Monday, April 28, 2008

Philosophy 101: Truth and right, Knowledge and Information; Science and manipulation


Visitors familiar with some of my blog writings about psychological polarity, inherited from Paul Rosenfels and the Ninth Street Center, may remember the opposite “magnetic” poles of “truth” and “right,” as being the province of feminine and masculine personalities, respectively. Goethe wrote about the “eternal feminine” and inspired choral-symphony masterpieces by Franz Liszt and Gustav Mahler, as well as operas by Arrigo Boito and Charles Gounod.

The “masculine” personality, in this view, is more concerned about manipulating others in a domain (as a family, or business) to do the “right” thing (or perhaps just the “desired” thing). “Masculinity” is sometimes associated with salesmanship for its own sake, and can degenerate into hucksterism and short-sightedness (look at the subprime mortgage crisis – can’t anyone look beyond five years?) “Femininity” is associated with scientific research, but it can become self-indulgent and just mass information or knowledge for its own sake, without motivating people to use if properly.

On Sunday, April 27, The Washington Post Style Section, p M1, featured a long piece by Monica Hesse: “Truth: Can You Handle It? Better Yet, Do You Know It When You See It?” link here.

She goes on to discuss the difference between “information” and “knowledge," the latter dependent on "truth." This sounds like epistemology in a university Philosophy 101 undergraduate course. With so much material available to search engines on the web, schools and universities are having to tighten their standards for what is acceptable source material for research. Professional journalists have long dealt with this: fact-checking. The recently opened Newseum in Washington DC offers a short film on journalistic truth and provides a visitor exercise in journalistic ethics. The Post article mentions the book by Andrew Keen, “The Cult of the Amateur” which I reviewed on my books blog, here. However, amateur sites, and open-source compendiums like Wikipedia often provide original sources which may in turn be checked manually. I try to do that as much as practical, and encourage visitors to go to the original sites and read what’s there. The totality of what I find can be disturbing.

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