Saturday, March 04, 2006


TRUTH: Subjective versus Objective/Relative versus Absolute

Metaphysical Subjectivism maintains that the truth or fallacy of all propositions depends, at least partly, on what we believe (as individuals). There are at least 4 ways to interpret this...

1) The most extreme is "solipsism" (an extreme form of skepticism, stating that nothing exists beyond one's immediate experiences -- it maintains that nothing exists outside of our selves -- or, in a slightly less extreme form, that we cannot know anything about anything outside of ourselves). People tend to become and remain wherever they were born into -- without thinking outside of the comfort of their one familiar box.

2) Another way to interpret subjectivism is that we are most sure of our direct experiences. This viewpoint would maintain that "My finger hurts," is more certainly true than "Madison is the capital of Wisconsin."

3) A third interpretation focuses on beliefs or worldview rather than on sensation. In this view, belief "colors" experience, so that we decide what is true or false based on our worldview rather than on external reality.

4) Next, there is the postmodern idea of consensus reality (When most people believed the earth was flat, it was flat. Now that most people believe the earth is round, it is round.) Another view of consensus reality is that there is no truth except what authoritative people say is true. But who are the authorities? All of whose friends?

5) In contrast, objective truths are supposed in some way to be independent of our subjective beliefs and sensations. Such truths would subsist not in the mind but in the external Universe. Indeed, except for propositions that are actually about our beliefs or sensations -- what is true or false is independent of what we think is true or false. Some claim that physical science provides objective truths by means of measurement and independent confirmation of results. Kant made that claim for mathematics.

6) Relative truths are statements or propositions that are true only relative to some standard or convention or point-of-view. Usually the standard cited is tied to the tenets of one's own birth-culture (or birth-religion). Everyone agrees that the truth or falsity of some statements is relative: That "a fork is to the left of a spoon" depends on from where one is standing and viewing. Relativism is the doctrine that all truths within a particular domain (say, morality or aesthetics) are of this form, and Relativism entails that what is true varies across cultures and eras.

For example, Moral Relativism is the view that moral truths are socially determined. Relative truths can be contrasted with absolute truths. The latter are statements or propositions that are taken to be true for all cultures and all eras.

For example, for most Muslims "God is Great." expresses an absolute truth; for the economist, that the laws of "Supply and Demand" determine the value of any consumable in a market economy is true in all situations; for the reader of Kant, "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." forms an absolute moral truth.They are statements that are often claimed to emanate from the very nature of the Universe, God, human nature, or some other ultimate essence or transcendental signifier...

7) In a particular domain of thought we find the view that all statements in that domain are either absolutely true or absolutely false (for example: extreme, literal belief in the King James version of the Bible). None is true for some cultures or eras while false for other cultures or eras.

For example, Moral Absolutism is the view that moral claims such as "Abortion is wrong." or "Charity is good." are either true for all people in all times or false for all people in all times.

I make only relative claims in this life of love, and other experiences.

P.S. Relativism expresses the view that the meaning and value of human beliefs and behaviors have no absolute reference. Relativists claim that humans understand and evaluate beliefs and behaviors only in terms of, for example, their historical and cultural context. Philosophers identify many different kinds of relativism depending upon what allegedly depends on something and what something depends on. The term often refers to truth relativism - the doctrine that there is no absolute truth (i.e. whether a belief is true or not, depends entirely on the believer).

"It takes two to speak the truth - one to speak & one other to hear it."
-Henry David Thoreau

And so it is...

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