Love of truth, on the other hand, is the root of all that is good.
Bill Whittle at PJTV very kindly produced a video entitled “Best. Sentence. Ever.” (it does not embed) by which he meant the title sentence of this post, and the motto I have plastered on the leftmost portion of the screen. Please watch—he even quotes Patton.
When and if a theory describes reality without error it is no longer a theory but truth. If a theory does not describe reality perfectly, then it is not true. To love a theory over truth is the mark of madness. Or of Enlightenment. Or, nowadays often, of tenure.
Everybody knows the hoary old joke about the academic who says, “That works fine in reality, but does it work in theory?” Only it isn’t a joke. Many cannot think of truth except in the framework of theory. Just bring to mind the standard issue (media) climatologist and you’ll have the idea. And then recall literary “theorists”, the field of art “theory”, and so on ad infinitum.
David Stove (as usual) said it best. He was speaking of the probability and logic and the attempts to turn them into “theory”, but sharp readers will be able to fill in the probability terms and personalities with nomenclature and names from their own favorite fields (ellipsis original):
It is true, as I know from expériences nombreuses et funestes, that you cannot make the simplest and most specific assessment of logical probability, without some people supposing that you are hereby committed to so-and-so’s system of logical probability, with all the attendant difficulties, however peculiar to it. You need only say that ‘Abe is black’ has probability 0.9 in relation to ‘Abe is a raven and just 90 percent of ravens are black,’ and some philosophers will at once start talking to you about…Carnap! About Carnap and ‘the zero-probability of laws’; Carnap and ‘grue’; Carnap and ‘c-star’ versus ‘c-dagger’; and so on, and on. But this is no less ridiculous than it is vexatious. You might as well suppose that a man cannot say that ‘All ravens are black and Abe is a raven’ entails ‘Abe is black’, without his being thereby obliged to defend Aristotelian logic, or the system of Principia Mathematica, or Quine.
It is truth which gives weight to a theory, it is not so that theory gives weight to truth. What is true just is true, regardless whether it can be shoehorned into some theory. Truth cannot be rejected because it does not fit a theory. Just to poke fun and for an example: frequentist theory rejects the truth “‘Abe is black’ has probability 0.9 in relation to ‘Abe is a raven and just 90 percent of ravens are black,’” because this truth doesn’t fit into the formal theoretical framework, which is too beautiful to abandon.
A climatological version of Stove’s quotation: “Sure, Alaska had one of the coldest and snowiest winters on record, but theory warns us that ________” Fill in the blank yourself: or change the particular weather event with any other.
If I had more time, I could give dozens of examples from as many fields. But I’m running behind my time. We’ll surely revisit this material later.
Update I’ve been informed we made HotAir, sort of.