Member Rara Avis
LOL. My question, "Is it possible to separate Truth from verification?" wasn't loaded, guys, so much as it was an attempt to get at least one move ahead of Postmodernism and Brad. Obviously, I was still a little too slow.
Nonetheless, the question remains an important one, and personally, I find your answers encouraging. If we can agree that Truth exists apart from man, then there remains the possibility for Absolute Truth to exist. It's perhaps a slim possibility, and maybe something beyond human understanding, but still a possibility. On the other hand, those who follow Rorty, et al, can have no such hope. That's a bit of shame, in my opinion, because Richard Rorty and Postmodernism are plain, flat-out wrong. The irony is, in being completely wrong, they just may be right.
Stanley Grenz, in his 1995 book "A Primer on Postmodernism," described their position this way: "(Postmodernism) affirms that whatever we accept as truth and even the way we envision truth are dependent on the community in which we participate." Brad uses the word context, I think, in the same way Grenz uses community. I'll explore that more in a moment. Grenz then goes on to more succinctly say, "There is no absolute truth: rather truth is relative to the community in which we participate."
I've never really found a definitive definition in Postmodernist literature as to what they mean by community. That's important, I think, because communities have this nasty habit of overlapping and nesting. I belong to a community of programmers, but I also belong to a specific geographical community. As Brad alluded, it seems to be more than just a consensus of everyone in the community, but even in being more, it still boils down to just that. Truth is what everyone agrees is true. Rorty carries this farther, even, than most. Postmodernism says we can't argue for Truth on the basis of absolute correctness, and Rorty suggests we can't even argue on logical grounds. To do so would be to admit objective value and truth. Instead, we must argue for a truth only if it increases solidarity in our community. I suppose this is why Rorty prefers to be called a Pragmatist, rather than a Postmodernist (which tends to rile the Pragmatists to no end).
I believe Postmodernism is inherently flawed, and I suspect the Postmodernists do, too. That's why they insist on compartmentalizing different kinds of Truth. Rorty, for example, had this to say about Truth in "The Decline Of Redemptive Truth And The Rise Of A Literary Culture."
Problems about what to do with ourselves, what purposes to serve, differ, in this respect, from scientific problems. A complete and final unified science, an harmoniously orchestrated assemblage of scientific theories none of which will ever need to be revised, is an intelligible goal. Scientific inquiry could, conceivably, terminate. So if a unified account of the causal relations between all spatio-temporal events were all that were meant by "truth", even the most far-out postmodernist types would have no reason to doubt truth's existence. The existence of truth only becomes an issue when another sort of truth is in question.
Gee, that's a bit different than the way most people seem to interpret the Postmodern abolition of truth, don't ya think? In "Reply to Hartshorne," by Saatkamp, Rorty is quoted as saying, " I tend to view natural science as in the business of controlling and predicting things, and as largely useless for philosophical purposes." It seems statements like "the chair has four legs" and the "the sky is blue" aren't even the kind of truths with which Rorty is concerned. So, uh, what does concern him?
In the same article, Rorty goes on to describe what he calls "redemptive truth," a set of theories he claims are meant to fulfill the need that religion and philosophy have attempted and failed to satisfy. He later defines redemptive truth as "a single set of beliefs which can serve a redemptive role in the lives of all human beings, which can be rationally justified to all human beings under optimal conditions, and which will thus form the natural terminus of inquiry." In other words, once we know the Absolute Truth, we KNOW it and there is no need for any other questions. It is this redemptive truth that Rorty and Postmodernism refuses to accept.
Those of you who know me, after three years, know that I don't separate my religion from my science, and it always sort of bothered me that the Postmodernists felt the need to do so. Causal truth is cool, they say, but anything that touches upon the nature of man can't really be truth. Konstantin Kolenda, in "Rorty's Humanistic Pragmatism," defends this segregation of Truth because "commonsense-factual beliefs" are "unquestioned by participants in a given linguistic community." But that only seems to beg the question - WHY does everyone agree with them?
If "commonsense-factual beliefs" are obviously true, then there is an objective truth that seemingly applies to an overwhelming number of statements. If they are true just because everyone agrees they are true, they fall within the same province as Rorty's redemptive truth and should meet the same process of inquiry. That won't be allowed to happen, though, because Postmodernism knows their process fails utterly when there is a known answer. It only seems to work at all when the issue is controversial and unknown.
Rorty's failure, I think, is a reflection of his background in Literature and rests almost solely on his concepts of language. This is something Brad has mentioned several times, in many other threads. To again directly quote Rorty, this time from "Contingency, Law, and Solidarity:"
To say that truth is not out there is simply to say that where there are no sentences there is no truth, that sentences are elements of human languages, and that human languages are human creations.
Rorty, in other words, insists that true is a modifier that describes only sentences.
But I think this confuses an allegedly necessary condition with a sufficient condition. Even were we to concede for the moment that only sentences can be true, it does not follow that a sentence alone is sufficient for truth. "Ron is female," is a sentence, but it can be true if and only if I manage to pass the physical. In other words, insisting that only sentences can be true does not remove the need for some other NONLINGUISTIC condition to render the statement true. Ergo, true must, in some sense, apply to more than just sentences.
Of course, this is precisely where Rorty, Kolenda, and all the Postmodernists start yelling foul. My sentence, "Ron is female," doesn't belong in the area of beliefs that Rorty expects to be decided by community solidarity. Indeed, any statement that is a clear counterexample to his theory, like the existence of gravity or chairs with four legs, is dismissed as irrelevant to the main point. Community solidarity is NOT going to make me start dating rich widowers, Rorty knows this, so he draws a safe line between his different kinds of truth. In letting Postmodernism do this, we allow them to evade any possibility of refutation. An issue is controversial only because no one is in possession of objective facts to decide it, and Rorty can then say with confidence that it is not decided factually but by consensus of the community. But if an issue is already clearly decided, its noncontroversial nature pushes it into Rorty's safe zone and it's declared off-limits.
This is where I believe Postmodernism is horribly wrong - and potentially right.
There is real value, I think, in recognizing and codifying the difference between objective and subjective truth. The trend in recent thinking to deny the existence and even the possibility of objective truth gives rise to little more than circular thinking and paradoxes that convince no one. Two plus two equals four, they all say, is a language construct and therefore subjective. Everything, they decry, is subjective! But, damn it, we NEED two plus two to always equal four, in any language throughout the universe, and we intrinsically know that it does. We hear their arguments, we follow their logic - and we don't for a minute believe that two plus two will stop equaling four just because they say it's subjective.
The complete abolishment of objective truth is not pragmatically useful. On the contrary, if taken literally (it can't be) and completely believed (it's not), it cripples rather than enhances our ability to communicate. Everything is a language construct? Everything is subjective? That is not a workable reflection of reality, but is just a WEAKNESS OF THE LANGUAGE.
Postmodernism, I'm convinced, will eventually collapse under the weight of its own inadequacies, and largely because it fails to recognize the dynamics of our universe in any useful way. "Ron is diabetic" falls outside the realm of Rorty's truth because it is a measurable, observable, and noncontroversial truth. "Ron is happy" falls within Rorty's realm - but ONLY until medical science defines and quantifies the chemicals that determine the state of happiness in the same way they can now measure blood sugars. "Ron is happy" is a subjective truth, based on community solidarity and consensus, but may be so only for today. Tomorrow, we may discover a new truth, one that CHANGES our language in the sense that "Ron is happy" takes on a quantifiable and objective meaning. The only thing Postmodernism does is create two categories, one for the things we think we know, one for the things we know we think, and then shifts individual issues back and forth.
Language is not static. One problem with Wittgenstein, Rorty, and really dating all the way back to Descartes, is that any philosophy based largely on the limitations of linguistics is built on a hill of shifting sand. When we find weaknesses in our language, we should endeavor to fix the problem, not build our knowledge-base on it. (The other big problem with Rorty, in my opinion, is that any ethnocentric philosophy is self-limiting and, even, paradoxical. "We can never get outside of ourselves," he contends. But if that statement is true it becomes subjective and non-absolute, so maybe we can get outside of ourselves. In any event, right or wrong or just general consensus, it shouldn't stop us from TRYING to understand our reality apart from our role in it. If we try and Rorty is right, we might fail. If we don't try, we are sure to fail. And even in failure, we'll learn more than we will by staring at our own foreheads.)
I don't believe that truth is a construct of language, but rather that language is a reflection of truth. Brad calls language a reaction to the world, not a picture of the world, but such reactions are just another way of reflecting reality. Even when you internalize language, it just becomes a reflection of a reflection of truth, and in that sense is a poor reflection, to be sure. It is marred by flaws and ripples and distortions that tend to magnify or diminish what we see, but still it remains a reflection. You can change language all day long and it changes reality not at all. The only thing accomplished is to add yet more distortion, Orwellian style, or occasionally smooth a few wrinkles, as I think poets and writers and scientists try to do. Change reality, on the other hand, and language quickly adapts, adding new words or altering the meaning of existing words. In rare instances, we even invent new languages (the calculus, for example).
We don't invent truth. We discover it.
And, yea, very often, we have to rediscover truth a few times along the way. I think there's an important distinction to be made, though, between discarding lies and rediscovering truth. "The Earth is flat" wasn't a lie so much as it was a partial truth. When you happen to be building a house, it's a fairly useful partial truth. As our context expanded, however, we needed more and discovered the world is round. That did NOT change the way we built houses. Newton's concept of classical physics was a partial truth that resulted, among many other things, in the "for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction" invention of rockets. In seeking to understand the perturbations of Mercury's orbit, something unexplainable using Newton's math, Einstein discovered a greater truth. Fortunately for NASA, rockets didn't suddenly stop working. Truth is not transient, is not subjective, but is often only limited.
Truth doesn't change. I don't think we will ever reach the "natural terminus of inquiry" Rorty uses to define truth, but that doesn't negate the validity of the truths we find along the way. As we ask more questions, as our context grows, we inevitably expand the truth, but the only thing discarded are the lies. Our lesser truths are still true, if only in lesser contexts. The Earth really IS flat, at least in my front yard.
I tend to talk a lot about science and math when I talk about truth, if only because they are often more quantifiable. Not coincidentally, those are precisely the kinds of things Rorty and Postmodernism want to avoid discussing. But everything I believe about science and math is also what I believe about Rorty's redemptive truths. I can't weigh or measure the effects of honesty, but I still hold it to be a truth. And I'm convinced that an expansion of that truth, while certainly possible (and one would hope, with wisdom, even probable), won't invalidate my current truth. Truth doesn't change.
And Absolute Truths?
From a scientific standpoint, I think there is ample evidence to suggest Absolute Truth can never be more than near-absolute. Truth is measured statistically, and even though we can approach 100 percent certainty, we never quite get there. Heisenberg saw to that, thank you very much.
From a Christian standpoint, my answer remains much the same. I believe that Absolute Truth and Free Will are incompatible. Heisenberg discovered uncertainty, but I think God put it there for him to find.