UNDERSTANDING AND TRUTH
We can say, then, that what we know objectively is not the thing-in-itself, but relations the thing has--either relations within parts of it, or relations to other things-in-themselves.
DEFINITION: A fact is a relation among existences.
So, it is a fact that grass is like leaves and go lights and emeralds. It is a fact that existence causes us to react (that is how we know existence; through its relation to our consciousness). It is a fact that heavy objects fall down; it is a fact that hydrogen combines with oxygen to form water.
Hence, even though the existence itself is the object of consciousness, facts about existence are obviously what we objectively know, as you can see from the examples. So what we know objectively is not the object itself, really; it is facts about the object. And the reason we know facts and not the existence-in-itself is that we know about the existence by means of our subjective reactions.
But by comparing our subjective reactions, we are able (sometimes--and this we will discuss later) to "bypass" the subjectivity (the part of the reaction that is "mind-produced") and filter out, as it were, the part that is objective, based on the fact that similar effects have to have similar causes, and so on.
But there is another step we have to take to understand our objective knowledge.
DEFINITION: A property is the aspect of existence by which it is related to some existence.
It is a fact that grass and emeralds are similar; what it is about grass (as an object) that is similar to emeralds (as objects) is the property we call "greenness." You could, in fact, say that it is a fact that grass and emeralds are similar in greenness--and if you did, you would be speaking a little more accurately, because it is also a fact that grass and emeralds are similar in materiality, tangibility, substantiality, and any number of other ways.
Any fact, then, has three aspects or characteristics to it, just because it is a relationship: (1) the relationship itself (in this case, similarity); (2) the objects related (in this case, the grass and the emeralds); and (3) the property in each object by which it is related to the other one.
I should point out that in other branches of philosophy, "property" is a technical term that has a slightly different meaning; it refers to one of the many ways a complex unit (called a "thing") behaves. For our purposes, a detailed analysis of existence involving form, quantity, systems, things, matter, and energy, would only add to confusion of an already complex enough subject; and when all is said and done, what we are now calling "properties" (that strictly should be called "forms of existence") will turn out to be the forms of existence which are in fact properties of things. In fact, what we usually mean by the "object" of our knowledge is some thing (and not a single act or existence), and since "property" is pretty easily understood, I see no reason to complicate matters unduly.
What should be noticed here is that the property is known by means of or in the fact, not in itself. That is, we know greenness through our discovery of the similarity of emeralds and grass, and we know it only as "the whatever-it-is by which grass is similar to emeralds.
Why is that? Because, though the emeralds and the grass are acting on us in a greenish way, we don't know what that way is, because we only know it through our reaction (the way green appears to us), and our reaction isn't like the act. So we only know that the two acts must in some respect be alike because our reactions are like each other--and we call that respect, whatever it is, the "property" of greenness.
So when we say the grass is green, we are not saying "grass is 'green-as-I-see-it.'" We are saying "Grass has some unknown property, but whatever that property is, it is like the property that emeralds have"--and for the sake of not making long circumlocutions like this we use the word "greenness" for the unknown property that things like this have in common.
A very indirect way of knowing things; but it is the only way we have, given that our reactions, because of the uniqueness of our minds, are subjective reactions to existence.
Now it is not enough simply to connect reactions in our minds in order to be able to get at facts, because any two objects can be related in an infinity of possible ways; so a mere connection among the effects will only tell us that there is a relation among the existences or objects.
To know what the relation among the existences is, we need to know what the relation among the reactions is; and this "grasping of what the relation is" is a special act of the mind, distinct from the reactions themselves.
DEFINITION: Understanding is the act of the mind by which we grasp what the relation is among reactions and/or imaginary acts (and therefore among the existences--if any--that caused them).
DEFINITION: The intellect is the ability we have to understand.
Note that the intellect is not necessarily a part of ourselves, or a "something" we possess in our brains or somewhere; it is just a name for the fact that we are able to understand; it is what is called technically a "faculty" of ours.
It is not our purpose here to analyze understanding and it implications for the intellect; the term "intellect," in fact, was really only mentioned to make clear that experiences or consciousness is "intellectual" when it deals with acts of understanding, and not simply reactions or imaginings. Intellectual activity is a distinct activity from reacting or imagining, though it involves comparing reactions or imaginary acts.
Now the act of understanding has two "dimensions" to it, so to speak: (1) it grasps the relationship itself between the associated reactions or images, and (2) it is conscious, and so is aware of what it is doing, as well as containing the consciousness of the reactions or images within it.
So "within" understanding, there is the intellect's proper activity, and the fact that it is conscious. There are implications to both of these.
First of all, the grasping of what the relationship is means that the act of understanding simultaneously knows in one single act (a) the relationship itself (i.e. whether it is similarity or causality or position or whatever), (b) the reactions or images related, and (c) the property in the reactions or images by which they are related in this way.
The reason that it knows these all together is that you can't know any one of them without knowing the others "first," as it were. How could you know what the relationship is without knowing what was related and the property which related it to the other images? Or how could you know the property without first knowing the images that had it, and the relation which it established (since the property only means "the whatever-it-is that makes these related with this relation)?
And so on. So it must be one single act that grasps all three "dimensions" of the relationship at once. So when you know that all trees are similar, you simultaneously know that they all have some property in common, and you know what objects you are talking about when you talk about trees.
DEFINITION: A concept is the form of the act of understanding.
That is, the concept is both the relationship in question and the property by which the reactions or images are related. The concept does not contain the images, however. The act of understanding contains them, but they are in themselves a different set of acts among which understanding grasps a particular relation with a particlar property; so the form of the act of understanding does not contain as such these images or reactions.
Thus, the concept involved in the understanding that grass is like emeralds or go lights is the similarity and the greenness. But it doesn't contain as such the particular grass that you happen to be looking at or the emerald that you are imagining at the moment.
Notice that you have to express the concept in two different ways (or rather, you can express it in either of two ways): as the relationship or as the property. (E.g. "similarity" or "greenness"). This is because, though the concept is both at once, our words used to express the concept can't be two different things at the same time (because they are not "self-aware"); and so in expressing concepts in words, we have to split apart its two dimensions, as if it were two different things, and could be one or the other. But it is really both.
Since the concept (as op posed to the complete act of understanding) doesn't contain within it the particular reactions or images it was derived from, it is said to be abstract. It "ignores" (abstracts from) these images; and it recognizes itself in its self-awareness as able to apply to any other image or reaction that has the same property.
DEFINITION: Abstraction is the fact that understanding occurs by way of a concept which implies only one property (out of many) in the reactions or images, and is "separated" from the images or reactions themselves, and so is applicable to anything with the property in question.
Abstraction is twofold, then. Whenever you understand something, you do it by way of relating your reaction to some other reaction or image; and since the relation is one relation, what you get out of the act is one relation with one property.
Thus, when you understand a certain similarity between grass and emeralds, you understand similarity in color or "greenness." In that act of understanding, you do not understand (for instance) that grass is living and emeralds aren't--which is a different relationship--nor do you understand the similarity in, say, materiality (which, though it is the same type of relationship, is a different relationship with a different property).
So in the first place, understanding "abstracts" only one property from the images. You never understand all about anything in any act of understanding; you only understand one aspect of it.
In the second place, understanding "abstracts" the concept and recognizes it as applicable beyond these reactions. So you understand that "greenness" can also apply to other things besides grass and emeralds; and so when you see algae, say, you simply apply the already-formed concept to it and understand that it is green.
The fact that a concept applies to an infinity of possible objects (all objects that have the property, or that are related in the way in question) has a special name:
DEFINITION: Universality is the characteristic of a concept by which it is applicable to an infinity of possible objects. Thus, all concepts are not only abstract, but by that very fact universal.
That is enough about the as conscious form of the act of understanding itself. But I said that understanding is also a conscious act, and so it "contains" more, so to speak, than just the concept.
The act of understanding is aware, not only of itself, but of the reactions or images in which it understands the concept; hence, it is aware whether these are reactions (and refer to objects) or images (and have no object).
So if you understand that unicorns have four legs (i.e. that they have parts related in this way), then in that very act you understand that this particular "four-leggedness" does not apply to any object, because you know that the unicorns of your experience are imaginary. You may know that "four-leggedness" can apply to reactions; but until you actually see a four-legged thing, you don't know if it does.
On the other hand, when you understand that the grass you are looking at is like emeralds, you are immediately aware (i.e. without any indirection or "medium"; right in the act itself) that the real grass has the property of "greenness." Why? Because you are immediately aware that the grass-impression you have is a reaction-to some existence, and not an act of your mind alone.
This fact that understanding, as conscious, is aware of whether the "sensations" related are reactions (and have objects) or images (and don't)--and consequently whether there is a relation "out there" among the objects or not--has traditionally been called "the judgment," as if it were another act of the mind beyond the formation of the concept itself.
I think that this is a mistake, and I think that
to consider it a different act from concept-formation makes a hash out of our act of understanding. But this is not the place to enter into a discussion of the pros and cons of the issue.
In any case, I do not divide intellectual activity into two acts: concept-formation (traditionally called "simple apprehension") and judgment; the "judgment" is simply the act of concept-formation (or application) as conscious. As conscious, the act of understanding contains not only itself, but the conscious aspect of the reactions or images from which it drew the relation (the concept).
For our purposes, what is significant about understanding as conscious is that it is in this aspect of understanding that we understand what the facts are "out there."
That is, since the conscious acts we grasp relations among may be images (and have no object) or reactions (with objects), then some of the concepts we form (those among images) will not refer to facts (because there are no objects related in this way), and others will refer to facts (when the conscious acts were reactions). So to know one from the other, we have to know the nature of the acts from which we drew the relation--and this is what understanding as conscious knows.
Thus, when I understand that all unicorns bark rather than whinny, I understand that this is not a fact, but an imaginary relationship--because I know that unicorns don't exist. But when I understand that grass is green, I understand that this is a fact, because there is grass, and it really is like emeralds.
[There is a detailed discussion of understanding and concepts in Modes of the Finite, Part Three, Section3.]
Alas, it isn't all that simple (however complicated you may think it to be so far), and so we have to take a few more steps before we can branch off the path to that of the esthetic experience itself.
I have been talking as though every time I grasped a concept from a set of reactions, it was automatically the case that I understood a fact about the objects that caused the reactions.
But anyone who has ever tried to understand anything at all complicated knows that sometimes you understand a fact, and sometimes you understand a concept that you think is a fact, and it turns out later that the relation you thought was there, wasn't. You were wrong.
How can this be?
It's actually because generally speaking the object we are trying to understand something about doesn't act directly on our brains, but only does so through a more or less complicated causal chain, and that sometimes variations in the intermediate stages between the object "out there" and the act on our brain make the act not what it would have been if it acted directly on it.
Let me illustrate, and what I just said will be somewhat clearer. You are looking at this page. Now put on sunglasses, and what happens to your reaction to the color of the page? It looks greenish rather than white. Why? Because the glasses filtered out some of the light and let the green through; and so your reaction to the page is a reaction by means of the altered light that came through the glasses.
If you didn't realize that you had the glasses on, then you might say, "The page is light green," thinking that that was a fact about the page, when in fact, the page isn't light green, but white.
A more normal instance of that kind of thing would be what happens when you pick out clothes. You might think that a suit is a certain color and then find later that it isn't, because you didn't realize that in the store, you were looking at it under fluorescent light; but then out in sunlight or under incandescent light, it looks different--in this case, because the light itself is a different color (and so the light it reflects will be slightly different).
So it is possible that, because of some foulup in the chain of causes by which the object acts on your mind, you might have a reaction that implies a relation that is not the fact: you might draw a concept from the reactions that does not reflect a fact.
DEFINITION: Error occurs when we understand an object to be related in a certain way, and this does not correspond to the fact. That is, we think that a certain concept applies to an object, and it really doesn't.
The concept itself, of course, is not really erroneous, since it's just the relation (and the property in question); it's only when we apply the concept to a given reaction-set and understand the concept as applying also to the objects that we make a mistake.
To put this another way, "greenness" can't be a mistake; you only make a mistake when you say, "This object is green" and it really isn't.
Notice that you can't make a mistake with applying concepts to imaginary-acts. "This unicorn is blue" can't be mistaken, because there's no fact involved; that is, if your image of the unicorn is blue, then the image is all the "unicorn" there is; and so there's no chance of your subjective impression being a mistake.
(The astute person might say, "Yes, but you could say that the unicorn was blue and you might actually be imagining it as white. Then it's not really blue." The answer is not that the unicorn isn't "really" blue--because there is no unicorn--but that your statement is a lie. You didn't make a mistake; you just said what you knew was not a fact. But if you imagine it as white, you can't think you're imagining it as blue, because the act of imagining is conscious.)
2.4.2. Definition of truth
Based on the definition of of truth error, we can now come to a definition of truth.
DEFINITION: Truth occurs when we understand an object to be related a certain way, and this corresponds to the fact. That is, my understanding is true when I think the grass is green, and in fact it is. My understanding grasps as a fact a relation which is a fact.
Again, the concept itself is not true; it is the concept as applied to the reactions and the reactions as known to be reactions to some object; and therefore it is the concept as understood to be a fact about the objects. Schematically:
Reaction A .............Existence 1
o ...agreement = truth ........f
c ..disgreement = error .... c
Reaction B ..............Existence 2
Note carefully that in the truth relation, the understanding of the fact must agree with the fact, not the other way round. The fact is the standard of comparison; if there is disagreement, then it is "fixed" by finding the proper concept (the one that is the same as the fact) and thus bringing the understanding into agreement with the fact.
220.127.116.11. Other senses of "true"
Now then, there are some different meanings of "true" that we ought to consider before we take a second look at the relation above. One of them we already saw.
DEFINITION: Truth as opposed to lying occurs when the statement a person utters as a fact agrees with the understanding he has of what the fact is.
His understanding may be either true or in error; but he is "telling the truth" when he states what he thinks the fact is. If he deliberately states as a fact what he thinks is not a fact, he is lying.
If a person doesn't realize that he has said something that doesn't mean what he thinks it means, then even though that statement doesn't reveal what he thinks is the fact, he is not lying. Such a statement is an erroneous statement. He has made a different kind of mistake. In the first kind of mistake, he thought the fact was something that it wasn't. In this kind of mistake, he thought his statement meant something that it didn't.
DEFINITION A statement is true as opposed to false when it states as a fact what the fact is.
So statements have two kinds of truth: they are "true and not false" when they agree with the fact; and they are "true and not lying" when they agree with what the speaker thinks the facts are. Given that the speaker can be in error, then the same statement can be false and true (i.e. not a lie), or true (i.e. not false) and a lie.
To create a far-fetched but possible combination, it is possible for a statement to be true and in error at the same time. Let us say that a person is colorblind and thinks that grass is a certain shade of red. He also thinks that "chartreuse" is a word that means that particular shade. He then says, "Grass is chartreuse," thinking that what he says is true. Because of the double error, he has in fact made a statement that is true (i.e. agrees with the fact).
There are other combinations of the different senses of "true"; but let this be enough to illustrate that when you use the word, you have to be careful of what sense you are using.
There is one last complicationthat we have to add before we get into the next chapter and the esthetic experience. Since the truth-relation is a relation, it can be approached from either end. It might seem obvious why we have to make our understanding of the fact agree with what the fact is, but why couldn't you take your understanding of the fact as the standard and demand, as it were, that the facts agree with it?
There isn't any reason why you couldn't; and in fact we do occasionally. When you say of a broken faucet, "There's something wrong with that; it has to be fixed," you're actually taking your idea of what a faucet does as a standard for judging what this faucet is doing, and finding a kind of "reverse error"; and so you want to bring the fact into conformity with your understanding of the fact (which you would express as your understanding of the way the fact "ought" to be).
But it turns out that we use different terms to refer to the truth-error relationship when looked at in this way:
DEFINITION: Goodness occurs when the fact agrees with our understanding of what the fact is. That is, we call an object "good" when the facts about it are what we expect them to be, based on our understanding about that type of object.
Thus, from our experience with dogs, we expect certain appearance, behavior, and in general a certain set of properties from dogs. When a dog has all these properties, we say it is a "good example of a dog."
DEFINITION: Badness occurs when the fact does not conform to our understanding of the fact. We call an object "bad" or say that "there is something wrong with it" if it doesn't measure up to our understanding of what it "ought" to be.
Again, a "bad" dog would be a dog that did not behave in the way you expect him to behave (usually based on how you trained him). But we would also say that a dog that looked sick "had something wrong with him" and we would consider that to be bad. A dog that looked ugly would also be a "bad example of a dog," as would a dog that was too stupid to be trained, however benevolent his disposition.
Note that moral badness or evil is also based on the same relation. We expect a human being to behave consistently with what we understand to be his human nature. When he acts so as to contradict what we consider his "true nature," we consider his actions morally wrong--and if we think he did it deliberately, we consider him evil. He did not behave as we would expect a human being to behave.
Now since in goodness and badness, the standard of comparison is a given person's understanding of what the kind of thing he is observing is "really supposed to be like," it follows from this that goodness and badness are subjective terms. There is a certain objectivity to them, based on how accurate has been the observation upon which we formed the understanding that we use as the standard with which to compare the facts; but in the last analysis, comparing reality with our idea of it and expecting it to live up to our idea is a subjective enterprise. Reality is what it is, and the fact that we expect it to be better is our problem, not the reality's.
An enormous amount could be said on this topic, but I think this gives us enough to be able to discuss the esthetic experience as one class of experience and find out whether it has a relation to any property of any object, and if so what.
[For an extended discussion on truth, goodness and badness, see Modes of the Finite, part One, Section 5Next