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March 10, 2022

The nature of truth and postmodernism

By Marc Mollenthiel

Post modernism is characterised by scepticism, relativism, or subjectivism regarding all claims to truth.

Subjectivism is the belief that truth, or what we call truth, only reflects something about our state of mind. We see truth not as it is but only as we perceive. The first problem is the assumption that what we perceive cannot or does not coincide with truth, i.e., the assumption that they are mutually exclusive.

Noting that one’s beliefs are in accordance with their perception is simply irrelevant to whether they are true. For later reference, the subjective is defined in opposition to the objective, which refers to mind-independent reality.

Most people would agree that the reality of gravity and mathematical truths like ‘1+1=2’ are examples of objective truths, while the amount of pepper that counts as slight on your doubles would be subjective. To some people, slight pepper really is more pepper than others.

Relativism on the other hand is the view that all truth is relative. This contrasts with the absolute. This is slightly different from the subjective/objective dichotomy as it is wedged not between the mind and mind-independent reality, but rather between whether a thing changes relative to something else or not.

For example, whether a doubles man is north or south from your home really is relative to where your home is. However, whether the doubles man sells doubles is absolute.

As any analysis, I wished to begin in defining concepts. However, I shall offer no definition of truth for two reasons: (1) The nature of truth is precisely what is being contended, (2) I agree with Aristotle that truth is one of the irreducible transcendental concepts, which we all intuitively understand on some level, and they cannot be reduced in terms of other concepts without damaging them.

Modernism, in some sense, stifled the human spirit by suppressing the intuition and the mythical. In some sense, postmodernism can be seen as a liberation of the human spirit from the shackles of modernism.

Any romance of the old oppressors like objective, absolute or certain claims about reality are unwelcomed. Hence, the guardians of postmodernism emerge i.e., relativism and subjectivism.

Was this an over correction? Is humanity out of the business of truth? Are claims to the objective and absolute overarching and totalitarian? Do we need relativism to be free?

To the contrary, these adjectives like overarching and totalitarian best describe the problems with postmodernism. You see, relativism and subjectivism are the views that attempt to define and restrict the entire domain of truth, while alternative views to truth are more liberal and leave the gates open. This is because relativism and subjectivism make claims like all truth is relative or all truth is subjective.

The alternative isn’t to say that all truth is objective but that some truth is objective and some truth subjective, etc. For one, this leaves a heavier burden of proof on the postmodernist having to prove their views universally, while one only needs to show a counter example for the alternative.

Examples like the ones provided prior, or the laws of logic themselves. Lastly, subjectivism and relativism are self-defeating because they are themselves counter examples of what they imply.

Relativism counters relativism. If some statements were true, relative to something else, while other statements were absolutely true, then it means that some absolute truth exists, and relativism is false.

Relativism says that all truth is relative. This is itself an absolute statement which doesn’t vary relative to any circumstances since relativism is a universal claim on all truth absolutely.

Subjectivism depends on objective truth. (1) Subjectivism relies on the mental activity of the subject. If there were no subjects which possess minds to begin with, then there would be no subject to be subjective about anything.

It is like trying to play media with no media player or instrument. The subjects must exist objectively for any instances of subjective awareness to occur. Hence, the existence of the subjective implies the objective.

Even if we do not know what the objective reality is, we do know that it is, but subjectivism denies that any objective truth exists while implying it. This contradiction proves subjectivism false. (2) Is subjectivism itself objective?

If subjectivism itself is objective, then it is its own counter example by exemplifying an instance of objective truth. (3) What if subjectivism was only subjectively true? Then it means that subjectivism is true for some people but not for others. This means that objective truth is true for some but if objective truth is true for some, then it is true for all, because objective truth is not affected by the subject.

With regards to the third leg of post modernism i.e., appeals to radical scepticism, all I can say is that one cannot be too certain of postmodernism. I am very sceptical of it, after all, some degree of scepticism is good, and we must be careful not to overcorrect and completely abolish the good in the things that are taken too far.

 

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