FOM: social construction?

Martin Davis martind at
Sun Mar 22 19:52:36 EST 1998

At 10:16 PM 3/22/98 GMT, Lincoln Wallen wrote:

>   I take this relativistic point of view as moving to deny the possibility of
>   establishing objective truth.
>   Martin
>I see nothing relativistic in the view whatsoever!  We must be
>thinking about different ideas.  Are you sure you are not thinking
>about social constructivism?  

Sorry! I seem to have misunderstood. I was reacting to:

> that there is no position
>"outside" the activity one is studying from which to gain a more
>direct understanding of the structure and truth of the activity.
>Hence it is the anthropologists who must act ethnically and seek to
>understand *as the participants themselves understand*, not in some
>other way.  

I took this to imply that there is no TRUTH outside of this internal
understanding. This is how I have understood Levi-Strauss. It has led to
people equating the belief systems of tribal peoples with the findings of
"Western" science.

I don't have the least quarrel with you said about scientific methodology;
I'm not repeating to keep this message reasonably brief. 

>One way of articulating what is eternal about the truths mathematical
>practice gives us access to is to seek to understand this word
>"eternal" through the structure of our practice.

I just can't understand what this is intended to mean. The analogy with the
"practice" of designing experiments doesn't help.

>  Is this saying
>anything more than logicians have said in trying to isolate the
>elements of logical consequence?  I don't think so.  But there is more
>to understand.  That is all.

What? Logical consequence, as it occurs in mathematical proof, is perfectly
well understood. It is formally defined in the context of the well-defined
rules of the predicate calculus. Of course in practice mathematicians can
and should omit most of the tiny steps. When a doubter question that
transition between two steps, the mathematician provides "more details".
Between professionals, it would never get that far, but, in principle, this
process could be continued all of the way to inferences in predicate calculus. 


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