I should also point out that I am firmly a person of the Left, and the Right holds no serious attraction for me at all, so my criticisms below do not stem from political Conservatism.
Truth relativism on the Left mostly stems from the fashionable French Poststructuralist and Postmodernist philosophies, from which we get other such comical nonsense, including the following:
(1) the idea that no text can have a fixed meaning intended by its author (from Roland Barthes and endorsed by Michel Foucault);But there are powerful arguments against the truth relativists.
(2) that language can only refer to itself and not to objects or to reality (from Structuralism and that master charlatan and disgusting fraud Jacques Derrida), and
(3) extreme hostility to the natural sciences (from assorted Postmodernist buffoons).
We have overwhelming empirical evidence that we inhabit a world in which there are objects independent of our feelings, wishes and desires: any people in the same room can sense and describe the world they see and their testimony can be compared, and we can see they describe the same world with the same objects. Likewise, we can all see and experience the same events, processes and actions in this world.
It actually doesn’t matter whether there is an external world of physical matter that is the causal origin of our sensations (although that is the best explanation of the evidence), because even under an idealist ontology we already have overwhelming empirical evidence that there is a reality that objectively exists independently of our own subjective feelings or wishes or desires with a high degree of regularity, consistency and order.
Once we admit that there is an ordered reality independent of our thoughts about it, and that language and propositions can refer to this reality, then it is but a short step to objective truth under the correspondence theory of truth.
Moreover, there is another reason why any sensible, decent left-wing person should vehemently oppose truth relativism – and all its disgusting supporters and apologists on our own side of the political spectrum amongst Poststructuralists and Postmodernists. This is that truth relativism has consequences that quickly lead to plain moral degradation and moral nihilism.
If there is no objective truth and no objective truth about what happened in the past, then why and how does any left-wing person believing this truth relativist nonsense oppose, say, Holocaust denial or Armenian genocide denial? And come to think of it, is it an objective historical fact that adults have been persecuted for same-sex sexual activity in many societies down through history, or not? (As an aside, incidentally, if you are gay, I cannot think of anything more disgustingly insulting than a Postmodernist calmly telling you that objective truth does not exist. If so, then it follows that it is not even objectively true that persecution of gay people is a reality of history!)
As for the consequences of truth relativism, they can quickly be seen. If it is not an objective historical fact that the Holocaust happened, then why is there so much evidence that it happened? Why the numerous eyewitnesses and survivors and their testimony that we can still read today? Why the huge physical evidence? (e.g., the death camps, gas chambers, etc.)
Either (1) the Holocaust happened or (2) it did not as an objective fact, and any left-wing person who denies objective truth has got no business opposing, criticising and condemning the disgusting, shameful and ignorant fringe of Holocaust deniers we see today.
If you seriously deny objective truth and take your insane Postmodernist truth relativism seriously, then you have no business attacking or opposing Holocaust deniers as being wrong. In fact, you have no business opposing neoclassical economics, libertarianism, or Austrian economics as false and untrue economic theories either.
Rather, you should be saying that “all truth is made by power,” no objective truths exist, and our “truths” are invented and not determined by some objective reality.
By this point, however, you have – without a doubt – just proven to everyone else on the decent Left that you are a disgustingly, intellectually and morally bankrupt fool who has no business even being on the Left at all.
So for all you deniers of objective truth out there, answer me these questions:
(1) Is the proposition that “the Holocaust happened” just a truth made by power? If “yes,” what power system “made” it and why?Please do enlighten me, because your truth relativism, frankly, is an absurdity and a shame and disgrace to the decent Left, and I know from experience that there are a lot of people on the Left like me who think so too.
(2) If you think it is not an objective truth that “the Holocaust happened,” then explain why we have overwhelming evidence that it did.
(3) if you accept the overwhelming evidence that the Holocaust happened, then explain why you would persist in denying the reality of objective truth.
Maybe this is off topic, but I dislike the term objective truth. Allow me to explain.ReplyDelete
When I was explaining the idea of truth to ninth grade honors physical science students, I pointed out that mathematics has only conditional truth if you accept the assumptions. I also pointed out that all science is known to be wrong (relativity and QM for example): so science is not true, but rather it can be honest about its level of accuracy.
If our best mathematics and science are not simply true, then what about our mental models that we characterize as true? I can hardly think they are nearly as true as math or science.
Reality being out there and available for study doesn't bother me: it seems like the simplest assumption to me. But putting the word "objective" in front of it strikes me as a category error, since there is no such thing as objective. We often call things objective, but they are really intersubjective where we have a great deal of corroboration from our fellows to a significant degree of accuracy.
So I prefer the idea of honesty to the idea of objectivity.
Thanks for your comment, Mike.Delete
We can get straightforward necessary truth by means of analytic a priori statements: e.g., "all bachelors are unmarried". Pure mathematics provides a lot of necessarily true statements like this too. Just because some are conditional, they are still necessarily true as long as you assume the truth of the antecedent statements or axioms etc.
Also, I am very astonished to hear that "all science is known to be wrong". This is clearly not true: e.g., the heliocentric theory of solar systems is a clear objective empirical truth, and so is the germ theory of disease, Darwinian evolution, statements about our evolutionary past, etc., etc.
And clearly we can get plenty of straightforward objective empirical truths in everyday life: e.g., "I am wearing a pair of shoes now", "I have two hands", "there is no cat sitting on my kitchen table now" etc. etc.
How would you respond to a criticism of analytic a priori statements a la Quine in Two Dogma's of Empiricism?Delete
Quine's criticisms are not convincing:Delete
I’m astonished that you can claim to know necessary truth because “you assume the truth of the antecedent statements or axioms etc.“ Assumptions do not provide knowledge, let alone knowledge of truth. Especially when your example of bachelors is a simple tautology concealed by a defined term.Delete
All scientific theory and all the examples you provide are known to be wrong because there are ways they are inaccurate.
Heliocentrism fails because we also orbit in a galaxy which is also moving relative to other galaxies. It just plain isn’t completely accurate, and we can detail just how inaccurate it is.
The germ theory of disease is inaccurate because there are innumerable other causes of diseases such as malnutrition, toxicity, and psychosomatic.
Darwinian evolution, while extremely well supported, is a theory about variation, inheritance and selection. Where ever those have been specified, weird exceptions have been discovered: our understanding of evolution is patently incomplete and thus inaccurate, so how can you characterize it as true?
Statements about our evolutionary past are notoriously unreliable whenever you get to specifics. Phylogenetic trees undergo frequent revision as we add more information.
The idea of truth in practice has domain and accuracy limitations. And then we get to places where we think we simply cannot know truth, such as Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and Gödel's incompleteness theorems.
As for your everyday life examples, while they satisfice for mundane needs (as did Newton’s laws for centuries), they too suffer from many problems of domain and accuracy that disqualify them from “objective truth”
"I am wearing a pair of shoes now" is a subjective observation that, simply, could be a hallucination, lie or a mistake. The word shoes is vague: does it include the moccasins I claim to be wearing now or sandals or socks or buckets? Here the question is really one of how honest and accurate your statement is: not how objectively true it is.
Likewise two hands: I have friends who have two hands, but incomplete hands. Honesty and accuracy are what is important for using this observation, because we are never actually objective.
As for the lack of a cat on your table, presumably you are making a subjective observation (unless you are an Objectivist, and we are pretty certain you’re not.) And it has a high probability of being an accurate observation, high enough to satisfice, but not certainty.
The strong thing about science is that it has given up the futile quest for truth, and substituted the quest for honesty and accuracy of knowledge. Learning when theories fail, learning the precision of models, attempting to more precisely define what you are talking about: these are what make science useful and what most philosophy lacks. Truth would be nice, and so would objectivity. But we have to operate in an intersubjective world and should admit it.
Regarding truth, I take my view of it straight from mainstream analytic philosophy.Delete
There are 2 forms of truth:
(1) analytic truth, and
(2) empirical truth.
I think you are confusing them.
A coherent analytic statement is made true in virtue of the meanings of words used and the consistent use of those meanings. Yes, formally speaking, analytic truths are tautologies, but that does not make them any less objective necessary truths.
I would suggest reading up on analytic truth and how it does add to knowledge as argued by A. J. Ayer:
On the mathematics issue, I disagree. Once again necessary truth in pure mathematics or pure geometry is real and necessary, and is created by assuming your model is an abstract, artificial system where your assumptions or axioms hold as necessarily true. Necessary truth is thus a property only of the abstract system or model you create, not the real world, but this doesn’t mean you can’t get objective analytic truth.
Empirical truths are made true by the evidence of experience, empirical evidence and inductive argument. They are not necessarily true but contingent, but just because they are not known as necessarily true, it does not follow they are not objective. Either the Holocaust happened or it did not. There is an objective fact here. We have overwhelming evidence confirmed to a very high degree that it happened. Hence it is an objective empirical truth.
“Heliocentrism fails because we also orbit in a galaxy which is also moving relative to other galaxies.”
But I did not invoke the classical heliocentrist view. What I meant was that the proposition “Stars are at the centre of most solar systems” is an objective empirical true.
“The germ theory of disease is inaccurate because there are innumerable other causes of diseases such as malnutrition, toxicity, and psychosomatic.”
Once again I am not asserting that all diseases are caused by microorganism. What I mean is: “There is a class of diseases who cause is infection by pathogenic microorganisms”. This is an objective empirical true.
“Darwinian evolution, while extremely well supported, is a theory about variation, inheritance and selection.”
But we do not need an exhaustive understanding of everything that happened in evolutionary history to assert that the scientific proposition “all life on earth is descended from a common ancestor by Darwinian evolution by natural, sexual and artificial selection”. This is an empirical truth.
"I am wearing a pair of shoes now" is a subjective observation that, simply, could be a hallucination, lie or a mistake.”
Once again you seem to not be able to make the crucial distinction between (1) necessary/contingent truth as an epistemological issue and (2) objective truth as a ontological issue. Either I am wearing a pair of shoes now (this is a real fact) or I am not (that is, it might be, as you say, a hallucination, an error etc.). There is an objective truth here, but whether we can know for certain which one it is a separate epistemic issue.
Finally, regarding philosophy of science. I know some scientists and even analytic philosophers prefer instrumentalism. Other scientists and analytic philosophers reject it, and rightly in my view. The reason is that, if science does not get to objective empirical truths about a real objective world, the success of the natural sciences is turned into some kind of miracle. This is deeply implausible. Inference to the best explanation supports the inference that science does get to objective empirical truth.
I suspect that our disagreements are largely terminology.Delete
Looking at your referenced postings, I have to ask if Ayers is characterizing mathematics as “analytical propositions” rather than truth. Propositions are not truth in my book: you can have entirely conflicting propositions such as plane and curved geometries, but you ought not to have conflicting truths (I may be in error about that.)
What you call “necessary truth” I would simply call correct analysis or mathematical proof (within the abstract system.)
“Either the Holocaust happened or it did not. There is an objective fact here.” Here again, I would draw the distinction that while there is a reality where the Holocaust did or did not occur, the word “fact” refers to human knowledge which is never objective but at best intersubjective. There are folk uses of the word objective, such as “seen it with my own eyes”, but any student of human perception understands the limitations of human “objectivity”. When we intersubjectively agree enough, we may satisfice our demands for accuracy or probability well enough that we use the term objective, but it is not philosophically objective. You can’t get to objective from intersubjective.
‘What I meant was that the proposition “Stars are at the centre of most solar systems” is an objective empirical true.’
No, that is actually another tautology based on the definition of “solar systems” combined with the wiggle-word “most”. Hardly my idea of empirical or true.
‘What I mean is: “There is a class of diseases who cause is infection by pathogenic microorganisms”. This is an objective empirical true.’
There is intersubjective empirical support for that statement: that makes it accurate, not true. The accuracy can be measured as we move diseases in and out of that class. If you want to make a statement that it is a nonzero class, that is information derived from intersubjective empirical support: that doesn’t somehow make it magically objective.
Really, I don’t think you can get objective from intersubjective any more than you can get is from ought.
"Looking at your referenced postings, I have to ask if Ayers is characterizing mathematics as “analytical propositions” rather than truth."Delete
Ayer -- as virtually all analytic philosophers and sensible philosophers since Kant -- see truth as a property of propositions.
Truth is a relational property of a well formed proposition and the property of truth holds when that the idea conveyed by a proposition corresponds with, describes, pictures or properly reflects (1) the real world (empirical truths) or (2) abstract concepts we have in our minds and their relations and properties (analytic a priori truths).
Pure mathematics is a class of analytic a priori truths, yes. They are still objective, not subjective. It does not matter how many people think 1 + 1 = 3, because it follows from the definitions of numbers and operators that 1 + 1 = 2 as an objective analytic truth.
(2) "the word “fact” refers to human knowledge which is never objective but at best intersubjective. "
I think you are continuing to conflate and confuse (1) necessary or certain truth with (2) objectivity as a property of truth. Just because the truth of empirical propositions cannot be known with 100% certainty, it does not follow there are no objective facts.
(3) "No, that is actually another tautology based on the definition of “solar systems” combined with the wiggle-word “most”."
It is clearly not a tautology. It is a straightforward empirical proposition ("synthetic a posteriori", if you want to get technical). We know that suns are at the centre of solar systems because of the empirical evidence that our local star is at the centre of our solar system, and many other solar systems we can observe in our galaxy have stars at their centres too. That is strong empirical evidence that allows us to know a posteriori that the proposition “Stars are at the centre of solar systems in our galaxy” is an objective empirical truth.
(4) I am afraid we have deep disagreements on truth and objectivity.
There is overwhelming evidence we live in a world where there is a real objective reality independent of our wishes, emotions, feelings or desires, and, yes, also independent of any mere "intersubjective" agreement people have.
It would not matter how many people say that the Armenian genocide did not happen. Even if a majority of people thought this, it would not make Armenian genocide denial true. The evidence the Armenian genocide happened is utterly overwhelming. The proposition that it did happen is an objective truth describing an objective reality.
Finally, I'd urge you to consider the analytic philosopher John Searle's clear argument for objective truth:
I decided to bite the bullet and consult wikipedia. My ideas of truth most closely correspond to their description of Pragmatic Theory according to Peirce.Delete
To quote from wikipedia:
Peirce defines truth as follows: "Truth is that concordance of an abstract statement with the ideal limit towards which endless investigation would tend to bring scientific belief, which concordance the abstract statement may possess by virtue of the confession of its inaccuracy and one-sidedness, and this confession is an essential ingredient of truth."
That’s why I consider honesty and accuracy important to truth, and not objectivity.
You are operating from at least one other theory of truth. It is very difficult to tell, since there are so many different meanings and theories that all shade into each other. That’s why I’ve been attempting not to use the word truth by itself or in combination to describe what I mean.
Often in sciences and philosophy, the only way to progress is to define new terminology and reject the old so that the burden of old and confusing meanings can be left behind. We would be well quit of terms like “truth” and their baggage.
’That is strong empirical evidence that allows us to know a posteriori that the proposition “Stars are at the centre of solar systems in our galaxy” is an objective empirical truth.’
No for two reasons. First, it would be very rare for stars to be at the exact center of a solar system except if we define their position as the exact center. Consider a two-body system, a sun and a planet. The planet takes an elliptical path while the sun occupies a focus, not the center of the ellipse. The star is also moving with respect to the center of gravity of the system, opposite the planet. Second, the term “solar system” defines a system with a star at the center. So you are simply saying “stars are at the center of systems with stars in the center. Tautology.
The idea of “scientific truth”, something so well tested that it is not worthwhile to test it any more, is all you need for things like the Armenian genocide. That is not objective: it is pragmatic. We don’t need the word truth: we could instead say “generally accepted” and be more accurate.
"People on the Left who deny objective truth are a plague these days."ReplyDelete
From my standpoint, it seems like deniers of objective truth -- annoying as they may be -- constitute much less of a plague than, say, the Great Plague of the 14th century. I can testify that among the political left where I live -- the California Democratic Party -- objective truth is not an issue that comes up. I don't know why you should enlist your considerable talents in combat against such a marginal view, when other pernicious misunderstandings have so much more influence.
Well, I can only suggest you go to the universities and see the devastating effects of Postmodernism and truth relativism.Delete