TOK Essay: Do good explanations have to be true?

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic







 

“Do good explanations have to be true?”

 

We so often reference the fear of the unknown, the notion of a lack of knowledge and understanding bringing about a sense of uncertainty and dread. The presence of humans has always been accompanied by a curiosity for the world around us, as well as what seems to be an innate need for explanations to justify the circumstances and phenomena around us which we are not readily knowledgeable of. Explanations generally can be defined as a set of plausible circumstances or conditions which can justify an action or beliefs. In some ways, it could be said that we use explanations to construct what we define to be a logical and empirical model of reality. However, does this necessarily mean that good explanations have to be true? It comes to a general consensus that the idea of “truth” in itself, may be defined differently from human to human and that there are also different types of truth. Truth can be largely centered around and influenced by the constructs of not only society, but also each person’s own beliefs and values. In looking at how explanations are constructed and used from in the human sciences and religious knowledge systems, we will be able to see how real life reflects to this question: “Do good explanations have to be true?”

 

Reliant on the human exploration of the physical world, the natural sciences encompasses knowledge of a wide range of fields, from physics to chemistry to geology to biology. Explanations in the natural sciences  are formulated in a few key ways, generally accepted to be the scientific method, serendipity, and validation of theories by way of induction and falsification. Pragmatically, knowledge acquisition in the natural sciences relies heavily on our application of sense perception and reason to make deductions and observations on the world around us. We generally accept explanations given to us by the natural sciences as knowledge derived from sense perception gives us knowledge and experience on a firsthand level. Reasoning on the other hand can be utilized processing the information obtained by way of sense perception. Here we take into account three different theories of truth: the correspondence theory of truth , the conference theory of truth, and the pragmatic theory of truth. The correspondence theory of truth states if a proposition, or in this case an explanation reflects reality, then it could be considered true. The conference theory of truth states that something can be considered true on the condition that it is consistent with other truths. Lastly, the pragmatic theory of truth examines the usefulness of a particular proposition and from that, deduces whether something is truthful or not.

 

Take the example of the theory of heliocentrism. It was originally regarded as controversial and unacceptable by the church and many members of society, who held belief in the theory of geocentrism, and deemed geocentrism a “good explanation” which reflected the reality which they lived in. Aristotle and Ptolemy were some of the first astronomers to propose the theory of geocentrism, and their explanations were regarded as true. Basing their observations off of sense perception, they saw visually what appeared to be the sun, stars, and planets revolving around the earth once each day. It seemed as if the stars were rotating around the Earth on a fixed axis located at the geographic poles of the Earth. Moreover, from the perspective of an observer on earth, by way of reasoning and judging with sense perception, it would seem that the Earth is unmoving due to it feeling stationary. On one hand the theory of geocentrism supported the coherence theory of truth, in that its explanations were accepted as truth as they were seemingly consistent with other things also considered true (observations deduced from sense perception and reason). However, on the other hand, it contradicts the correspondence theory of truth, in that it does not reflect reality. With several centuries work done by scientists and astronomers (such as Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo), we now possess the understanding that we live in a heliocentric universe, and not a geocentric one. These contributors to the heliocentric theorem used sense perception and reasoning to make observations and come up with explanations for their propositions, documenting these findings with language. Though this was a proposition which reflected reality (as we know it today), it was largely considered false and controversial by large portions of society. Further exemplifying how “good explanations” might not always be considered true, and that what may seem to be a “good explanation” to some, may not be interpreted the same way by others. Now, having expanded the horizons of our knowledge with the improvement of technology and science, heliocentrism is generally regarded as true, and justified with what people would judge as “good explanations” derived from sense perception and reason. Not disregarding the parts of society which still believe in geocentrism, their resolution that heliocentrism is not true or is not a “good explanation” of how the universe works, can be influenced largely by the belief systems which they grew up in and the values which they uphold themselves.

 

On the other hand, religious knowledge systems spoken about now, generally leads to the thought of the belief in and worship of a supreme entity or power, most namely a personal God or gods. Religious knowledge systems, dependent on religious belief systems, can be considered one of the areas which may differentiate people in terms of how they think, how they view the world, and what beliefs and values they uphold. Even for the people within the the domain of religious knowledge systems, there remains divisions between them based off of different religious belief systems. Interpretations of the origins of the Earth, differ even within each separate belief system, and for those who have been exposed to these belief systems and influenced by them, these different interpretations are readily accepted as true despite the fact that they might not support the correspondence theory of truth nor might they be considered “good explanations” by all people. The Genesis creation narrative, creation myth of both Judaism and Christianity details how Elohim (Hebrew generic word for God), created the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh. Within this narrative, It is said how every element of life as the Jewish and Christianreligious knowledge systems believe in was created by Elohim. From heaven to Earth, to light, to time, to all living creatures on Earth, and finally to humans. Informed by their faith in their knowledge systems, spiritual conviction leads them to accept the Genesis creation narrative as a logical and rational explanation of the divine origins of our world, and is therefore what they consider true. On the other hand, the Islam creation being a different religious knowledge system does not include the presence of a divine being in the creation of the universe. Instead, according to the Quran, the heavens and the earth were a joint “unit of creation” which were split apart and developed to their present state following a smoke-like phase. A divine being, God, is credited further on with the creation of all creatures on the face of Earth from water, while God is also said to have created the first human (Adam). Though there are certain similarities between each religious knowledge systems’ story of divine creation, people of these different religious knowledge systems, still regard these as inherently different explanations. Sometimes, potentially viewing those which do not support their own faith to be “bad explanations” and not true. Though one may believe that their explanation is “good” and true, when looked at by someone of a different faith and belief system, conflicts may arise. Looking at it from a wider perspective, there remains divisions between people who may or may not believe in religious knowledge systems at all. For those who do not have faith in religious knowledge systems, it may seem that no explanations within this system could be considered “good” and therefore true while the same goes vice versa. Considering the fact that this conflict may very well unfold under the circumstances that, each side believes that their explanation is “good” and true while thinking adversely of the other sides',  it more and more reflects the statement: "Truth can be largely centered around and influenced by the constructs of not only society, but also each person’s own beliefs and values.”

 

Within the natural sciences, we see how explanations for how the universe is constructed varied from time period to time period, and that each explanation can be regarded as “good” by any number of people simultaneously whether or not it may be true or reflect reality. The fact that it reflects a person’s own construct of reality is sufficient reason for them to rationalize something as a good explanation. On the other hand, analysis of religious knowledge systems demonstrates how the definition of a “good explanation” varies and can be based on differences in knowledge systems, beliefs and values. Good explanations do not have to be true, neither to bad explanations have to be false. Because each person’s construct of “truth” can be influenced by external factors such as society and upbringing,  but also be influenced by personal beliefs and values, it follows that the judgement of what is or is not a good explanation, as well as what is to be or not to be considered true is subjective and there is no concrete answer to: “ Do good explanations have to be true?”







Submitted: April 16, 2019

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HJ FURL

Good Question!
As a Scientist, I find genetics fascinating. Every Christmas Eve my leading authority on cell research friend from the States and I sit down to an Indian in London's West End and discuss ideas for my stories based on the world of genetics ( see Marnie's Child / Baited Breath / Adelphi).The crux of the matter being tampering with DNA strands at the early stages of development. If it is possible to create a perfect child - a designer baby (outlawed under the International Laws but some rogue state will try it soon) or clone Dolly the Sheep, it must be possible to remove certain genes that give rise to violent behaviour or at least answer your Q! HJ

Tue, April 16th, 2019 6:13am

HJ FURL

No, but they must be credible, like good fiction!
HJ

Tue, April 16th, 2019 6:14am

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