Kenneth Wain and the Lifelong Engagement with Education
8. Objectivity, Evidence, and Truth in History
Objectivity, evidence, and truth are related in this way. For an empirical statement to be considered true, it must be supported by some objective matter of fact that can be cited as evidence for its truth. The apparent circularity is unavoidable, but harmless. These concepts form a kind of tightly knit fabric or web. We buy into them holistically, or not at all. They are notions belonging to the same epistemic family, what Gerald Vision (1990) called “the evidentiary family” (p. 81), and they are all, in Alvin Goldman’s (1986) phrase, “truth-linked” (p. 69).
Knowledge and its acquisition are also based on evidence and inextricably linked to objectivity and truth. So are the various degrees of assent. Bougainvilleas grow profusely in the Mediterranean. They produce tiny flowers surrounded by brightly coloured bracts. I know for sure that this is true because I live on a Mediterranean island and have seen it for myself. Other truths I get to learn from books, newspapers, or other sources of information. I have never been to Alaska, but I know for sure (A. J. Ayer would say “I have a right to be sure”) that polar bears hibernate in winter and that glaciers move slowly along valleys and down the side of mountains because I’ve seen these things on television. And I was not dreaming, hallucinating, or a brain in a vat. Evidence may also be provided by witnesses as in a court of law. I might learn about the devastating effects...
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