A pretentious title if ever there was one! But, it is something I am going to have to address, if I am to write a convincing methodology chapter. Perhaps the question is “What characteristics of a proposition or phenomenon convince me that it is true”. But, then again, need I go into that? If I start with Cartesian doubt – (that I should be properly sceptical of everything except the fact that I exist – for, logically, I must exist to think that I am thinking) it doesn’t get me very far. Because, other than the cogito, I have no rational basis for believing that anything else is true. Empiricism would seem to be a better bet. Even if nothing is true, for all practical purposes, I can trust my senses. Hume’s remark about being free to leave by the window (from the third floor!) if I really didn’t believe in an objective reality seems to me a better guide to what course of action to take. Whether the world really exists or not, isn’t really relevant, because we all have to operate within it and we have a sufficiently shared perception of it to identify appropriate courses of action.
But there’s still a weakness. What I am interested in is other people’s interpretations of an empirical reality, because that provides a better guide to how they act than the actual reality itself. If you believe there is a mouse under the table you will act as though there is a mouse under the table, even if there is not. Human beings disagree about many things, especially in the social world. Which party has the better economic policy? What is beautiful? I can certainly listen to their descriptions, although they may mislead me. (Especially if they are misleading themselves.) Take the expresssion “That’s a good film, album, TV show, or whatever”. All I can conclude from that is that the speaker is saying is that they liked whatever it was, and perhaps that they would expect me to like it as well, were I to see or hear it. There’s nothing inherently “good” about it. It all depends on the extent to which I share their values, and empricism seems less helpful here. So a good strategy for a future post will be to articulate my own values.
In the context of the research I can look at what others have done, how they organise their workspace, but here I can only use my interpretations of why they have done those things. In looking at the output of an EDU (let’s call it x) I can think “Why would I have done x?” and compare it with their answer to the question “Why did you do x“. But do these approaches help with predicting whether, and why another person (z) might do x in the future? Maybe not, but they do help to arrive at an explanation, which informs why x was done in that spatial and temporal context. Is that enough?
Even this little post is helpful because it is pointing me towards the case study as a research method. If I believe that my perception reality is heavily influenced by my values, then I am clearly going to have problems with a quantitative approach because I would be deciding what is worth measuring, which may not reflect objective reality. Also of course, I’d be attaching values to particular scores. (for example, a high percentage of whatever I measured, is better than a low percentage.)
One thought on “The nature of truth”
Hello! I enjoy reading your posts. I am myself in the process of finishing my Ph.D., just started a blog of my own, but for other purposes.
Anyway, by reading your post about the nature of truth and people’s beliefs, it made me think of Kelly’s theory of personal constructs, as well as the theoretical perspective of (radical) constructivism.
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