What Does Narrative Encompass and Other Questions

I want to address an issue that has come up from time to time regarding Narrative and what it encompasses as far as the physical world and meta-physical beliefs.  If one goes here and then goes through the comment section, especially the last two by RonH and Bernard, it is to their last two comments that I want to attempt a response.  I also realize that this may be the critical issue in Bernard’s articulations regarding his agnosticism. Because it is related, I will also address other issues that have arisen since that post.

First of all, I think in their questions and comments there is a line of reasoning that goes something like this: “Yes, there is a wide body of differences when it comes to meta-physical beliefs like God’s existence and morality, and clearly those are faith/narrative/world-view based; however, when we are speaking of distance to the sun or whether the earth is round, such are “commonly held” –there is “convergence” and thus stand apart from faith/narrative/world-view aspect because these are questions readily adjudicated by empirical means, methods we all agree upon and require nothing more to discern as true than our five senses and the ability to reason.”

Now, if I have that wrong, I will need RonH and Bernard to let me know.  And, it may even be they are saying that even our agreements regarding things like distance to the sun and the earth being round are faith-based as well, but it is a different type of faith involved.  To this I would say that I am using the word “faith” in the sense I have been speaking of over and over (see again the post already noted) and it is in this sense only that I use it in these conversations.  So I think it unhelpful to talk of different types of faith.  There are comprehensive world-views that are held by faith.  However, the difference of how we determine the “truth” of matters within our worldview depends upon what is being asked and the matter in question.  If we are asked how far the sun is from the earth, although this is narrative sensitive, it is not that we are exercising a different “faith” to answer the question, it is that we are dealing with a specific category of question—one that demands a certain type of knowledge and methodology.  But it isn’t a different type of faith.

Want I want to assert here is that our views, even of how the physical world “works”, are narrative laden and there is no area of life that lies outside of it—nor are there different types of faith involved- only different types of questions.  I will try and unpack this by noting three key factors that lead me to these assertions.

First of all there is the historical factor.  It is easy for us to wake up in the West and just assume that the scientific method, elements of empiricism, evidential methods, and what we think of as modern science just being “the way things are.”  It is the air we breathe now after centuries of articulation and education.  But it was not always thus.  What changed?  What happened?  Well, narrative happened.   Murray Jardine, in his book The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society, writes:

Most people have been taught in school that science comes from the Greek philosophers.  In fact, although it is true that the Greek philosophers were the first people to attempt something like science, that is, the systematic understanding of how the material world works, modern historians of science agree that the conceptual basis for modern science comes from the Bible, and that in fact the incorporation of Greek philosophical ideas into Christian theology actually retarded the development of science.

He continues:

It is not just a coincidence, then, that modern inductive, experimental science, and the technological capacities derived from science, developed in the Christian West, not elsewhere.  As a practical matter, the beginnings of modern science developed in the monasteries during the latter part of the Middle Ages, and the history of this development is essentially the story of the monks slowly creating physical concepts, particularly those for describing the motions of bodies, that were compatible with biblical cosmology.

And this:

There is one other crucial implication of the biblical model of reality.  Whereas the ancient pagan cultures saw the world as essentially chaotic, in the biblical view the universe is ordered.

There is a lot more that could be said here and there are tons of books out there now that basically shore up and agree with this understanding of history.  The bottom line is this: Even our view of the physical world and how it works is shaped by a narrative.  The pagan narrative—the story they told of how the world worked—determined that modern science would have been impossible for them.  They could not “see” it.  “Seeing” comes first.  Narrative, the philosophical resources, the theoretical concepts, all have to be in place before we can “see” what is really there and what is true.

So it is easy in 2013 to say, “Well, we all agree upon certain physical brute facts, and the ways of science therefore…”  Pagans had “brute facts” too and so did the rest of the world.  They saw and had before them the same evidence and physical world that everyone did.  However, they did not have the narrative, the story, the world-view, that would allow them to “see” deeper, or a view that would open up new avenues and methods of understanding.  Thus, even our cursory view of empirical facts, science, and those areas are all narrative laden and spring from a narrative.  We think our modern conception of science completely normal, but it’s not normal.  It had to be imagined.  Kuhn made this very clear.  Fundamental changes in science come from “paradigm” changes.  It is not that the “facts” and the “evidence” were new or had changed.  What changed was our way of “seeing.”  Our minds had to change.  Narrative changes minds and it allows us to “see”- not in the sense of something new, but in the sense of learning that the thing was always there, but we couldn’t see it before.

The second issue is the role of interpretation.  It is irrelevant, I think, in a conversation like this one to simply note that there is agreement or a common understanding regarding empirically arrived at matters as if it was a distinction that made a difference.  Of course there is agreement and a common understanding.  Once ensconced within a narrative that allows for repeatability and predictability in nature and after centuries of education and enculturation—why wouldn’t we expect such?  Further, there isn’t a person or culture in the world that goes up to the edge of empirically arrived at information and stops.  No person or culture lives out their lives on a collection of unorganized, unconnected, and meaningless “facts” or empirical findings.  Every area of knowledge has a philosophical component to it (for instance, philosophy of science) that tries to connect the dots and articulate a holistic comprehensive web that makes sense of that area of knowledge.  And all such endeavors are steps beyond simply noting what the “facts” are because “facts” are always interpreted “facts.”   So a supposed distinction here is moot and irrelevant.  No serious person escapes the “But what does it all mean” question.  Even if the answer is, “I don’t know”; or, “We can’t know”; or, “It means nothing,” one is basing those answers on some criteria, some world-view, some bar, or some standard that reveals an underlying world-view.  Even if the answer is, “I don’t know,” a follow up question such as, “What would you need to form an opinion?” and others would reveal an underlying world-view.  Normally, if those are the answers (the above three) one gives, the underlying view is one that is empirical, modern, and secular.  Many, instead of just coming out and admitting this will try and assert some other appeal.  But it is always an appeal to something they feel is more compelling, reasonable, or truer than whatever it is they are critiquing—even if the appeal is to themselves and their own personal whims or tastes.

So to the person who would say, “Well, but there is a difference between the faith that notes the sun will rise tomorrow and the faith that notes God’s existence,” I would say two things:  First, it is not two different types of faith.  It is one faith that sees both (or a faith that sees one and not the other).  Secondly, the difference revolves around categories, the question at issue, and not the faith involved.  We would never approach the different categories the same.  And that we know they are different categories and two different types of questions means we are not surprised if two people can agree the sun is hot but not whether or not God exists.  In fact, we would expect such a state of affairs.  It makes sense.  It is reasonable and logical.  It only becomes an issue if one is already a-priori committed to empiricism.  Then it seems problematic.   Why?  Because it doesn’t conform to an already agreed upon criteria for what can be objective or true.

The third and final issue is the “fact/value” distinction.  I think any attempt to draw a line or distinction between how we know the earth is round and how we know we shouldn’t torture children (or believe in a god), where the clear attempt is to privilege empiricism, is simply to assert, a-priori, a philosophical commitment to philosophical naturalism/materialism (and its hand-maiden epistemology, empiricism) with the usual result of atheism or agnosticism.  If one has already admitted that such a stance is faith-based, then he must admit he simply chooses a view that makes a fact, like “The sun is hot” more true and compelling than a statement like, “we shouldn’t torture children.”  If, again, he has agreed his view is faith-based, he agrees then there is no empirical justification for this view.  If he has not admitted that such a view is faith-based, he then thinks that “science” or the “facts” or the “evidence” somehow support this exclusive view.  Either way, it must depend upon the modern fact/value distinction.  I’m not going to take up this entire post with why or how it has been called into question, but here and here are places where one can explore why the distinction has been called into question and how it, at least at an academic level, no longer holds sway.  Here is also a related link.

In one link, we notice the writer deals with the fact/value distinction or difference between how we approach different questions by speaking of ontological naturalism and methodological naturalism.  He notes the difference here:

A certain methodological naturalism is commonsensical. It wouldn’t be very helpful when making a cup of tea if, when the kettle boiled, we became overly entranced by the mystical wonder of the emission of steam, thinking it was the communication of the spirits of our ancestors. Science must preclude this, and thus it seeks to explain phenomena in purely natural terms. This is eminently sensible – we may expect the farmer to pray to his maker, asking for a good harvest, but we don’t then expect the farmer to put his feet up and leave God to get on with ploughing the fields.

Ontological naturalism goes further…It tells us not only that science must stick to what we take to be natural, but that the natural is all there is – indeed, all there ever could be. [emphasis added]

But it is clear that naturalism is also self-defeating in its slavish following of science and its rejection of all things metaphysical. As E.J. Lowe points out, “without a coherent general concept of the whole of reality, we cannot hope to render compatible the theories and observations of the various different sciences: and providing that conception is not the task of one of those sciences, but rather that of metaphysics.”

Moreover, any arguments given in opposition to metaphysics seem to be employing the very thing that they are denying, for they are inevitably making metaphysical claims. For example, it is self-defeating to assert that philosophy must relinquish its claim to formulate a First Philosophy, and that it should instead be subservient to science, as science allegedly provides the best account of reality. Such an assertion is self-defeating because it is, quite obviously, not a scientific claim but rather a metaphysical one.

I would point out that one should re-read that last paragraph.  Let it sink in.  Mull it over.  To assert that we should withhold our belief, reserve it, or have no opinion, based upon a claim of some advantage to empiricism or that we can move no further beyond truths established empirically, is self-defeating, because such is a metaphysical claim, in and of itself, whether coming from a single person or an entire culture.  To this day, I don’t think Burk or Bernard understand the ramifications of that paragraph.  If they did, they might see the cracks in their own supposed foundations.  And of course, in my opinion, this is why Bernard wants to talk about “tastes” rather than reasons.  Then, when asked about the reasons behind his “tastes”, he has none.  Well of course he doesn’t because he knows he would then be making metaphysical claims–faith based claims I might add.

Related to all these issues is the idea of “convergence.”  In questions of an empirical nature, it is asserted, that because the methodology is set, and because there is an agreed upon criteria, we end of with convergence and agreement (the earth is round) and this must count for some advantage as opposed to how the questions of a metaphysical nature are settled.

I think this line of reasoning fails for two reasons.  First, it is only a problem if one assumes that questions of a physical nature and questions of a metaphysical nature must be settled in the same way.  If one doesn’t recognize philosophical categories or collapses every question into the physical (in other words assumes the material is all there is), then the fact there is convergence in matters of a physical nature and not in matters of a metaphysical nature is not only not a problem, it would be expected.  One cannot help but feel that for those who see it a problem, it is only because it threatens their privileging of empiricism.  Why else is it a problem?  We simply note that we decide questions of a physical nature differently than those of a metaphysical nature and move on.  No problem.

This same issue is addressed in the link on the difference between methodological naturalism and ontological naturalism.  The writer notes:

I’ll explain what I mean. Generally speaking, there are two types of naturalism: methodological and ontological. The former is the approach that science must take when it engages with the universe insofar as it will fail to make any progress unless it brackets the divine. The latter holds that bracketing the divine is not merely methodologically necessary but constitutive of reality as such.

He goes on:

While methodological naturalism issues no philosophical or metaphysical opinion of what exists…

Now his point is not that there isn’t a narrative behind even methodological naturalism (see Jardine again) or that noting the distinction between the two means privileging one over the other.  He is simply noting they are two different areas of enquiry—each has its own place depending upon the type of question (category) involved.  It issues no opinion because it recognizes the very distinction under discussion.

Second, any perceived advantage to the ideal of convergence runs both ways.  If one is going to elevate convergence to some advantage, then what does one do with the fact that historically, from time immemorial, and to the present day, there has been a significant convergence toward belief, theism, religion, and the transcendental.  It has been and is the predominate state of affairs.  Even today, atheism and agnosticism are minority views.  Historically, they are a small blip on the radar screen of history.  There is no wide or significant convergence as to those belief systems.  To assert a convergence defense of empiricism is to cut off the very branch on which one sits.

One final point about the supposed “distinctions” within world-views.  If the distinction is to only note the difference between ontological naturalism and methodological naturalism, then fine, because what it does is preventone from making philosophical category errors.  However, if the distinction is being noted to try and hold on to the fact/value distinction, then one is still trying to protect the “last dogma of empiricism.”   Or if one is noting the distinction to say we should not move beyond what we can’t know empirically, then one is still just privileging empiricism.  Therefore, one is asserting the very issue disputed and thus begging the question.   And let me just point out that this issue of distinctions has not been sidelined, or pushed aside, or not heard in any critiques.  In fact, it has been the very key issue disputed (just discussed under different terms) and dealt with in all these long posts and comment threads.  It has been noted and addressed repeatedly.

Related, I want to address a recent statement in the comment section of another post: “Similarly, should we end up converging on a God solution, such that no alternative seems viable, then in this case the distinction would break down.”

If convergence means a preponderance, or a majority of people, or a consensus, then we already have converged upon a God “solution.”  The convergence is entirely upon the side of belief.  If by convergence we mean 99.9%, then we would never expect this anyway because metaphysical questions, by their very nature and category, are never such that we would ever expect 100% agreement anyway.  Secondly, how would an “alternative” to God exist?  If by the word “God” we are talking about what philosophers, theologians, and orthodox Christians have been referring to for centuries, we are talking about the “necessary” being, the “ground” of all being, the uncaused cause, the reason for everything, the being for which there is no alternative, otherwise whatever “that” alternative was- would be God.  Or, if knowing this, one is then saying the alternative could be no God, thus atheism, then just come out and say it.  Of course it could be an alternative.  So could aliens, and a host of others causes.  So what?  No one has said there couldn’t be other alternatives.  But this certainly isn’t an argument for agnosticism.  And any “alternative” one would suggest would be coming out of a world-view/narrative/faith belief system of some other sort.

One final comment about agnosticism.  The agnostic should ask this question: What would it take for me to believe in God or some transcendental aspect to existence?  The answer will reveal some bar, some criteria, or some standard which will be part of an over-all meta-narrative, world-view, that most of us have agreed are faith-based.  So the reason is always going to be an appeal (by faith) to something the agnostic believes is more certain, true, or reasonable than belief.  In other words, there is no neutrality here.  There is no withholding of belief.  We are all believers in this sense.  There is only belief in another narrative, thus the agnosticism in the first place.  Doubt and Belief are always two sides of the same coin.  Was one born with their agnosticism?  Is it genetic?  No.  It was reasoned to.  It was believed.  It was imagined.  It fits because of a certain story one believes.  And as we hear that story told it certainly sounds like the Enlightenment, Secular, Modern, story.  

I should add that an appeal to some “feeling” that is without reasons is no defense or even an argument.  It is a conversation stopper.  If one’s appeal is to a feeling that even the person asserting has no reasons for, then it isn’t even an argument to himself.  When someone says, “I don’t like broccoli but I can’t really tell you why,” nobody cares and we just offer him something else to eat.  However, when someone says, “I doubt God exists; I just don’t feel good about the idea,” we are struck by how unreasonable the assertion.  After all, in a philosophical discussion, as opposed to a conversation about whether we like broccoli, we expect someone to have reasons for their “feeling” a certain way.  If one has no reasons, then we smile and move on.  There is nothing to talk about.  But the person certainly hasn’t made a case for anything, to anyone, or even to themselves.  They just know they “feel” a certain way.  Okay.  Cheers.

So, I assert again that we all live by faith.  Narrative encompasses all.   To make an argument against this, one would simply be employing another narrative to do so—it is self-defeating.  And once we note that the distinction between methodological naturalism and ontological naturalism does away with privileging one over the other, then the idea of different types of faith and other distinctions melt away.  Thus, I again ask why the opposition to this idea of an equal plane–a common table.  All it does is put us all on equal footing as to the foundations of our respective narratives.  There is no privilege here.  No one gets a space above another.  We are all admitted to the same table.  As we then sit around this table and have a conversation, each one can tell their story.  But to reject the main thesis of this post is really to reject sitting at the same table with those whose stories differ from one’s own.
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112 Responses to What Does Narrative Encompass and Other Questions

  1. JP says:

    Hi Ron,

    What I’m asking, really, is how the mass of empirical knowledge we have accumulated (roundness of the earth and all the rest) fits in the world-view/narrative framework (WVF). I don’t find this very clear.

    Of course, I agree that the shape of the earth is not in question. Nevertheless, it seems that being able to integrate this kind of knowledge into the WVF is a necessary prerequisite to addressing more important issues.

    I think it’s not good enough to put all beliefs down at the same level. In fact, nobody does that. Darrell wrote above we can’t just assume anything. Quite true. But this assumes we have a way to differentiate between beliefs so that we can say, for example, that a worldview that assumes the earth is flat is in error.

    On the other hand, you seem to be saying this cannot be done, which seems a little extreme. See what my difficulty is? How can we reconcile the value of empirical knowledge (that we all seem to accept) with a system that says (apparently) all knowledge (beliefs) stands at the same level?

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  2. Darrell says:

    JP,

    Sorry to jump in here again.

    “On the other hand, you seem to be saying this cannot be done, which seems a little extreme. See what my difficulty is? How can we reconcile the value of empirical knowledge (that we all seem to accept) with a system that says (apparently) all knowledge (beliefs) stands at the same level?”

    The system (which is postmodernism, and is really an anti-system) does not say that “all knowledge” sits on an equal plane. We need to keep in mind the key word “interpretation” here. What we are discussing is this idea: We all see the physical evidence of existence and agree (methodological naturalism) that when the question is how far the sun from the earth is, we don’t ask God, we measure. However, when we begin to ask questions of meaning, purpose, and the “big” questions, philosophical questions, we are interpreting the evidence. And those interpretations are always metaphysical, they are faith-based. It is at that point, the point of interpretation, where we all sit on an equal plane.

    If someone says “Well, I interpret the earth to be flat,” we can say, “Well, you’re talking about something that doesn't fall into the realm of interpretation.” It is a category error. However, if someone says, “We must conclude, based upon all of what we know about the physical existence, the evidence, that there is no God (or there is a God)” then that person is making a faith-claim not an empirical or scientific claim. I admit this up-front. Some do not.

    But is is this distinction we have to keep in mind. Again, it is the distinction between methodological naturalism and ontological naturalism.

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  3. Darrell says:

    Bernard,

    Yes, I see what you mean. The word “reduce” was probably too strong. I should have said something to the effect that just using the word “taste” is a clue, a hint, that you think these questions can be thought of that way. I don’t think they can, for reasons I've already explained. We all have a subjective/emotional component to what we believe. We are either comfortable of uncomfortable on an emotional/conscience level with what we believe. That is to be assumed. It’s a given. But all that still flows from our reasons (part of our world-view) for believing whatever we do in the first place.

    And you actually do have knowledge or are aware of a process that might lead you to truth, whether that is the truth that God does or does not exist. Burk has laid out his modern/scientific/empirical approach and Ron and I have laid out what might be called the postmodern approach. But you have CHOSEN an approach (the standard you have spoken of—your two criteria) that would mean, in all practicality, never taking either of those paths. And that is fine. My only point has been that you have chosen that path by faith. Once we all admit that and sit down at the same table, we could move on to other questions and considerations. Maybe have a beer.

    Was there anything else in my last comment you wished to address?

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  4. Darrell says:

    Sorry JP,

    My statement should have been:

    “We must conclude, based upon all of what we know about physical existence, the evidence, that there is no God (or there is a God)” then that person is making a faith-claim not an empirical or scientific claim. I admit this up-front. Some do not.

    I took the word “the” out from before the word “physical”. Small thing, but I think was confusing before with it there.

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  5. RonH says:

    Hi, Bernard…

    I'm going to attempt this from one more angle, then I'm done.

    Let's use the term “perspective” instead of “worldview” or “narrative”. “Truth” isn't some property of reality; truth is a mental construct and is relative to perspective. “Objective truth” then — if it exists — must be relative to some higher perspective. It is the “god's-eye view”, where “god's-eye” might refer to an actual God, or just a hypothetical “sum total of all possible knowledge”. By definition, none of us have this god's-eye view however. How can we then say anything about it? The answer to that question from the theist is “faith”. One might also say “hope”. It is an assumption.

    Using these definitions if one makes no objective claims, then one is not is not employing faith at all. However, as soon as one makes a claim which is objective (“omniperspectival”) in any way, one has invoked this assumption/faith/hope.

    So, in what sense is “we have no reasonable alternative available than communally established knowledge” an objective claim? Clearly, no theist holds this claim, since a theist posits a God's-eye perspective (by faith). If you're saying that statement is objectively true (i.e. regardless of the theist claim), then you are of necessity doing it “by faith” as well. If you do not posit this to be objectively true, then what you're really saying is “I have no reasonable alternative…”, and that is just part of your perspective. In that case, I'd grant that you are not making a faith claim.

    The thing is, the way your challenge came up in your dialog with Darrell, it sounded to me (and apparently Darrell) that you were making it as an objective claim. If it were a subjective claim, I would expect the dialog to go like this:

    D: We all make faith claims.
    B: That's just your perspective.
    D: No it's not! We really do all make faith claims.
    B: From my perspective, I don't. So, you see, it really is just your perspective.

    And that would have to be the end of it. However, the invocation of your challenge implied some way to adjudicate between your perspectives:

    D: We all make faith claims.
    B: No I don't. Prove it by finding a faith claim I make.
    D: You have a worldview that says only that which is communally established knowledge can reasonably be considered true. That's a faith claim, and furthermore it's one I don't make.
    B: No, that's not a faith claim. It's a hypothesis based on communally established knowledge.

    …and we go on and on. Implying there is some kind of objective adjudication possible here is an invocation of the “god's-eye view”, and thus involves a “faith” claim. Of course, from Darrell's perspective this is precisely evidence of what he's claiming. So you get stuck in a tight-loop: you make a challenge that from your perspective means nothing to you, but from Darrell's perspective is met by the challenge itself.

    Now, I'm game for saying you make no faith claims so long as you do not imply the existence of an objective means for adjudicating between perspectives. We can still talk about science (“I think the earth is round.” “Hey! So do I!”). We can still probe each others' perspectives for logical validity, but that is only productive when done relative to the perspective under scrutiny.

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  6. RonH says:

    Hi, JP…
    I think my above comment to Bernard addresses part of your question. Empirical knowledge that truly is “communally established” will be true from both our perspectives without any appeal to “objective truth”. The Pirahã believe their jungle has always existed. You and I would agree they're wrong about that, although we'd never be able to convince them of it. (Here's a thought experiment: if they were the only sentient beings in the universe, would they still be wrong? Who says?)

    I'm not saying all beliefs stand at the same level. All our perspectives do. Beliefs can be evaluated within the perspective, and determined to be valid/consistent or not. Perspectives themselves can be compared, and even adjusted when we wish. Perspectives can die out. But if we want to make a claim of objectivity on a point, the price for that is faith to establish the “god's-eye view” from which to make the claim. You don't have to claim objectivity for a point everyone agrees on (“hammerblows hurt”, “sex is fun”, “eating is very important”). However, where there is disagreement (and you don't want there to be), some approaches are more effective than others. You can try to use reason to convince the other of your conclusion within their own perspective. You can try to persuade the other to change their perspective (an act of will, not reason). Or you can announce that you have some kind of “god's-eye view” objectivity on the issue — but… well… that's a faith claim. Theists do that of course, but nonbelievers are often just as guilty. But head-butting faith claims is as useless as head-butting perspectives. Where's the fun in that?

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  7. Hi Ron

    Interesting thought. Let me kick the tyres, so to speak. Yes, all claims to truth must be measured against a perspective. I think I would agree with that. This claim itself, however, relies upon a perspective, namely that deductive logic, the sort we attempt to apply in this conversation, is valid.

    The points you make are meaningful only against the standard of reason within which we are operating. So, to make the case you are making implicitly accepts certain standards of reason are in play, and it is against these same standards that I argue that sometimes we know of no reasonable alternative (as in the case of the round earth).

    Now, I don't claim only communally established knowledge can be reasonably considered true, although for some reason this particular view is constantly apportioned to me. Rather, I claim there is a price to be paid for considering narrative-sensitive beliefs to be true, namely that one must reject contradictory narrative sensitive beliefs. Doing this may involve constructing a narrative explaining why one approach leads to truth, while an equally reasonable one doesn't, and I don't know how to construct a narrative of this type that I would find sufficiently satisfying to make committing to the belief worthwhile.

    I wonder, also, if we can say more about objective truth that you allow? Can I not say, for example, that reality is such that model A of reality produces far better predictions than model B? In other words, while we can't describe objective reality, we can describe the way it interacts with/constrains out various beliefs.

    A person might argue, well the statement that this model is the better predictor is itself perspective reliant. But at this point, I offer them a chance to show their own perspective is valid, perhaps by stepping in front of that moving bus. Would you not accept that reality is such that 'stepping in front of a moving bus is going to hurt' is itself our best current approximation of the objective truth of the matter?

    Bernard

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  8. RonH says:

    Hi, Bernard…

    For starters, we can't really talk about “a perspective”, unless you're positing some other perspective about which you have firsthand knowledge. There is only “my perspective” (and yours, which I choose to posit to make the conversation interesting). Now, my perspective happens to include the notion that there is an objective perspective (God's), but of course that's just my perspective. This is a faith claim on my part and has no truth value in your perspective. We're not measuring truth claims against a perspective… Things are true from my perspective. Things are true from your perspective. That's it. Sometimes we both think the same things are true, but epistemologically that means nothing other than we both think they are true from our own perspectives. This is coincidence, not objectivity. If we want objectivity, we have to pay the faith toll…

    What of predictability? Much, in every way. If I find models to be effective predictors of future experience, I consider them true from my perspective. Furthermore, I might even be able to predict that you would find them effective from your perspective as well, if we already both hold other truths. This is the power of science: it is a mechanism by which one can expand one's set of truth propositions based on experiences one hasn't actually had. The Pirahã seem to lack this mechanism — indirect experience carries little value — which is why they have no science. Or history. Or myth. Still, there's no real objectivity here… Just pragmatically “cloned” subjectivity.

    What's the point of all this? Well, to shift the nature of the conversation and to defuse the scapegoating cycle I've mentioned before, and which was described quite well in the paper I referenced above. If we posit true objectivity (as opposed to cloned subjectivity), we do two things: 1) we appeal to faith; 2) we necessarily assume those who do not recognize the objective truth as defective in some way — ignorant, irrational, evil, crazy, etc. The defectives will eventually be scapegoated: “If we could just take care of them, we'd all agree on X and life would be great…” If we acknowledge perspectivism and relinquish objectivity, we lose justification for ruling others to be defective — they can disagree with us significantly, yet remain consistent within their own perspective (trivially so, if they wish). Disagreements become less about power and more about understanding and persuasion. Christians necessarily must claim objectivity, and do so by faith. However, a Christian cannot consistently assume Christianity and engage in scapegoating, since Christ puts an end to it.

    A caveat here is that if you don't want to make a faith claim and posit an objective perspective, it still can be difficult to avoid the appearance of objective claims, language being what it is. Your challenge, for example, sounded to me like an objective claim. If someone hears “I find holding X to be distasteful”, he might well interpret it as “You shouldn't hold X”, since most of us tend to also believe that one shouldn't hold to distasteful ideas. I'm quite willing to admit to misinterpreting, if you are indeed making no objective claims.

    This is, of course, all just my perspective. I find it appealing, and if others do as well, so much the better.

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  9. Hi Ron

    'pragmatically cloned subjectivity' is an interesting phrase. It's not immediately clear to me what you mean. A bus approaches at speed. If we step in front of it, the collision will hurt us. What, to your mind is the status of this belief?

    I can't accept it's purely a matter of perspective. The collision will do its damage irrespective of the perspective of the onlooker. However humble we may wish to be, with respect to our ability to know objective truths, should we not still say that objective reality is such our best current model of it tells us that the collision will damage the human?

    In this way, objective reality appears to constrain our models, such that in some cases we have no choices available. This, I suggest, accounts for what we think of as facts, communally accepted models that have been imposed on us by the tightness of fit between reality and the way we experience it. And the great achievement of science is our ability to collectively extend the range of these best guesses.

    Hence there remains an important distinction between those beliefs where we are sufficiently constrained to call them independent of narrative, and those were our experience of reality allows a range of models to potentially hold.

    And yes, with regard to distaste, I make no objective claims.

    Bernard

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  10. JP says:

    Hi Ron,

    Just to be clear – you do claim there is a fact of the matter about the shape of the earth, or about what happens when you step in front of the speeding bus. I think you've said as much about God (there is or there isn't a God) – so, I guess you would say the same about these more mundane statements.

    Therefore, to this extent, there is some objectivity involved. The earth has a definite shape, whether we can know it or not. What you would claim, presumably, is that there is no objective way of determining what that fact is. The world-view/narrative paradigm at work, so to speak.

    But perhaps, there is a way out. Doesn't the very definition of what we mean by “the earth is round” imply a mechanism for determining whether this is true or not? In fact, is there any practical way of defining “shape of the earth” without implying such a method?

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  11. RonH says:

    Hi, guys…

    I'm going out of town to see family for a few days, so I'll let you have the last word on this one.

    Any kind of belief or truth claim is an artifact of a conscious mind. There's no such thing as “beliefs” or “truths” in the physical world. They only exist in our heads, and as such they only exist within our own perspective. A belief shared across multiple perspectives is just that — shared across perspectives. There's no vantage point from which to call it “objective”… no perspective from which it is always true. Unless you want to posit one, which will be an act of faith.

    I am highly amused that I find myself defending Nietzsche against the unbelievers. Philosophically speaking, I thought this was all a done deal. Ah well. No prophet is without honor except in his own household. If Herr Fred himself cannot convince you, neither can I.

    Cheers…

    Ron

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  12. Hi Ron

    It's not that you've not convinced me, it's just that this observation, that beliefs and truth claims are artifacts of a conscious mind, strikes me as both obvious and of itself, trivial.

    The interesting discussion seems to begin at the point when we ask ourselves whether some truth claims have qualities others don't have. The urge to stop at, well it's all artifacts, welcome to the level playing field, is the aspect of post modernism that has always puzzled me.

    You seem to accept that there is some thing called objective reality about which our conscious minds concoct our guesses and models, our artifacts. Why not then progress to distinguishing between those guesses that stand as the best available (the bus again, can anyone think of an alternative proposition worth taking seriously?), whereby our experience of objective reality constrains us, and those which allow much more room for the human psychology and imagination to express itself?

    Once the distinction is made, we can usefully ask questions regarding how these differences might change the way we approach particular truth claims. Such, it seems to me, is the project many non-theists instinctively attach themselves to. It's a kind of sceptical foundationalism, I suppose, start with that which is commonly established, and see if it can't be used as as stepping stone for the next piece of knowledge (e.g, if we do have the capacity to sense metaphysical truths, then how does this knowledge make it's way into the physical brain? – itself a physical question)

    Bernard

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