Can feelings lead to truth?

I have a pet peeve. When people say, “I just feel like this is true.”, I want to slap them. Who cares about your feeling? Whether or not you feel a certain way has no bearing on whether or not something is true, right? Wrong. Dead wrong. I recently came to a realization (in a most dramatic fashion) which blew my mind. You can, indeed, find absolute truth just by feeling. Revolted? Me too. Let me explain.

For the past while, I have concerned myself with (“epistemological”) questions like:
“What is knowledge?”
“How can we know knowledge?”
“What is the process by which we know knowledge to be true?”
“Does absolute truth exist, and how can we know?”

My conclusion, before this recent revelation, went something like this: “All knowledge which we can know with certainty is concluded by logical necessity or logical presupposition.” In other words, logic seems to be the only way at arriving at absolute truth. Or so I thought. While I believe logic is a fundamental, necessary, wonderful, and incredibly powerful way to know truth, it is not the only way. My worldview has expanded to include another methodology: feeling. I will walk you through the process which led to this seemingly preposterous conclusion.

First, a refresher on some absolutely true sentences:
A. “All bachelors are unmarried.” – How do we know? Logical necessity.
B. “I exist.” – How do we know? “I” is a necessary presupposition, if you say that to yourself. (Yes, you read that right, “I is”.)
C. “If the amount of money in an economy increases without any increase in the amount of non-monetary goods, society’s overall wealth does not rise, only prices.” -How do we know? Logical (economic) necessity, given what the definitions “money” and “wealth” are.

Awesome. This is knowledge we can know with certainty. What’s the common theme? Logic. It would be nonsense to say that a bachelor exists who is married. Your own existence is necessarily presupposed by asking a question to yourself, and there is no way around it. Contrast these sentences to the following: “I know that I taste steak.”

Seems innocuous, but let’s put it to the test. How do you know that you taste steak? Are you absolutely sure that you taste steak? If so, what is the method of reasoning which led you to that conclusion?

Hm. Is it a logical necessity, given the definitions of “I” and “steak”, that you taste steak? No. Is it a logical presupposition? Is your tasting steak necessarily presupposed by you speaking that sentence? No. It is logically possible for you to speak that sentence and not taste steak (in contrast, it is not logically possible for you to think a thought without you existing). It is certainly no economic law that you taste steak. So how can you know it? Or, can you really know it?

Now, I will be honest and say I literally was up all night thinking about this when it crossed my mind. I absolutely hated the idea that I thought I knew I tasted steak, and it wasn’t a logical necessity; I just felt it. But this seems ridiculous, so I had a few objections to the idea that I knew I tasted steak. For example:

Skeptic: No no, you can’t say that you know you taste steak, because that implies that a thing called “steak” exists objectively. You can’t know with absolute certainty that a meta-physical “steak” exists, therefore you can’t know that you taste it.

More skeptical skeptic: Well, that’s not quite true. It actually doesn’t seem to matter if there is an objective physical steak. That’s not the claim. The claim is simply that I am tasting something, and it is a flavor that I call “steak”, regardless of the cause of why I am tasting it. It might be a hallucination, but that is irrelevant.

Skeptic: Here’s the problem with that: you are assuming that you know what this flavor tastes like by calling it “steak”. This implies that you have tasted it before, which implies that the past necessarily existed. You can not know with absolute certainty that the past existed, so you can not know whether or not what you taste is what you call “steak”.

More skeptical skeptic: That is also not the claim. I don’t claim that I have tasted this in the past, only that, in the present, I know that I taste a flavor which I call “steak”, regardless of the cause of that flavor and regardless of if I have tasted it before. I know that I taste a flavor in the present.


That is very close to how the actual internal dialogue took place.

If it is the case that you taste steak, which only you can know by thinking about it, then you can know with certainty that the sentence “I taste steak” is true. The methodology is simply one of introspection. Yes, you can know some truth just by feeling. Now. initially, this looked like a challenge to the sharp, logical worldview I have been working on, but upon further inspection, it isn’t. In fact, it explains a considerable amount of the erroneous conclusions that people draw about the world; they simply use this methodology in theĀ  wrong way.

(Here’s the most comforting part about all of this: this doesn’t touch logic at all. Logic is still pristine. It is not possible to feel something and not feel something at the same time. You can not feel a contradiction. There is just a bit of information which you can know without it being logically necessary.)

Where this methodology goes awry is the cause of my pet peeve. People apply their feelings to propositions that aren’t related to their feelings. When I say, “I taste steak.”, that is completely related to my internal reality. It is something I can know, and it only relates to myself. When I say, “I feel like the minimum wage should be $10/hr.”, I have committed an atrocity. Feelings DO NOT apply to any proposition that relates to anything but yourself. You can not feel whether or not X is true, unless X has to do solely with your internal feelings. This can not be overstressed. I can not know that “it is raining outside” simply by feeling. I can know that I am experiencing the feeling of rain, but in no way does it follow that the cause of my feeling is because of some external reality. (This problem has enormous implications, which I will write about later.)

Unless a proposition in question is literally about your feelings, do not act like your feelings towards it affects in any way whether or not it is true. It categorically does not matter how you feel about abortion; it is either infanticide or it is not infanticide, irrespective of your beliefs or feelings.

Just because it is so over-the-top-dramatic, I’ll tell you how I came to this uncomfortable understanding about feelings. I fell in love, and I knew it. But, “How can I know such a thing?” I asked myself.

“I just know it. I feel it, and I know I feel it.” Poppycock! What a philosopher you are!

But alas, love forced me to expand my worldview, if only a little bit.

Enough romance. To rephrase again: Logic applies to both external reality and internal reality. Feelings do not. You can know both internal and external truths via the methodology of logical reasoning. You can only know internal truths by the methodology of introspection about your feelings. Please, keep it that way.

As for what constitutes an “internal reality”, more on that later. (With huge implications.)

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2 Responses to Can feelings lead to truth?

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