Academics and Wikipedia describe the coherence theory of truth and the correspondence theory of truth, and they fuss over the difference. But it is not as complex as they make it seem. To understand reality scientists examine the connections between things, in other words how things relate to or are interconnected with other things – causal connections. This applies to physics and psychology.
This is not about ultimate causation. Science does not pretend to explain ultimate causation because that would be a pretense at knowing the whole of reality.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning social-biologist and philosopher E.O. Wilson, in his 1998 article "Back from Chaos," wrote that "Science was the engine of the Enlightenment." He complained that, "The ongoing fragmentation of knowledge and the resulting chaos in philosophy are not reflections of the real world but artifacts of scholarship."
Wilson wrote that "something went terribly wrong" with the French Revolution – which drew from Enlightenment and a claim to being scientific in addition to being fired by the idea of the universal rights of man. Jean Jacques Rousseau is associated with the Enlightenment, and his idea of the General Will is said to have had some influence on the revolution. Rousseau held that those who who deviate from the General Will have to be restrained in some way in order for democracy to work. During the French Revolution, executioners set themselves up as representing the General Will in the interests of their revolution – as would Stalin during the Bolshevik Revolution a couple of centuries later. It was science and the Enlightenment run amok.
In "Back from Chaos," Wilson wrote of the French Revolution raising "a intellectual opposition" to the science that the revolution pretended to embrace – no matter that Rousseau was more a man of religion than he was of science. Wilson described the intellectal oppostion as a movement that "gave rise to the modern intellectual tradition of the West and much of its culture." He added:
Isaiah Berlin, one of their most perceptive historians, praised them justly as follows: "The intellectual power, honesty, lucidity, courage, and disinterested love of the truth of the most gifted thinkers of the eighteenth century remain to this day without parallel. Their age is one of the best and most hopeful episodes in the life of mankind." But they reached too far, and their best efforts were not enough to create the sustained endeavor their vision foretold.
The conservative or reactionary intellectual response to the French Revolution included the works of men like England's William Wordsworth, who made an attempt at truth through poetry – a method that dates back to early religion.
Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither,
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the Children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore.
With Wordsworth, wrote Wilson, "the mind soars, the inverse square distance law of gravity falls away. The spirit enters another reality, beyond the reach of weight and measure." Wilson continued:
[T]he German Romantics, led by Goethe, Hegel, Herder, and Schelling, set out to reinsert metaphysics into science and philosophy. The product, Naturphilosophie, was a hybrid of sentiment, mysticism, and quasi-scientific hypothesis.
Wilson described Friedrich Schelling as "the leading philosopher of the German Romantics." Schelling, he wrote, "attempted to immobilize the scientific Prometheus not with poetry but with reason." Schelling, wrote Wilson,
...proposed a cosmic unity of all things, beyond the understanding of man. Facts by themselves can never be more than partial truths. Those we perceive are only fragments of the universal flux. Nature, Schelling concluded, is alive – a creative spirit that unites knower and known, progressing through greater and greater understanding and feeling toward an eventual state of complete self-realization.
Schelling was a man of the early 1800s. Science enjoyed another rise in respect in the later 1800s. Secularism rose to new heights, and Romanticism diminished. Wilson, born in 1929, was part of the new science, and by 1998 he was addressing the knowledge question in his article "Back from Chaos." He complained of the rise of Postmodernism. He wrote:
Postmodernism is the ultimate antithesis of the Enlightenment. The difference between the two can be expressed roughly as follows: Enlightenment thinkers believed we can know everything, and radical postmodernists believe we can know nothing.
He described the philosophical postmodernists as "a rebel crew milling beneath the black flag of anarchy, [challenging] the very foundations of science and traditional philosophy."
In using the term "postmodernist" Wilson would have been referring to those who adhere to the philosophy of science described on this site – a point of view that is agnostic about anything beyond reason applied to empiricism.
That godless agnostics or atheists are nihilists or anarchists without morals is an old claim that harkens back to the negative response to the French Revolution. It is part of the early 19th century view of a worship of science diminishing the conception of divinity, breaching the Hadrian's Wall of civilization, causing humanity to lose what freedom it has as the godless barbarians pour in – a view of the dark side of Enlightenment secular thought.
On the other hand, going into the second decade of the 21st century there are those who see the barbarians as including terrorists motivated in part at least by their adherence to religious ideas.
Edward O. Wilson, a charming man, is professor emeritus at Harvard University and has his own theory of truth, which he calls consilience, which attempts to unite the sciences with the humanities. He is an environmentalist and described as both a secular humanist and a deist.
"Postmodern Education: Teacher Training," an example of postmodern thought.
E.O. Wilson, "The Coming Synergism between Science and the Humanities," 2008.
Western Tradition, by Eugen Weber, program 34, The Enlightenment
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