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Just Ten Words

Language is a living thing and words are bound to throw out new senses as a tree throws out new branches. It is not wholly a disadvantage, since in the act of disentangling these senses we learn a great deal about the things involved which we might otherwise have overlooked. What is disastrous is that any word should change its sense during a discussion without our being aware of the change.

C. S. Lewis

I wish to give meanings, as definite as possible, to the four words in the title of this chapter [‘Fact, Belief, Truth, and Knowledge’]. I do not mean to deny that the words are susceptible of other equally legitimate meanings, but only that the meanings which I shall assign to them represent important concepts, which, when understood and distinguished, are useful in many philosophical problems, but when confused are a source of inextricable tangles.

Bertrand Russell (from Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits, 1948)

Any intellectual exchange, and therefore any system of liberal education, must concern itself with the following words and concepts: logic, reason, faith, belief, knowledge, truth, facts, evidence, feeling and emotion. To avoid unnecessary confusion, and to think as clearly as it is possible to think without reference to a person’s world view or philosophical commitments, it is necessary to explore these concepts, and especially the relations of each word in the list with the one that follows it—the relations of logic and reason, reason and faith, faith and belief, and so on. For the purposes of philosophy it will be found that each concept overlaps with the next in the realm of ideas. This is not surprising since logic and reason, faith and belief, feeling and emotion overlap in the realm of meaning, as can be confirmed by consulting a dictionary. The fact that the words for these concepts have more than one meaning as well as an array of connotations—meaning, here, refers to what a word actually designates, connotation to all the feelings and associations it evokes—is potential enough for misunderstanding and misrepresentation in discussion. But the real confusion (not to mention a good deal of acrimony) begins when, thanks to insufficient analysis, people conflate logic and reason, faith and belief, knowledge and truth, facts and evidence, feeling and emotion, while dichotomizing and opposing reason and faith, belief and knowledge, evidence and feeling. The result of this oversimplification of concepts and distortion of language is endless futile controversy about the purpose of liberal education, a situation which educational theorists try to paper over with the hackneyed and rather meaningless term “critical thinking.” In my opinion, the way to minimize confusion and useless controversy is to carefully analyse the relations between each of the pair of concepts listed below, and do so in light of all the current and traditional meanings of the ten words that represent those concepts.

Logic & Reason
Reason & Faith
Faith & Belief
Belief & Knowledge
Knowledge & Truth
Truth & Facts
Facts & Evidence
Evidence & Feeling
Feeling & Emotion

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