Home

Concepts such as “ontology” and “epistemology” used in discussions of Web 2.0, Web 3.0, wikis and the semantic web expand conversations from Data Management to Knowledge Management and now even Truth Management (Garfinkel 2008-11/12).

Garfinkel claimed that “wikitruth” is true enough for most readers including journalists who use “wikiclaims” as background material.

Garfinkel distinguishes between the epistemological standards used in mathematics and science where legitimization of objective truth-claims are based on laws and observability in contrast to Wikipedia epistemology where “wikitruth”-claims are included as long as they are “verifiable.”

“The threshold for inclusion in Wikipedia is verifiability, not truth.”

He raises a number of key issues about the dangers of a consensus view of knowledge-claims-about-a-thing. But these are fundamentally the same issues that anyone seriously wanting greater clarity on any topic would consider.

Who is naive enough today to trust truth claims from a single article on a controversial topic in even the most prestigious scientific, medical or technical journal?

I am sure I am not alone in reading their bibliographies first, selecting and reading some of their suggestions while seeking out the viewpoints of those who have made opposing truth claims.

If a person is serious about finding greater accuracy, surely she would find the most convincing and robust among the wiki sources to use as background. Wikipedia is not authoritative in itself nor does it claim to be, does it? I am pleased wiki does not allow original research. I wouldn’t cite a wiki-claim in an academic journal. (I would point to the wiki the way I would point to other links (indexicality) on my blog. It says, “This is interesting. Check it out.” I’m not claiming it is the Truth.)

But then most encyclopedias could not be expected to provide the most recent (post-printing) robust statements required for advanced academic research. That’s what researchers working on original research are meant to do on an ongoing basis. So it is always changing.

In reality the two processes are the same.

When we look at root causes of the current global economic crisis and compare it to crises in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s we can trace the unbridled power of truth claims made by economists like Milton Friedman to Sachs. Nations cut off the economic-social tails mercilessly, made draconian cuts to transform economies based on Free Market-Minimal Government-Invisible Hand theories that were called Truth. It is only with hindsight that we recognize the enormity of the social costs, the abysmal errors, the arrogance and giddy power on their faces from interviews in Argentina, Bolivia, Poland, USSR/Russia.

As we face the complete breakdown in U.S. credit markets even market experts like Alan Greenspan admitted his own errors in judgment in resisting regulations, we are witnessing an assault on truth claims that have enjoyed a hegemony since 1989 and on ontological certitude in the kingpin of western capitalism.

Who do you trust now?

I choose the wiki article among the first and work through their sources.

The ontology within a wiki-Web 2.0 zeitgeist resembles a pragmatic realism that acknowledges human limitations; a wiki, Web 2.0 epistemology looks more like a search for knowledge-to-enhance-understanding-about not Knowledge, various truth-claims-to-consider not Truth, a wiki, Web 2.0 methodologies are eclectic, open, technology-enhanced, shareable, collaborative; wiki Web 2.0 axiology incorporates some elements of trust and generosity.

The Virtual post-positivist philosophy from a cosmopolitical point of view.

A compromise that is possible between positivism and relativism is to engage in inquiries as if reality, the Real, did exist while acknowledging human limitations in terms of our capacity to completely observe, analyze, measure, describe, comprehend or explain reality, the really Real.

Pragmatism can be seen as reasonable accommodation within inquiries about truth claims to allow for diversity in terms of ontology, epistemology, methodology, axiology and zeitgeist.

Notes

1. Wiki “The term ontology has its origin in philosophy, and has been applied in many different ways. The core meaning within computer science is a model for describing the world that consists of a set of types, properties, and relationship types. Exactly what is provided around these varies, but they are the essentials of an ontology. There is also generally an expectation that there be a close resemblance between the real world and the features of the model in an ontology.[3] What ontology has in common in both computer science and in philosophy is the representation of entities, ideas, and events, along with their properties and relations, according to a system of categories. In both fields, one finds considerable work on problems of ontological relativity (e.g., Quine and Kripke in philosophy, Sowa and Guarino in computer science)[4] and debates concerning whether a normative ontology is viable (e.g., debates over foundationalism in philosophy, debates over the Cyc project in AI). Differences between the two are largely matters of focus. Philosophers are less concerned with establishing fixed, controlled vocabularies than are researchers in computer science, while computer scientists are less involved in discussions of first principles (such as debating whether there are such things as fixed essences, or whether entities must be ontologically more primary than processes).”

2. With alarming frequency wikipedia has become the primary resource for Canadian students doing ‘research’ on such topics as Inuit culture, comparative economies of nation-states, etc. What are the longterm implications for civil society in the future with this embedded dependence on wiki-epistemology and wiki-ontology? How can we be informed as citizens if we do not take the long slow road to knowledge acquisition? What role do educators play in developing critical thinking in the wiki environment? Will we PowerPoint our way to the simplest descriptions of complex issues allowing the market and/or interest groups to sway our decisions in an effortless manner simply because we only had time for a wiki-analysis?

Bibliography and Webliography

Garfinkel, Simson L. 2008-11/12.“Wikipedia and the Meaning of Truth: Why the online encyclopedia’s epistemology should worry those who care about traditional notions of accuracy.” Technology Review. MIT.

Garshol, Lars Marius. 2004-10-26. “Metadata? Thesauri? Taxonomies? Topic Maps! Making sense of it all.”

Felsenthal, Mark. 2008-10-23. “Greenspan “shocked” at credit system breakdown.” Reuters. Business and Finance.

Notes

It is informative to review Commanding Heights documentary on the frightening power and influence of economists from the Chicago School (University of Chicago) and Professor Sachs from Harvard University on world economics and world governance. The list of social problems stemming from past mistakes are eerily repeated in current economic chaos.


Charles Taylor distinguishes between ethics and morality by describing the latter as “that part of ethics which is concerned with our obligations to others, in justice and benevolence.” In the course that he is currently teaching (2007) Taylor examines how,

For some thinkers, this is the really important department of ethics, far more significant than questions about what constitutes a good or worth-while life. For others, this primacy is quite mistaken and unacceptable. This issue is often fought out under the description “the primacy of the right over the good”. If one accepts the primacy, certain questions open up: viz, utilitarianism versus a Kantian approach. If one refuses this primacy, then another set of questions become important, because there are a host of different ways of defining the good life (Taylor 2007).


Nussbaum (1994) rejected pro-patriotism arguments in favour of a more cosmopolitan identity which prioritizes human rights above a sense of national belonging. She began her essay with a quote from 4th century BC Cynic Diogenes who, “Asked from what country he came, he replied, “I am a citizen of the world.”4

The Stoics stress that to be a citizen of the world one does not need to give up local identifications, which can frequently be a source of great richness in life. They suggest that we think of ourselves not as devoid of local affiliations, but as surrounded by a series of concentric circles. The first one is drawn around the self; the next takes in one’s immediate family; then follows the extended family; then, in order, one’s neighbors or local group, one’s fellow city-dwellers, one’s fellow countrymen — and we can easily add to this list groupings based on ethnic, linguistic, historical, professional, gender and sexual identities. Outside all these circles is the largest one, that of humanity as a whole. Our task as citizens of the world will be to “draw the circles somehow toward the center” (Hierocles 1st 2nd CE)1, making all human beings more like our fellow city dwellers, and so on. In other words, we need not give up our special affections and identifications, whether ethnic or gender-based or religious. We need not think of them as superficial, and we may think of our identity as in part constituted by them. We may and should devote special attention to them in education. But we should work to make all human beings part of our community of dialogue and concern, base our political deliberations on that interlocking commonality, and give the circle that defines our humanity a special attention and respect.

The Stoic model is of course imperfect since Stoic process of drawing the circle toward the centre was based on assimilation. There was no concept of a sophisticated Derridian “philosophy from a cosmopolitical point of view” or a “politics of friendship” which unsettles relationships to the stranger, the unfamiliar, the unheimlich.

Taylor has deplored the fact that most of us are content to not question what we value. What are the ethics and morals that are most important to us? Where and when did we adopt them? Was it conscious choice or osmosis? Pondering these questions in moral philosophy is not part of our everyday lives. As we slide towards a form of world citizenship, we will need to know ourselves so the values that are important to us are the ones we end of defending.

While Charles Taylor2 (1994) admired Martha Nussbaum’s (1994 ) with one caveat, he disagreed with her proposal that cosmopolitan identity replace patriotism. And of course they are both correct. Nussbaum’s call for a more inclusive global citizenship based on responsibility and caring is essential to the sustainable futures. But for all appearances we are still national citizens (Rorty 1994). However, the concept of the Westphalian nation-state has a historical beginning and its future form may be quite different from what we now experience. National sense of belonging will be quite different a decade from now just as it was prior to 911 when these articles were written. As we move into the unknown area of morality in a post-national world, will the secular humanist discourse be enlightened enough to stretch our sociological imaginations and allow us to negotiate solutions to seemingly irreconcilable differences.
Writing in Palestine3 in 1917 Abdu’l-Baha, a Persian spiritual leader called for a unity of the Orient and Occident, the North and the South. He called these concentric circles, ‘collective centres of human association and unity’ which were necessary for the prosperity of the world of humanity. However, he reminded his audience that these centres are accidental and temporary, composed of matter not substance, and therefore vulnerable over time to being swept away by revolutions and upheavals. He compared the transitory nature of these concentric circles of belonging and responsibility to the eternal and everlasting spiritual collective centre which is capable of embracing all races of men.

In the contingent world there are many collective centers which are conducive to association and unity between the children of men. For example, patriotism is a collective center; nationalism is a collective center; identity of interests is a collective center; political alliance is a collective center; the union of ideals is a collective center, and the prosperity of the world of humanity is dependent upon the organization and promotion of the collective centers. Nevertheless, all the above institutions are in reality, the matter and not the substance, accidental and not eternal — temporary and not everlasting. With the appearance of great revolutions and upheavals, all these collective centers are swept away. But the Collective Center of the Kingdom, embodying the Institutes and Divine Teachings, is the eternal Collective Center. It establishes relationship between the East and the West, organizes the oneness of the world of humanity, and destroys the foundation of differences. It overcomes and includes all the other collective centers. Like unto the ray of the sun, it dispels entirely the darkness, encompassing all the regions, bestows ideal life, and causes the effulgence of divine illumination. Through the breaths of the Holy Spirit it performs miracles; the Orient and the Occident embrace each other, the North and South become intimates and associates; conflicting and contending opinions disappear; antagonistic aims are brushed aside, the law of the struggle for existence is abrogated, and the canopy of the oneness of the world of humanity is raised on the apex of the globe, casting its shade over all the races of men. Consequently, the real Collective Center is the body of the divine teachings, which include all the degrees and embrace all the universal relations and necessary laws of humanity. (Abdu’l-Baha 1917)

Footnotes

1 Each of us is, indeed, as it were circumscribed by many circles, larger and smaller, comprehending and comprehended, according to various mutual circumstances (Hierocles 1st 2nd CE)


2
This essay is hosted on a Charles Taylor resource site by Professor who describes it as “a response to Martha Nussbaum’s “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism” which appeared in the Boston Review (Vol. 19, No. 5). Taylor’s response is part of an excellent discussion which includes Hilary Putnam, Benjamin Barber, Judith Butler, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., William E. Connolly, Sissela Bok, and several other excellent thinkers. For Nussbaum’s reply to her critics, see “Asking the Right Questions,” from the same issue of the Boston Review.”

3. Delivered on March 8, 1917, in the summerhouse (Isma’il Aqá’s room) at `Abdu’l-Bahá’s house in Haifa, Palestine and addressed to the small, emerging community of Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada. Throughout his writings there is an insistence on the unicity of God and inclusivity though union and diversity, so that ‘divine teachings’, Holy Spirit, the Cause refers to a progressive religion which is constituted by all world religions.

4. The irascible Cynic Diogenes is perhaps not the most noble example of a world citizen since he lived by the precept that one’s personal happiness was “satisfied by meeting one’s natural needs and that what is natural cannot be shameful or indecent. His life, therefore, was lived with extreme simplicity, inured to want, and without shame.” Asked from what country he came, he replied, “I am a citizen of the world.” (Diogenes. vi.). His world citizenship was not based on the responsibility or caring of a world citizen rather on his insistence on dismissing societal norms for his own sense of happiness. See Grout (1997-2007). Diogenes is perhaps a citizen of the world in the same sense as Humphey Bogart as Rick in the 1942 film Casablanca who declared his nationality was “drunkard” when interrogated by German officers. His companion joked that “That makes Rick a Citizen of the World.”


Bibliography

Abdu’l-Baha. 1917. “Tablet to the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada.” Tablets of the Divine Plan. Haifa, Palestine.

Abdu’l-Baha. “The Divine Plan: The Cause of Baháu’lláh.” Baha’i World Faith.

Diogenes Laertius. 4th BC. “Diogenes the Cynic.” >> Classical and Hellenistic Greece: Essays on Greek history and culture and the later Byzantine empire. Encyclopaedia Romana and Greece. University of Chicago.


Grout, James. 1997-2007. Classical and Hellenistic Greece: Essays on Greek history and culture and the later Byzantine empire. Encyclopaedia Romana and Greece. University of Chicago.

Hierocles.
1st 2nd CE.Conduct towards Relatives.” >> completepythagoras.net

Nussbaum, Martha. 1994. Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism.” Boston Review. 19:5.

 

Rorty, Richard. 1994. The New York Times. 13 February. The New York Times (13 February 1994), philosopher Richard Rorty urges Americans, especially the American left, not to disdain patriotism as

 

Taylor, Charles. 1994. “Why Democracy Needs Patriotism.” Boston Review.

Taylor, Charles. 2007. Theories of Ethics: Course Abstract. School of Law, Northwestern University

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Ethics and Morality at the Interstice between Patriotism and the Cosmopolitical Point of View.” >> Speechless

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Ethics and Morality at the Interstice between Patriotism and the Cosmopolitical Point of View.” >> Google docs

http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddp3qxmz_229c7dfpj