On Objective Truth

Truth?

What is true and acceptable in a particular culture at its particular point of history, according to doctrines of relativism, may be untrue and unacceptable in another culture. Truth, following these views, varies with time and place in human history. It is not absolute but dynamic.

Friedrich Nietzsche conclusion leveled against Philosophers who thought of ‘man’ as an aeterna veritas; “But every­ thing has become: there are no eternal facts, just as there are no absolute truths”(Nietzsche 2007, 13) is commonly echoed by relativists.

“If the practice of reasoning, evidence and proof” explained R. W. Newell, “cannot occur independently of ‘the environment within which arguments have their life’ then giving our reasons to people who lack our environment will be of no use” (Newell 1986, 103).

This article maintained that even though, as Newell pointed, “knowledge, truth, certainty, objectivity – cannot be appreciated for what they are without understanding their connection with human action”(ibid, ix) our beliefs and assertions do not shape reality. If our beliefs or assertions align with reality, they are true and when they do not, they are false.

No Eternal Facts, No Absolute Truth?

Borrowing two components of Peter van Inwagen’s thesis that there is such thing as objective truth: (A) A belief or assertion is true or false depending upon whether or not it rightly exemplifies the state of affairs actualized, and (B) actualized state of affairs exists and has the features that are by and large independently of an individual’s belief and assertion. (van Inwagen 2009: 93)

Let’s assume that John believes or assertions:

1. It is true that 2 + 3 = 5

2. It is true that a circle is not a square.

3. It is true that earth is not the centre of the universe.

It seems that John’s beliefs or assertions rightly exemplifies particular state of affairs at all times and in all places, thus culturally, linguistically, and socially independent. If that is true then these beliefs or assertions’ truth-value are permanent. They are unchanging. They are absolute.

1 & 2 seems uncontroversial, but for 3, a relativist may argued, for-example, it is true for John that the earth is not the centre of the universe, but this may not be the case for Jack who lived before sixteenth-century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) and was influenced by Ptolemaic system of astronomy. For Jack, it is true that earth is the centre of the universe.

Thus John’s and Jack’s assertions though contradictory are both “true” relatively to their time and place in human history. We have truth relative to John and truth relative to Jack.

If our beliefs or assertions could shape reality, viz., actual state of affairs, then this relativist view seems plausible. But our beliefs or assertions do not shape reality. If it is true that the earth is not the centre of the universe, then this states of affairs is true independently of John and Jack’s beliefs. It was true in Jack’s time, as it is in John. After it’s actualization, it is true then, it is now and it will be true in the future.

If Jack asserted that the world is the centre of the universe then he was wrong, then, now and in the future. Jack believing it to be true does not magically make it true.

Bibliography:

Newell, R. W. (1986) Objectivity, Empiricism and Truth. Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Van Inwagen, Peter (2009) Metaphysics. 3rd edition. Westview Press.

Nietzsche, Friedrich (2007) Human, All Too Human. Trans. by R. J. Hollingdale Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

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8 thoughts on “On Objective Truth

  1. I think you’ve missed the point of Nietzsche’s aim here, which is more appropriately called “perspectivism” as opposed to “relativism.” Nietzsche is saying that, just as Jack might be said to be wrong, even if he can’t really be blamed due to his historical contingency, we might just as well assume that we are likely wrong due to our own historical contingency. Humans are finite creatures. Further, I would have to echo the sentiment of “Witty Ludwig” here–your first two points were actually the most controversial to me as well. They are based on a particular use of language, and those “facts” can only function in a particular linguistic environment. They are conditioned, subject to something other than themselves. That’s what Nietzsche’s after, and I think that has incredible (positive) ramifications for the Christian life.

    For someone who has dealt with this quite well, see James K. A. Smith’s “The Fall of Interpretation,” or Merold Westphal’s “Masters of Suspicion.”

    • Thank you Dean. I will go back to Nietzsche and reread him in a perspectivism because I never thought of him in that view. I am so greatful for awesome and brilliant thinkers like you to help me expore more.

      • Thanks for bringing up the issue! How we understand human beings, truth, and the relation between them is a question worth coming back to over and over again (another Nietzschean trope!). Let’s keep chatting about this over time.

  2. “1 & 2 seems uncontroversial, but for 3, a relativist may argued, for-example, it is true for John that the earth is not the centre of the universe, but this may not be the case for Jack who lived before sixteenth-century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) and was influenced by Ptolemaic system of astronomy. For Jack, it is true that earth is the centre of the universe.!”

    Interestingly, I found 1 & 2 the most controversial of the three points. I’ll need to find a book when I get home this evening to show a particular paragraph that sprung to mind specifically relevant to 1.

  3. Let us not overlook ABSOLUTE TRUTH, which is personally knowable through God’s perpetual self-revelations and reproductions according to the known and verifiable terms and conditions declared in the Scriptures.

    • Thank you for your input. I think God is the ontology of all truths. All that reflects His essence is true and all that does not is false. This though is a case I did not argue in this article. I think I will do a post in the future on this particular subject.

  4. 1+1 =2 is true for all places all the time. This can be said to be true for geometry but value judgements, which I guess is where I believe this will end are subjective. It is true for me, that Beethoven Symphony no 9 is a great work of genius, this truth may not be shared by others for the simple reason it is subjective.
    I don’t think even for a relativist, that 3 would be contentious. It will be said Jack’s belief did not conform to reality. It was not a justified true belief as it was based on a flawed understanding of the cosmos.

    • You are correct. I pointed out that our relationship towards truth is subjective, but truth is objective.

      Example you and I entered a room and stand at the same place and at the same. Relatively to me it feels cold in that room but relatively to you warm. I assert that it is cold in here while you assert it is warm. Though our relation to room temperature’s state of affair is subjective, the room temperature at that place and that time is fixed. The thermometer could be used to show whose assertion is true.

      Objectiveness does not mean consensus. If it is true that that Beethoven Symphony work is as you say, then it is true, even if only you believed it.

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