Saturday, November 22, 2008

Trivial truth, disagreement, and religious tolerance

It is trivially true that if two statements contradict, whether in religion or elsewhere, one statement is true and one is false.

What we do about that disagreement can be far from trivial. What people do about that disagreement is another matter. In America, we disagree about politics. What we do about it is that we hold elections for President every four years and make orderly transitions from one administration to another. In other countries they do it differently. They kill one another to get control of the government. It's not the disagreement, it's what we do about the disagreement, that matters.

6 comments:

RD said...

"It is trivially true that if two statements contradict, whether in religion or elsewhere, one statement is true and one is false."

Given that George H.W. Bush was a one-term president, consider the two following statements:

"George H.W. Bush was president from 1801-1805"

and

"George H.W. Bush was president from 1921-1925"

Each statement contradicts the other, yet both are false. It seems that one could construct plenty of similar counterexamples to what you've said. At any rate, it's not clear that there's any relationship between the fact that two statements contradict one another and the truth/falsity of those statements.

RD said...

A different kind of counterexample (from Russell, I think):

"The present king of France is bald"

"The present king of France is not bald"

These are contradictory statements, but neither is true or false, since there is no present king of France.

Ilíon said...

VR: "It is trivially true that if two statements contradict, whether in religion or elsewhere, one statement is true and one is false."

Actually, it isn't.

What is "trivially true" is that *at least one* of the two statements is false. For, after all, it may be the case that both are false.

Ilíon said...

RD: "A different kind of counterexample (from Russell, I think):

"The present king of France is bald"

"The present king of France is not bald"

These are contradictory statements, but neither is true or false, since there is no present king of France.
"

And Russel, as was his wont when "necessary," would be incorrect.

The statements are not "neither true nor false," but are, in fact, false. Both statements make *two* assertions, not merely one -- both statements: 1) assert that there is a king of France, and 2) assert a truth-claim about his hair.

RD said...

ilion: Actually, Russell took the statement "the present king of France is bald" to be saying THREE things:

1) There is a present king of France

2) There is exactly one present king of France

3) At least one present king of France is bald

It's true that Russell took the two statements "the present king of France is bald" and "the present king of France is not bald" to both be false.

But there have been some conscientious objections to Russell's view on definite descriptions.

At any rate, supposing that Russell is right, we'd still have a counterexample to what Victor said, since as you point out, the two contradictory statements would then both be false.

Ilíon said...

I expect that VR had in mind also that the two contradictory statements be not only exclusive but exhaustive. But, if so, that's not what he actually said.