Distinguished philosophy professor leads lecture on logic, knowledge

newly appointed Board of Trustees distinguished professor J.C. Beall speaks during his lecture “How Truth and Logic Limit Knowledge,” the second lecture of a two-part series featuring a pair of professor from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that recently received UConn’s highest honor, on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

Some truths about language and reality escape the bounds of human knowledge, newly appointed Board of Trustees distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut J.C. Beall said.

Beall spoke Thursday evening at “How Truth and Logic Limit Knowledge,” the second lecture of a two-part series featuring a pair of professor from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that recently received UConn’s highest honor.

Beall explained the theory, known as Curry’s paradox, that motivated much of his work via the example that a true theory of the English language written in English could never provide complete knowledge of the subject because it is self referential. He said this is not the same, however, as saying that truth does not exist or that it is based purely on human belief.

“This confuses truth with knowledge,” Beall said. “Consider a possible world in which no believes, no knowers exist, and there are trees there. Then there’s something true about that world: there are trees there. So there can be truth without knowledge or belief.”

Beall said he is not advocating for a universal ban on circular logic, though. The sentence “all sentences contain words,” for example, is true. Drew Johnson, a philosophy graduate student taking a class with Beall, said that the central point this theory, in the simplest terms, is the idea that human perception limits knowledge.

“It’s establishing just the fact that there are some truths that can’t be known,” Johnson said.

While Beall acknowledged that philosophers and laymen alike often complain that the discipline doesn’t generate “results,” he said that awareness of the theory itself is its own reward.

“The pursuit of knowledge is not the pursuit of profit making toaster ovens,” Beall said. “The day we measure the importance of theoretical inquiry by its practical pay off is the day we give up on understanding reality.”

Blair Johnson, the CLAS Board of Trustees distinguished professor of psychology who spoke earlier this week at “Pills, Placebos, Exercise and Interventions: How Best to Improve Mental Health,” said his undergraduate background in philosophy allowed him to become a more creative theorist.

“To be a really success theorist you have to have perspective and you get perspective by going from different disciplines, maybe it opens your mind to the possibility that there’s more to reality,” Johnson said.

It was cross-discipline collaboration with kinesthesiologists, Johnson said by way of example that resulted in his research about the power of exercise to alleviate depression.

Similarly, Beall said philosophy is tied to the human condition as a whole by its consideration of larger questions related to truth, possibility and existence itself.

“Philosophy is a rich discipline which is practiced in a lot of different ways,” Beall said. “It’s one of the abstract sciences. The goal plain and simple is knowledge of abstract reality.”


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.