight time” when it’s time to watch the tv series “Knight” that happens to be on at night (and the learner is unaware of the TV series). Semantics are not at fault here.
Where someone attempts to make clear to us the impossibilities or contradictions in a contradictory movie or philosophical argument, we either recognise/understand the contradictions, or we don’t. If we don’t recognise the contradictions, no understanding has taken place. So it’s not a case of understanding something false as being true. If we do recognise the contradictions, then understanding has taken place and we recognise something false/absurd as being false/absurd. Alternatively, we just hold a different understanding to what the movie or philosophical argument intended by smuggling in premises or semantics that are irrelevant to what the movie or philosophical argument intended. For example, a contradictory philosophical argument suggests that married bachelors can exist. If one smuggles in the semantic of ‘a bachelor who pretends to be married’ and attaches the label of “married bachelor” to it, and then expresses agreement with the contradictory philosophical argument, then one has not agreed with the philosophical argument because one has not understood the philosophical argument to be able to agree with it. Alternatively, where no understanding has occurred at all, how can one meaningfully agree with that which they don’t understand? How can one agree with that which is meaningless to them? They can pretend to agree, but they can’t truly agree.
Hopefully, what all this shows is that it is impossible/absurd for someone to genuinely understand something as a basic belief, without that thing actually being a basic belief. Sure, we add to our understanding of things, but the things that we genuinely understood before we furthered our understanding, never were contradictory or absurd. How could they be? We’ve always understood triangles as being three-sided shapes. At some point we understood additional truths about them. There can be no additional truth for us to learn that renders triangles as being anything other than three-sided shapes. We know this. Why absurdly treat it as an unknown?
Meaningfully distinguishing between truth and falsehood
Near the beginning of this post I stressed that absurdities should be treated as absurdities, and unknowns should be treated as unknowns. The semantic of unknown (that which we don’t know) is clearly distinct from the semantic of absurd (that which we know to be semantically inconsistent, or contradict a truth). Either this understanding is in place or it isn’t. If it is in place and one does recognise Pyrrhonian scepticism to be absurd, then one should not act as though they may know nothing. One should treat the absurd as absurd. One should not lie or be insincere to one’s awareness (which encompasses the semantics that one is aware of). It is absurd/wrong/contradictory of one to do so.
There is Existence (it is semantically inconsistent to deny this). It is hypothetically possible to have more than one galaxy, planet, or universe, but it is impossible to have more than one “Existence”. By “Existence” I mean that which all things exist because of or as a result of. Without Existence, nothing would encompass, sustain, and unify all things into one Existence. This would mean that it is possible for one set of existents to be in existent A, and another set of existents to be in existent B, such that no existent encompasses A and B. Since no existent encompasses A and B, this means that non-Existence separates A from B. For non-Existence to separate A from B, it would have to exist. It is contradictory to say non-Existence separates A from B because non-Existence does not exist for it to do this. Hence the necessary existence of Existence. Semantics exist in Existence, as do imaginary unicorns (I imagined a unicorn just now). How real something is in its existing, is another matter. In any case, if x exists, then it is either in Existence (or sustained by Existence), or it is Existence.
Lies exist, but they are not true of Existence. For example, if I say to you “triangles have four sides” whilst being aware and focused on the semantics of ‘triangle’ and ‘four-sided’, then I have lied to you because I have knowingly described something that contradicts truth as truth. It is not true of the semantic of triangle (which is a part of Existence) that ‘having four sides’ is a semantical component of it. Similarly, it is not true of the semantic of me (which is a part of Existence) that it believes triangles to be four-sided. Thus, it is not true of Existence that triangles have four sides, and it is not true of Existence that I believe triangles have four sides. what is true of Existence is that I am a liar. Whilst people can be contradictory, Existence cannot. In other words, whist it is not contradictory/impossible for people to be contradictory, it is contradictory/impossible for Existence or Reality (capital R to emphasis the true reality that all lesser realities are contingent on or sustained by) to be contradictory.
Triangles have three sides because Existence/Reality is the way it is. In other words, Reality/Existence is such that triangles are always three sided. Existence/Reality is also such that planets aren’t always green. It is Reality that makes semantics true (a priori) and the labels we use for them possible (a posteriori). We are, after all, fully contingent on Existence/Reality (as opposed to non-Existence or non-Reality). We are not Existence for us to be able to meaningfully say “it is us who make triangles three-sided as opposed to Existence” or “Existence does not sustain us, we sustain Existence”. We did not get our semantics from non-Existence. When we say round squares are absurd, we are in effect saying Existence/Reality is such that round squares are not true of It (you will never see, imagine, or dream of a round square). Every truthful statement we make implicitly contains the premise ‘Existence is such that… ‘. On the other hand, every false statement we make inaccurately describes something about Existence. Consider the following definitions/semantics for the words “true” and “false”:
True = that which is in relation to Existence as described or stated. For example “our earth is round”.
False = that which is in relation to Existence not as described or stated. For example “our earth is flat”.
If Existence/Reality is such that our earth is round, then the statement “our earth is round” accurately/truthfully describes something in relation to Existence (in this case our earth). This match between how Existence is (specifically that it includes our earth which is round) and the statement, gives the statement the quality of being true or semantically consistent in relation to Existence. If Existence is such that our earth is flat, then the statement “our earth is round” inaccurately/falsely describes something about Existence. This mismatch between how Existence is and the statement, gives the statement the quality of being false or semantically inconsistent in relation to Existence.
True = that which semantically/meaningfully matches
how Existence is.
False = that which semantically/meaningfully contradicts Existence.