Tuesday, August 9, 2022

On Medium: Why We Should Reject the Conceit of "Objective Truth"

Here's an article about the evolution of tracking, mapping, and understanding, life’s role in the greater evolution of nonlife, and the need for a pragmatic theory of truth.


  1. Even if men admit they are cowards, they still want to be saved. There is no "harmonious development," no child-rearing program, no self-reliance that would take away from men their need for a "beyond" on which to base the meaning of their lives. ― Ernest Becker, Escape from Evil

    1. For anyone interested, I talk about Becker's The Denial of Death here:


    2. If you liked Denial of Death, I would highly recommend Sheldon Solomon's, The Worm at the Core.

  2. ''Commonsense tells us that philosophers are merely impudent in questioning the standard conception of truth.''

    You mean self-declared and loosely defined''philosophers''.

    ''But of course, the squirrel lacks the human concepts “car” and “road.”''

    Is this an objective truth??

    For when you suggest that there is no objective truth, you are "jeopardizing" every claim you make.

    ''Evidently, the squirrel can track cars without understanding what they really are. To a squirrel, a car is a fast-moving, dangerous blob, and the road is just flat ground.''

    If squirrels really understand cars this way, it doesn't seem that far from reality.

    ''Mind you, squirrels are restless and often err on the side of caution. Indeed, because there are so many dangers in the environment for squirrels, it pays for them to overestimate threats, which means their tracking ability is more like a lottery than a kind of knowledge based on genuine understanding.''

    Your observations about the cognition of this species are based on what studies?

    I think that while we can't map the existential and perceptual perspectives of other species, especially those closest to us, we can't make strong claims about their perceptual abilities. Maybe they know more than we think.

    The term objective truth is already saying what it is, a precise perception on the ''object'' or objective.

    1. In the article and in the one on philosophy eating its "tail" I talk about the paradox of questioning objectivity.

      But the issue here isn't one of denying the existence of objectivity or of truth, but of understanding what those terms mean. I'm not questioning the difference between objectivity and subjectivity, but the standard conceit of what we're doing when we're being objective.

      Objectivity is supposed to be about more than just precision. And what exactly is an "object"? I talk about that in my article on why we should be haunted by nature's physicality (linked below).

      In the above article I'm pointing to the pragmatic side of objective truth, so I'm questioning whether there's such a thing as pure objectivity, or of objective truth as it's commonly conceived.



    2. The object can be abstract or concrete. It is everything that becomes central to our perception.

      What do you understand as ''pure objectivity''??

    3. I talk about this in an upcoming article. Pure objectivity would be something like a mystical experience, a passive, neutral downloading of reality that doesn't inject any trace of humanity, subjectivity, culture, history, or personal bias into receiving or understanding the content.

  3. ''We know how oxygen, fuel, and gravity work, as well as countless other things, which is how humans have succeeded not just in crossing the road without being run over, but in crossing the vast distance between our planet and the moon.''

    Okay, but I think most of ''us'' are halfway between a space engineer and a squirrel, at least in that sense.

    ''Here, then, is a subjective aspect of knowledge and of truth, which makes the conceit of truth’s objectivity so presumptuous.''

    Truth is not a one-dimensional concept: it is subjective, relative and objective.

    It is subjective because it totally depends on a subject, a living being, to be captured. It is relative because it varies from perspectives. And it is objective because it is a variable reflection of or of a dimension of reality.

    The concept of objective truth is based on a variation of precision and not on absolute perfection/precision, because it is clear that its objectivity is influenced and distorted by the subjectivity of the observer/perceiver.

    But our subjectivity is also a product of reality.

    I agree that, at the end of the day, what all we do is fill up a balloon with the certainty that it will burst. But I find the concept of truth and objective truth more trivial, perhaps, than you do.

    The very perception of lack of human-like meaning that transcends this desolated reality is an objective truth, but it is also an existential one.

    1. But do our conceptions "reflect" reality? See Richard Rorty's book on the mirror of nature. Reflection is just a metaphor, as is "correspondence" or "agreement" in the correspondence theory of truth.

      I agree that our symbols track real patterns, so I'm not arguing for solipsism or metaphysical idealism. But it becomes meaningful to speak of a statement's truth only if we understand those symbols, and understanding depends on conceptions or models which distort/humanize as much as they clarify. That distortion is subjective in either a Kantian or a pragmatic sense.

    2. ''But do our conceptions "reflect" reality?''

      Seek to do it.

      From the moment that life ''looks back'' to reality around it, it's not just a metaphor.

      And it is not a reflection of life on reality, but of reality from the perspective of life.

      ''But it becomes meaningful to speak of a statement's truth only if we understand those symbols, and understanding depends on conceptions or models which distort/humanize''

      The truth is not just through the symbols ''we' invent.

      We perceive in patterns, because reality is made up of patterns or repeating details that can be identified or become familiarized, and language seeks to standardize our perception, although the need to organize and differentiate them came before the development of human language.

    3. I agree that there are real, objective patterns, but their existence is different from our understanding of them. The question is whether there's a way of understanding some fact that doesn't reduce the fact to a phenomenon in the Kantian sense, into a simplification or an abstract model or stereotype that paradoxically sheds light only by falsifying the objective fact.

      The question is about the nature of human understanding. Is our mind a mirror that reflects the raw facts, or by objectifying and understanding the world, are we mainly looking for exploitable weaknesses and preparing to control nature for existential reasons? Those latter reasons would be to replace the absurd, godless wilderness with a human-centered, artificial alternative world that overflows with meaning, in which all the facts (such as on social media) are hyperreal because they're intelligently designed and infinitely malleable.