Why Relativism Is So Appealing and Why Strong Beliefs Come Off Closed Minded

In this post I want to get into a specific set of implicit beliefs, values, and feelings that are typically operative, but poorly articulated, in many strands of “common sense” thinking and feeling within Western culture. In some ways I see myself as translating into philosophical categories what many unphilosophical, and sometimes even anti-philosophical, people think. I do this primarily because I think some philosophical distinctions and context might clarify and improve the strengths in their views and overcome their weaknesses. But even more interestingly this will allow me to alert philosophers and other critical thinkers to a major potential blindspot that our own practice often gives us. This post is in part a further attempt to answer questions raised in an e-mail to me that I published yesterday (as part of my new philosophical advice column) from a philosophy graduate who wanted to know why so many non-philosophers he argued with accused him of closed-mindedness when he felt he was being scrupulously openmindedly concerned about being logical and responsive to evidence.

First some context. Absolutists say some things which are so sweepingly broad and unnuanced as to be false in many important circumstances. Plus absolutism is formally false out of the gate a great deal of the time for saying “always” when the accurate word would be “usually” or “sometimes”. And total relativists and total subjectivists overcorrect in the opposite direction. Instead of noting that we must take account of relativities and relevant subjective inputs into our calculations that use (more) objective standards, they overcorrect and try to say all views are equally subjective and equally valid. Or they’ll at least say things to the effect that various matters are so subjective or so relative as to negate the validity of discussions and debates about them.

But the truth is in the middle.

Good, rational, successful thought is able to apply relatively objective rational standards in ways that are adequately context sensitive. This requires skills of rational judgment. But for some reason, this nuanced truth is hard for people to think through abstractly. Implicitly, in practice, their subconsciously processing brains quite often strike such balances impressively. But when giving abstract accounts they feel forced to choose between extremes. Either absolutism or total relativistic subjectivism. This false dichotomy manifests itself in (and leads to) a number of interpersonal conflicts centered around ideas conflicts and, in particular, leads to hasty accusations of closed-mindedness.

Now in the history of Western culture, there are crucial factors at work that I think contributes greatly to explaining why our unreflective minds have been conditioned to implicitly form this simplistic either/or association. For a long time, absolutism in belief has been the basis for absolutist social hierarchies and politics. And during key centuries that were formative of the modern consciousness, all sorts of bloody wars and tortures and violations of conscience and safety were justified by unresolvable disputes over arbitrary absolutist faith beliefs. All this violence as attributed to fights over issues that in principle could never have been solved scientifically or philosophically but which instead just hinged “theologically” on how one read deeply ambiguous supernaturalistically fantastic ancient texts. And all this happened concurrent with the rise of empirical science which was actually showing people how to come to results that could actually compel widespread consensus and tangibly and undeniably prove one’s ideas in ways that could literally transform the world. So while empirical science was providing powerful means for adjudicating disputes rationally, theology was providing precisely the opposite–interminable intellectual disagreements that caused, and/or provided ideological cover for, seemingly interminable conflict and death.

The modern liberal conviction that freedoms of thought, conscience, and expression must be treated as inviolable arose in no small part because of this startling contrast. We couldn’t keep on torturing and killing people over those differences in belief that were fundamentally intractable and which were nowhere near as well founded as the scientifically vindicated ones which had the power to compel agreement even from one’s skeptics. So I think this is why buried deep in the logic of much Western thinking there seems to be a close association between absolutism of belief with respect to fundamentally undecidable matters on the one hand, and the authoritarian willingness to violate others’ freedom of conscience on the other. And even were there not this long cultural history closely associating this way of believing with a certain way of restricting others, there is a noticeable personality association in many cases between people thinking in absolutist terms and treating others like petty dictators. Another issue at play is that typically because liberal societies allow private choices about morality, public debates about values often center on matters of law. So, people get accustomed to only debating morality in legal contexts and so reflexively respond even to arguments for private values like they will have overreaching legal consequences.

So, what might be happening is that when we are insistently confident about our position about non-scientific, disputable, philosophical matters (or even science that their theology tells them can’t really be science), unphilosophical people are inclined not to pay as much attention to your evidence and logic as to your adamancy. They will take that as a cue that you are the kind of person who might force your opinions on others. They stigmatize that as closed mindedness. To them it’s not how openly you considered the evidence, it’s how openly you allow that others might be right. And this seems to be because they are implicitly leaping from, “he does not act like I could even be right” to “he might not let me or others go on freely since he thinks we are wrong”.

What they mean by “openmindedness” is often more akin to tolerance . Rather than openmindedness being a matter of looking at more evidence, with more careful logical rigor, it means to them accepting more views can be simultaneously right, or, in some cases, affirming uncritically that fantastic propositions might be true since some people want to believe them and that’s their right. This strikes me implicitly as a way of allowing ethically that everyone be allowed to think for themselves by going to an extreme and claiming epistemologically that many ways to think are equally (or comparably) good to one another.

It seems like implicitly the logic in their minds says that even conceding that there might be a single right answer in any sense might legitimize people in their own minds to squelch others when they think they have the right answer. So they trust people more who say there is no right answer because if there’s no right answer no one is going to have the right to squelch others’ freedom of conscience (or those of others). So affirmations of epistemic relativism are, I am guessing, their over-corrective firewall to protect freedom of conscience. If there can be no right answer, then a priori no one is ever legitimate in imposing one answer on everyone. And unfortunately, when being abstract, they conflate all arguments about what is best with attempts to impose one’s view of what’s best on others. Implicitly they seem to also believe that a dangerous corollary is true: if there is a right answer, everyone must think and act exactly the same. That would be the death of pluralism in their minds. So, intuitively, their subconscious brains run the calculation that it’s simply better to say there is no right answer to forestall all impositions on freedom of conscience. And they intuitively feel very strongly about this assertion because their subconscious brain is well trained to associate their freedom as threatened by its denial.

What we need to make clear is a view of the world where there is a right answer and that it itself is pluralism. We need to explain ad nauseum that there can be objective answers but to figure them out, individuals’ needs, abilities, desires, etc. need to be calculated in. We need to explain views like “there can be better and worse paths in life consistent with the government being neutral enough to allow different people to find varying, objectively defensible goods for themselves as individuals”. In other words we need to articulate conceptions of objectivity that take into account the ineliminable value of pluralism, freedom of conscience, sensitivity to context relativity, sensitivity to relevant subjective factors, etc. We have to articulate that there are ways to acknowledge that what is good for different people can objectively vary without everything being equally good for everybody. The latter is an overcorrection that is extreme to the point of absurdity.

But in the meantime we have to work with people as they are and not assume they grasp these things. We need to be sensitized to the ways they intuitively conflate all strong beliefs with closed minded and authoritarian ones.

And also, we philosophers and other critical thinkers who want to emphasize the possibilities for right answers (or at least “better and worse” ones) need to learn from those whose minds are reflexively relativist, to correct against being oversimple in the absolutist direction. Their minds are not ridiculous. They form the associations they do for reasons.

In the e-mail from Vance, it seemed like he took openminded to mean “being willing to scrupulously weigh all evidence according to fair rational standards in order to best find the truth”. Probably a lot of abstract thinkers look at it this way. But to others it means “understanding how multiple perspectives might be comparably good or true in their own way even if they are incompatible with my own views and with each other”. Philosophers need to embrace what we know about the value of shifting perspectives and incorporate this into our sense for how to attain truth. The skill we should take as most instructive is our ability to inhabit contrasting perspectives and see how they can make some interesting, illuminating, and even unique sense of the world.

As Nietzsche has taught me to see, the best kind of thinking is not “outside of all perspectives”. In fact there is no thinking that happens outside of perspectives. The best thinking learns how to perpetually adopt and alternate between different perspectives to get more and more angles on something–and more and more feelings towards it too. The point is to really inhabit and appreciate a variety ways of looking at the world and of functioning in it. The messy truth that is hard for critical thinkers to accept is that even many belief or value structures that are either incomplete, inconsistent, inaccurate, or outright false in thousands of literal ways can have surprisingly powerful functional value for people. Sometimes, ironically, some literally false beliefs (in terms of their explicit content) may be as functionally workable to people (or even more functionally workable) for their lives as some more literally true, rationally coherent, logically consistent, or justifiable beliefs.

The more that we insist, whether explicitly or implicitly, that unless you have our own perspective you have a perspective of no use at all, we’re going to come off as closed-minded to people who intuitively grasp the reality of perspectivism. What we should learn to signal to people is that as technically flawed, internally inconsistent, or literally false, as we might see their picture of the world to be, we can appreciate that it has some tangible benefits for ordering the world in ways that make real sense for them, such that they’re not crazy, stupid, or evil for feeling so attached to it. We can still argue that your perspective is on the whole better, but while we do so, we would do well to take any opportunity we can to adopt their perspective empathetically and talk about what there is to learn from it that we might miss if their perspective wasn’t in the world to highlight it for us.

If we assume there is nothing that they’re onto that we’re not, then we are probably underestimating just how much the pervasiveness of falsehoods in thought provides us reason to think that falsehoods are in an uncomfortable number of ironic ways, highly useful. (Again, Nietzsche is deeply instructive on this point.) We are tempted to naïvely assume only truth is ever useful and truth is only ever useful. Our scrupulous truthfulness itself should compel us to take seriously how the false, in various degrees, can be quite useful. Or how various forms of fallacious reasoning might ironically catch onto more about certain truths than conscientious methods of reasoning so far have done.

This is not to endorse chaos or the view that all perspectives are necessarily equal. It is to recognize that the choice is not between absolute truth and absolute falsehood. It is to convey to others that we appreciate that there can be some wisdom in the ways their brains are practically structuring things even if we think on net it’s an overall inferior way to put things together because of this reason or that. And it is to understand why freedom of conscience is a good thing and why we can tolerate people being wrong legally. We need to come to terms emotionally and ethically with the fact that while it is often quite better that we all think more truly, it is tolerable that in the meantime people work with a number of falsehoods that are operatively more successful than we would assume they could be for helping people through life. That’s not to say none of those falsehoods are harmful or worth opposing strenuously. It is to say though that just being false does not equate to necessarily harmful or false in all respects.

Much more needs to be clarified as I have opened giant cans of worms. But this is already very long. See my next post for an analysis of another distinct problem with coming off closed-minded that philosophers in particular run into. Then I offer my practical advice for generally arguing in ways that are not off-putting and susceptible to charges of closed-mindedness in the final post of this series.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • 3lemenope

    I do not trust truth. Its smiles are enticing enough, but strewn about its feet are a thousand grinning skeletons: oughts, musts and shoulds.
    —–

    I dunno. I don’t tend to find that people, esp. non-philosophers, particularly fear the intolerance of the views of the philosophically minded. They just don’t seem to find much value in those views, because the value that inheres is as abstract as the objects it manipulates. It’s a game, with the end result of the game being approximately what you start with, only with the parts relabeled and rearranged; it is not exactly shocking that most people are turned off by the tiny gain married to the great amount of effort it seems to take to do it right. When a flaw is exposed in the interlocutor’s view, it’s “nitpicking” or “word games” or “a distraction from the real issue”. I’ve found this to be true in conversations even when absolutely nothing is at stake, when there is no real issue.

    Your “inhabiting” of points-of-view gets right at why there is little general desire for philosophic open-mindedness and also the slouch towards tolerance as a substitute concept. To inhabit requires feeling, and feeling requires vulnerability. If you allow something to affect you emotionally, it has power over you. Most people are not keen on being made vulnerable simply so that they may explore abstractions of little relevance to their practical lives, and so they don’t. Tolerating people being wrong on their own time requires much less vulnerability and sacrifice of effort, even to the point that practiced as a social dominance strategy, tolerance can make a person less vulnerable than they’d otherwise be because they can deflect self-doubt onto the safer wrongness of their neighbors who they deign to allow going on being wrong.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      Those are very good points except for the dismissal of philosophical subjects as irrelevant, almost meaningless mental furniture rearrangement. Couldn’t be further from the truth. The most serious issues come down precisely to philosophical problems and disagreements.

    • 3lemenope

      I agree. I’m saying that that perception drives the dismissal of philosophy.

    • Paul So

      3lemenope,
      I presume you don’t share this attitude, since it seems that you are only describing lay people in general rather than your opinion. If that’s the case, I’m interested in hearing your opinion about anti-intellectualism, it sounds people people dislike thinking-through things with thinking-tools partially due to an anti-intellectual mind-set.

    • 3lemenope

      I think there are three things going on–two in general, and one that has particularly to do with philosophy and a few other related topics–that drive how anti-intellectualism “works”, at least in contemporary American society.

      This is a chicken-or-egg thing, but there seems to be a powerful correlation between anti-intellectualism and a skepticism of expertise, and I suspect that the skepticism is partially causative. As access to information has become democratized through public libraries and then much more furiously with the Internet, the exposure level of people to many topics outside their particular realms of expertise is very high. Because a superficial understanding of pretty much any subject is easy–it just requires access to terminology and information–people become generally more confident that they can opine on a wide variety of topics as their circle of exposure grows. This has caused understanding to be depreciated in relation to these superficial treatments. Understanding requires expertise, which requires painstaking effort and time and, perhaps above all, guidance. A heavy cost to bear simply to offer a useful opinion, and so bothering with it seems like a losing proposition.

      This is especially important because expertise provides the tools for evaluating claims in a particular discipline. I’d argue that it in fact takes up the lion’s share of the goal of expertise generally; the difference between knowing a bunch of court cases and being a lawyer is being trained in knowing when and how cases apply to one another and to the law at issue, such that you know where to look when a claim is made that a certain act is permitted or forbidden by law. The problem with superficial understandings is that they are insufficiently rigorous, because the person holding it cannot know which criticisms of it actually have some purchase.

      And not only is expertise a heavy cost, but an intuitively unfair one; this is where the second piece comes in. Many topics, like the sciences, the higher maths, engineering, and medicine, are still properly regarded by most as the domain of experts. The entry requirements for gaining expertise are high, and the costs to bear to produce the expertise are likewise high. Other topics–namely politics, philosophy, and religion–are not regarded as the domain of experts, and this is partially proper. After all, those topics touch on matters of concern for people generally, not just people who are given to study them. Everyone is not just directly affected by politics, but asked and expected to participate in politics on some level. The questions that philosophers set out to address are those that occur to people simply from living their lives. It would be unreasonable to say that people who are not experts in these matters are not entitled to opinions regarding them.

      But, because people feel comfortable holding and elevating non-expert opinions in fields like politics and philosophy, they have along the way decided that expertise in these areas either does not exist or is practically irrelevant for the purposes of having a comprehensive understanding of those topics. This sort of anti-intellectualism cuts right across all education levels; I can’t count the number of times I’ve run into a well-credentialed scientist who could not comprehend the notion of expertise in politics or that political systems are much more complicated than their intuitions of them might be, or much more regularly acting than their status as human-composed systems might lead them to intuit. The idea that expertise in these fields is just as difficult and costly to achieve and has comparable consequences for understanding and effectiveness in the field that it does for the “harder” subjects is one that does not come easily to anyone.

      I also don’t want to leave out that there are often quite legitimate reasons to be skeptical of expertise, and while that tends to be much more of a problem for the sciences than it does in other fields, I think damage to the regard of expertise in one area does lateral damage to the concept of expertise generally.

    • Paul So

      I thought this observation was informative and insightful, so basically you are suggesting that people are not only skeptical of expertise but also frustrated with it since they find it difficult to attain tools to critically assess certain set of facts. However, on the other hand, people feel as though their opinions matter most in subjects such as politics and philosophy since they think there are no standards for expertise, despite that on the contrary there is some kind of standard in both philosophy and politics.

      I think this does pin point to one of the problems of anti-intellectualism, but I feel as though there is something more to it (I think you will agree). I think what’s implicit in your other comment is that besides skepticism with expertise, people somehow dislike abstract thinking.

      I think i’ll use one anecdotal example. In my ethics class, my T.A. was holding a discussion with us to discuss about moral permissibility of a certain morally dubious act. My T.A. keeps using the term “moral permissible’ every now and then, one student got sick of it and said “I don’t care about whether it’s morally permissible or not, I feel that we should do it!”. One thing I notice from this example is that the student dislike the term “morally permissible” because it takes away an emotive aspect of the ethical dilemma, this is because “morally permissible” is in fact an abstract and complex concept, it’s meaning is even disputed among moral philosophers.

      So, why do people dislike abstract thinking so much?

    • 3lemenope

      However, on the other hand, people feel as though their opinions matter most in subjects such as politics and philosophy since they think there are no standards for expertise, despite that on the contrary there is some kind of standard in both philosophy and politics.

      And are led to that belief by the fact that philosophy and politics tend to intersect everyone’s lives in unavoidable, everyday sorts of ways.

      One thing I notice from this example is that the student dislike the term “morally permissible” because it takes away an emotive aspect of the ethical dilemma, this is because “morally permissible” is in fact an abstract and complex concept, it’s meaning is even disputed among moral philosophers.

      I think, beyond anti-intellectualism, is that people fear (not without reason) that by setting terms of discussion in arid, clinical terms we lose an essential aspect of the idea under discussion. I have a great deal of sympathy for this objection, because it is something that is a particular weakness of the philosophical insistence upon the abstract. We are beings that inhabit lives, not merely observing and reporting on them, and so the emotive, the subjective, and the ecstatic are textures of experience crucial to understanding what it is like to be human. When they are excluded because they tend to misbehave, what is left may be cleaner and sharper (I’m tempted to nod towards Plato’s Forms as a satirical holy grail) but it is also impoverished in proportion to how much of that texture was elided.

      So to answer your question, beyond the folks who simply were never taught how (and this cannot be minimized), I think many people dislike abstract thought because they feel it is an impoverished realm compared to the rich lived-in world of phenomenal objects of which we are immediately familiar. Arguments are made by and in the service of humans. To humans they must appeal; if they don’t, they aren’t very useful. A student may react against “moral permissibility” not simply because they like the sharp tang of words like “should” and “shouldn’t” and “right” and “wrong” better, but because they are looking for a vocabulary which addresses their felt anxiety over knowing or not knowing the proper course of behavior.

    • Paul So

      Just to clarify, you said you sympathize with the kind of objection against applying abstract thinking, but that’s not the same as being in full-agreement. What prevents you from reaching full-agreement? Furthermore, what is your attitude towards abstract thinking? It seems like you have a…distaste for it?

    • 3lemenope

      Furthermore, what is your attitude towards abstract thinking? It seems like you have a…distaste for it?

      Not at all. It’s just that it’s a specific tool for a specific job. It’s brilliant when doing that job, and a great deal less effective when used outside that domain. Philosophers treat abstractions the way a person who has a hammer treats every problem they see: as an embarrassment of nails. It’s important, I think, to be cognizant and mindful of what is left behind when seeking crisp definitions and categories so as to reduce the chance of missing something essential.

    • 3lemenope
    • jakcharlton

      The irony of “couldnt be further from the truth” being an absolutist statement made me laugh out loud.

  • Paul So

    I think this link might be relevant to this topic

    http://www.cddc.vt.edu/digitalfordism/fordism_materials/albert.htm

  • Paul So

    Dan
    As a philosopher (hence, as a critical thinker) I think I might have encountered similar problems a few times like Vance, so I think I identify with his predicament. As you pointed out, I think people conflate multiplicity of perspectives (which is a descriptive fact, since it is true that there are multiple perspectives) with how we are suppose to value those perspectives without excluding them. People equate “truth” with “privilege” and “falsehood” with “marginalization;exclusion”, which I find mind boggling because “privlege” and “marginalizations” are byproducts of social stratification created by people, but what’s true and false aren’t byproducts of social stratification. I think social constructionist will disagree with me, although I’m not sure if they can provide any grounds for disagreement since disagreement already implies belief that something is “false”.

    I often get very tired of relativism, I use to be a relativist/postmodernist myself (including moral and cultural relativist), but I found the implications too disturbing: If relativism is “true”, then we should tolerate Female Genital Mutilation, Slavery, Sexism, and Socioeconomic Hierarchy with impoverished social mobility (e.g. Caste System) which are all byproducts of different cultural perspectives that it prompted me to examine relativism. I think by accepting relativism, we are sustaining oppression and marginalization in favor of appearing open-minded. I think people will find this to be a very strong claim, so to clarify I don’t deny that beliefs can have functional value to people, but sometimes people can often exploit those functional value to sustain oppressive practices.

    I think that’s my main reason for rejecting relativism in favor of a more nuanced view of rationality that you summed up in your article: It’s not that reality itself is uncertain, but rather it is our epistemic navigational methods (e.g. cognitive abilities, scientific method, thinking-tools, logic) that contain uncertainty because we are fallible creatures. I accept fallibilism, consequently our *views* of the world will have to be nuanced and complex, open to adaptation and improvement. What I often get annoyed is when people infer radical skepticism and relativism from fallibilism, it’s a common mistake I find all too often.

    • Rosie

      Paul, I’d like to you to unpack that bit about “truth = privilege” and “falsehood = marginalization” a bit. I’m not sure what you mean by it. I’ve generally taken those equivalences to mean something like “the winners write the history books”, which does happen quite a lot. Is that the phenomenon you’re referring to here?

    • Paul So

      Rosie,
      I guess I am referring to something very similar to “winners write the history”, but I guess it’s more like “the privileged dictates what is true”. It’s not really a “phenomena”, it’s more like an attitude some people I know have. Some people think that there is no such thing as truth or objectivity, they insist that “truth” is just used as a way to privilege certain ideology while excluding other ideas. For them “truth” is just another term for exclusivism, or excluding others in favor of the few. That’s all I mean, I don’t believe in it but that’s the impression I get from people who are relativistic about truth.

    • Rosie

      Thanks, Paul. I think I understand what you mean.

      I’ve been pretty relativistic for many years now, largely because I personally have experienced quite a bit of gaslighting in the name of “objective truth”. That is, my own experiences and knowledge were dismissed because they didn’t line up with what the male-dominated religion (and the men representing it) said was “true”. This definitely made me gun-shy about anything claiming to be objectively or absolutely true (the words were used interchangeably in that culture).

      However, reading Dan’s blog is starting to change my mind a bit. I’m still not sure how it all fits together, but I’m entertaining the notion of an objective truth that is inclusive. At least, I can now see that it might be possible for such a thing to exist.

    • Paul So

      Ok, I understand where you’re coming from, I was also raised in a religious background (Christianity), but eventually I left it and never want to return to it. I never want to return to it, but it’s not just because it reinforces a sense of privilege by conflating truth with exclusivism (which if often does), it’s because more often than not a lot of religions like Christianity subscribe to an idea of *infallibility* and ascribe it to their faith so that if you reject it then something must be wrong with *you* rather than itself.

      Infallibility and “objective truth” isn’t the same here, “objective truth” just means any propositional statement that is simply true. Infallibility, on the other hand, is not just that there’s 100% guarantee that something is true, but certain source of authority can never be wrong because it is always right, so it has absolute authority.

      On the other hand, In practice, science presupposes “objective truth”, but it never presupposes infallibility. Science infers the best conjectures or models from empirical data to explain natural phenomena and then tests it’s prediction, but people know often too well that such testing or evidence is not infallible, but quite fallible. There’s no 100% gaurantee that something is true, because it is defeasible, meaning that there will usually be evidence to counter it. In other words, in science you have to presuppose human fallibility in everyday practice. That’s why we have peer-reviews to critically analyze submitted articles or reports on experiments and have scientists arguing with each other over subtle details. Otherwise, if science is infallible, then there will no longer be anymore science: people will stop researching, using peer-review articles, or use experiments. Science copes with uncertainty, without it there would no longer be any science.

      I find this appealing because we can accept the fundamental human reality that we have finite cognitive capacities and biases that predisposes us to make mistakes. We can still get to the truth, but we have to work together by incorporating our different opinions, experience, and intuitions and then test them no matter how counter-intuitive they may sound. I think that’s as inclusive as one can get. I see the same thing in philosophy: people form different point of views on certain issues and try to discuss about it in a form of inquiry rather than this privleged exclusivist manner that you often find in religion.

    • Rosie

      Reading your explanation, I have the image in my head of an objective truth that we approach asymptotically, through more experiments and greater inclusion. That certainly appeals to me.

      I also like how you’ve parsed the difference between infallibility and “objectively true”. I still get into discussions with Christians in which they continually conflate these two things, and I’ve had a hard time articulating how they’re not at all the same.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers
    • Rosie

      Thanks, Dan! The first I’ve read multiple times already, and shared with friends (relativism may have been my defense against nihilism when I first deconverted). The second I’m reading through for the second time now, and I think it was in fact in reading that post the first time that I first entertained the notion of an inclusive and objective truth. There’s a lot in it I still don’t feel like I understand with any clarity, but I’ll keep trying.

    • http://camelswithhammers.com/ Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      oh wow, great. Let me know if you can pose a distinct question or challenge that can help move the discussion forward in a future post!

    • Paul So

      “I have the image in my head of an objective truth that we approach asymptotically, through more experiments and greater inclusion.”

      That’s a very good and insightful mathematical metaphor, there’s an illusion that we grasped “objective truth” but in reality we are only getting closer by approximations and degrees but never absolutes, but we’ll probably never get quite there. That’s the human condition, as Mother Nature “intends” it.

    • http://www.skeptimusprime.com/ Dylan Walker

      I think one of the reasons that we associate truth with privilege and falsehood with marginalization is because quite often those associations have some merit in a practical sense.

      We can all probably think of examples of cultures, ideological groups or religions selling their own privilege as truth. It is quite common for ideas that are a product of social stratification to be sold as the inerrant truth of things. 60 years ago many places in the united states forbid interracial marriage. People were certain that this would harm society, it was “true.”

      While on a philosophical level truth is something very different than privilege, on a practical level the two often, and unfortunately, bleed together because so few people have the ability to distinguish between “this is true” and “I want this to be true.” It gives many people an inaccurate but understandable distrust of anyone who claims to speak for truth.


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