I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.
— Carl Sagan from The Demon-haunted World
As science is confused with pseudo-science, as real news is conflated with fake, we need much better ways to judge the truth of the information we require to be good citizens. Unfortunately, in this age of nontraditional television networks, kitchen-sink cable, and internet news sources, our information sources can be subverted by entities that wish to bend our mindset to their agenda, rather than giving us measured and reasonable knowledge. When these entities wish to fracture and divide our polity, our social fabric strains and unravels.
Here are four (or five minus one) distinctions for information or knowledge claims, based upon their type of warrant, or context of truthfulness. Three of them are modalities from Kant’s doctrine of judgments, and I suggest that Dialectic could reasonably be added to them, but I do not know if they form a complete set or not. I would suppose they can be ordered by their level of assurance, from low to high. Another more scientific option might be Probablistic instead of Dialectic, based upon measurements or even theoretical arguments. Certainly there must be something between a bald assertion or the questionable and the certain.
- Assertoric: assert to be true or false without (inherent) proof
- Problematic: assert as possibly true (or false)
- Dialectic: philosophically reasoned as true or false (qualified?)
- Probabilistic: quantified or theoretically argued as mostly true or false
- Apodictic: clearly provable as true (or false) or logically certain
Apodictic propositions contrast with assertoric propositions, which merely assert that something is (or is not) true, and with problematic propositions, which assert only the possibility of something being true. Apodictic judgments are clearly provable or logically certain. For instance, “Two plus two equals four” is apodictic. “Chicago is larger than Omaha” is assertoric. “A corporation could be wealthier than a country” is problematic. In Aristotelian logic, “apodictic” is opposed to “dialectic,” as scientific proof is opposed to philosophical reasoning.
For example, the president’s language (“many say”, “everyone knows”, “we’ll see”) is full of assertoric and problematic claims (to be extremely generous), and perhaps that’s the limit of his ability. I don’t think he could manage part of a measured dialectical argument if pressed, and if he manages an apodictic statement it would be like a clock that tells the time correctly twice a day. To have the head of the executive branch of our government to be so untrustworthy in providing information and knowledge hurts us all, and misleads those that takes his words at face value.
And then there are the news sources that cater to the president and his followers. Perhaps they present some warranted information, but mix plenty of misleading punditry in to tickle the fancy of unquestioning minds. As a result we have citizens who only digest information from sources that appeal to their sensibilities. Some of these news sources disseminate their fabrications via a flood in social media and the internet, because our ability to stifle them is almost nonexistent. And when these news sources originate from foreign countries wanting to influence us for their own purposes, how is it that they are allowed to continue?
In truth, people can be misled on scientific topics like the coronavirus and COVID-19, vaccinations, face masks, climate change or global warming, environmentalism and pollution, pseudoscience, and political topics like mail-in voting, Russian meddling with the 2016 and 2020 elections, conspiracy theories such as QAnon, etc. The lists seem almost endless.
One thought on “Our Demarcation Problem”
Well said! Kudos for your well-thought and concise article!!