My new post to the ili listserv, defending my papers, and now, the importance of the concept of truth itself (some details edited and changed to protect the innocent):

All,

This continues the discussion started on the thread titled “My ‘Authority is Constructed and Contextual’ critiques”. I decided to re-frame it with the help of the N.Y. Times, which presuming we take their advertising seriously, either thinks that it speaks the truth, or it is the Truth.

My argument is that the N.Y. Times believes there is truth and that they should speak it and do speak it. Such should be the goal of all of us. Our students know there are alternative perspectives. Do they know they should, as the Times implies, seek truth?

Thus saieth the N.Y. Times.

Thus saieth the N.Y. Times.

Han’s, Frodo’s, Hoss’s, Jessica’s, and Karen’s latest thoughts (found on the previous thread) are no doubt interesting, and are certainly worth engaging (and I’ve done so a bit off list). That said, at this point I sense that it would be wise for me personally – for my own as well as others’ sanity — to engage persons regarding the actual content and argument of my papers in particular. Therefore, I will do a response meant to respond to all, and which is relatively brief and to the point.

I do not think it is responsible to assert that the truth is that (irony alert…) all truth claims are “fallible and corrigible,” even if many are…

Does any given individual–even a very intelligent one–need to be convinced that truth exists in order for it actually to exist? (Most of the world’s knowledge exists without us knowing that it does.) Don’t we all know the answer to that?

Just like a good spouse, doctor, scientist, historian, judge, or journalist I do not see any point in discussing whether there is truth. To suggest otherwise would be to undermine everything those venerable vocations stand for. Nobody is saying these vocations give us Truth with a big T, but concern for the truth is, or should be, a very important and indispensable aspect of what they are and do. This relates to what Lane Wilkinson says about our patrons: “’they] come to libraries seeking information that will help them create knowledge. They do not want misinformation or disinformation; they do not want to be deceived.” Obviously, bad information does not help us and may even harm us.

In the second paper (RSR), I, at one point, state: “1) Are we, as human persons, concerned primarily with questions about what is true and right – or, alternatively, questions about what is useful and “works”? And, 2) what are the reasons for our answer?”… and go on to deal with this issue. That said, I understand that the practical (it’s William James’ world and we are all his children![i]) is undoubtedly on many people’s minds here, so let me also briefly address that. With the help of Thomas Mann, I put some real flesh on Wilkinson’s point in the RSR paper. You can read that excerpt near the end of my blog post Rebutting the Often Unstated Premise “Libraries Must Change or Die.”

This is a critical aspect of what librarians are able to do: this is about more than our job security. Even if we weren’t librarians, I would hope that all of us would see the real intellectual value that libraries present to us, our children, our neighbors, etc.

And of course there is more – what is true obviously cannot be completely distinct from practical matters (this can be distinct from pragmatic or utilitarian matters). As Bill Badke has brilliantly pointed out, we simply can’t live thinking that the truth does not matter, even if it might seem many of us can manage this Western “luxury”. Richard Rorty might think truth is “what our peers will let us get away with saying,” but most of us don’t think that sounds right for reasons that seem rather obvious to us. Instead, we are not just confident about, but *know*, in a “justified, true, belief” sense (not just a “trust” sense), that if we grow disposed to ignore truth and the very real limits, physical and ethical, that concept entails — our neighbor will not let us do so entirely – either in friendly (“I’m sorry to say you have a cavity…”) or unfriendly (use your imagination) ways.

Therefore, it is not right to think this fact is simply about power. That is incorrect…. wrong… untrue.

Like the N.Y. Times, my papers assume there is truth, as it is has been traditionally defined, and that we should seek it. This is of course related to ethics, which has to do with being true. Again, to debate if there is truth is not the purpose of my papers, but rather, to make the case that because AiCC does not address truth in any meaningful way, even mentioning that seeking it is desirable, it is fatally flawed and set for the scrap heap. Perhaps those who think introducing the concept of truth are right: it would undermine the purpose of the AiCC frame.

That’s what I think should happen. I suppose if persons do not think there is truth, or that truth is too contested a concept to even start talking about, they might not have any reason to interact with my papers, seeking to find common ground.

Here is an extended quote from my first paper, to mull over:

“How do the concepts of expertise and credibility, which presumably, based on the above statement, go hand-in-hand with authority, fit with the constructed and contextual character authority is said to have? And what might concepts that one would think are connected with authority – like knowledge, experience, responsibility, trust, and truth – have to do with this statement? When we use the phrase “speaking with authority” in a positive context, “strength [of conviction] we can trust in” comes to mind – does truth as well? In addition, many believe that the Framework is based on the educational philosophy known as constructivism, which goes hand in hand with “social constructivism” (e.g. Foasberg, 2015; Badke, 2015). This, in turn, has many connections with the philosophical school known as pragmatism (Hickman, 2009; Kveinen & Ristela, 2003), which is itself a form of relativism. Of course, the frame “Authority is Constructed and Contextual” gives the unmistakable impression of acknowledging this debt to constructivism in its very title. What does this mean for our inquiry?

“… does the Framework, upon closer inspection, give the impression that it is indifferent to the matter of truth – or even that truth is really only about the usefulness and expediency of ideas (i.e. it only concerns viable actions)? And if this is the case, can the idea of truth therefore be reduced to what our peers will let us get away with saying” as the late Richard Rorty, pragmatism’s most prominent contemporary proponent, said (2009, p. 176)? This paper looks to ask, albeit via indirect means, to what degree this may be true about the Framework, however ironic this statement may seem. And if this is the case, do librarians want to leave that impression – or perhaps “get away with” leaving that impression? Or, would we prefer to communicate that truth, at the very least, has something to do with “being in accordance with the actual state or conditions; conforming to reality or fact; not false” (“Truth”, 2016), to say nothing about its connection with ethical issues? If the answer to this question is “yes” – and if questions like those posed in the previous paragraph are unable to be addressed in a satisfactory way, might it be necessary to re-examine and perhaps “re-frame” this part of the Framework?”

There is, of course, a lot more detailed and careful argumentation in the full papers. If you are interested in this discussion, and you haven’t read my papers yet, I encourage you to do so. I am enjoying the interactions here, but particularly look forward to careful, well-argued, paper-length engagements with what I’ve written there.

Out for today! Carry on and have a good weekend!

-Nathan

[i] From my AiCC survey paper: “….the question of how we might have wisdom to understand what is truly good is always at issue. After all, our goals are often remarkably narrow and short-sighted. We are apt to choose the path of least resistance – at least when it comes to this or that area of our lives. It is very easy to rationalize things as being good for us – or importantly, others – that, in the long run, turn out to be anything but. Many, filled with a sense of righteousness vs. the evils of the world, plunge boldly ahead, blind to their own ambitions, selfishness, and limitations. In short, many of us, in our bones, sense that it is good to think that what is really good is greater than what appears to “work” right now.

And of course, in the classical understanding of “the good,” it goes hand in hand with truth….”

FIN

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