The Granularity Inherent to Language

“I love you.”

This phrase is said millions of times a minute around the world in various languages.

But when you look at the phrase, it is very binary. It would appear from the phrase that either you love someone or you don’t. We know that is not true. We understand that, while the phrase “I love you” is binary, the underlying concept of love lies on a gradient. We love someone in degrees. We usually ignore the inadequacy of language, and simply accept the fact that the person who tells us they love us loves us to a degree that warrants a confession of that love.

It becomes a bit trickier when making statements of belief.

We often make statements such as “It will rain today”, knowing full well there is at least a small change it may not. We don’t apologize for our slight doubt, and people don’t normally shame us if it turns out that there was no rain. We could always preface our statements with “There is an extremely high probability that…”, but most people in the language community do not require this outside of scientific contexts where precision is of importance.

So language is granular while many of the concepts for which it is employed to reflect are gradient.

Recently there have been some pointing to my statements and calling them “truth claims”. It appears that truth claims, in their minds, constitute statements of absolute certainty. The problem is, I don’t have absolute certainty in anything I say. I may have logical certainty (based on my confidence in the reliability of logic) or physical certainty (based on my confidence in the reliability in the laws of physics), but I don’t have absolute certainty about anything. Some suppose this to be a weakness, claiming that, what is not held with absolute certainty is not knowledge. If so, knowledge is not available to fallible humans. But to say I am not rational to have a high degree of certainty in any proposition that I don’t hold with absolute certainty is clearly wrong and just plain silly. This silly attempt to do away with the gradient of certainty inherent to the honest attempt to map belief to the degree of the evidence is usually promoted by those who have a method of distilling truth inferior to science, and who want to even the chess game by bumping the table. This is childish.

Rational belief is a degree of belief that maps to the degree of the evidence. Belief is not inherently binary. Rational belief is inherently gradient since most inductively assessed propositions add confirming/dis-confirming evidence incrementally along the continuum of probability. The fact that the language I employ to reflect my beliefs does not precisely reflect my epistemic position on a particular proposition is not my attempt to misrepresent my position, but merely a natural result of the granularity of language. If you would like a more granularity concerning my actual degree of certainty, please ask for that. But to state that I have made a “truth claim” upon which I have absolute certainty is dishonesty on your part.

So I may make statements such as “The god of the bible is imaginary”. If you disagree, don’t tell me that my statement is arrogant and requires omniscience. Get about the business of demonstrating that I’m wrong. If you demonstrate that, I’ll concede. My high expectation you will fail at that is justified by a long history of asking many other Christians for a defense of their brand of theism, only to have them offer feeble arguments upon which no god-belief is rationally justified. But my dogmatism is not the absolute dogmatism of theism. I’d be happy to follow the truth wherever the evidence leads. But playing word games with language to misrepresent my actual position is dishonest, and reflects poorly on your proposed god.


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