Since I’ve been on the road for the past week and a half, I’ve sporadically followed the comments surrounding my last post, but never really had the time to respond. It seems to me they eventually went slightly off track and came perilously close to ending up in a ditch. Since I was unable to participate in-utero, as it were, I will not go back and try to address each comment or thread.
However, it seemed to go off the rails right after this exchange and thus this exchange never resolved or was addressed completely and I think it important enough to bring up one more time:
I gave you the context in the example. What is unclear about the background context and the exchange between Betty and her biological mother?It seems to fit in with the very example you gave of the truths we learn from literature. Do you mean to say as you read the story, or if Betty were to relay this story to you herself, you would see no difference of significance in Betty’s assertion that her biological mother is not her “true” mother? You would understand them to be equally what? People emoting?Would you say to Betty, “I think your biological mother’s claim is as significant as your counter-claim…”?”
I’m not understanding the way you’re using significant or true in this context. Sorry. Totally lost. Probably my fault. If anyone can shed light, I’m all ears.”
What’s interesting about Bernard’s response is that I was using the very word (“significant”) he had already used in describing Betty’s counter-assertion over and against her biological mother’s assertion.
“I say it’s more significant to Betty, because this is how she reports it…” (-Bernard)
And my response was, but is it more significant to “you”?—meaning, do you agree with Betty’s reporting that being a mother is more than just mere biology. Bernard’s response was that neither Betty’s nor the biological mother’s assertion were more significant to him than the other’s.
When I then asked Bernard if he would tell Betty such, he responded he wasn’t sure how I was “using significant or true in this context.” What? The word “significant” came from him. ???
However, Bernard knew from the context that Betty thought her assertion was more significant. So I find this very interesting. That would seem to indicate the context was understood. After all, I gave the context for the exchange between Betty and her biological mother. Here it is again:
Suppose the natural biological mother of Betty was very cruel to her growing up, she beat her, barely fed her, and one day abandoned her. Betty is eventually adopted. She is raised from there on in a loving home by loving parents. She grows up a very happy girl and graduates High School—and is now preparing for college. One day Betty’s biological mother sees Betty on the street, and is told who she is, the girl she gave up. She runs up to her. She says, “Betty, it’s me, your mother.” Betty just stares at her. The woman says, “I’m a little light on money right now, could you spare a little, you know, for your mother?” Betty reaches into her purse, pulls out some money, hands it to her, and says, “You are not my mother—my mother is home—I’m going to go see her now,” and she walks away.
What is not clear about this context? I wasn’t talking about all possible contexts in all possible universes, so I was taken aback a little when some suggested they weren’t sure of the context. I narrate the context–otherwise their dialogue wouldn’t even make sense. So asserting the “context” issue as a way of not really answering the question (which is the truer or more meaningful statement) didn’t make sense to me. It appeared to be a dodge really. Or, perhaps I am the one lost here and simply missing everyone’s point.
However, I do know the point I was trying to make. My point for all this was to suggest that we all know there are different types of “truth.” There is the “truth” that the sun is hot and there is the “truth” that being a mother is more than mere biology or the strictly empirical grounds for being a mother that all could agree to (biology, DNA, genes) objectively and scientifically. For instance, some cultures may view motherhood differently after the bearing and delivery of the child, but all could agree upon who the biological mother was. We have been told we should “restrict” our views to just this sort of common consensus and not go beyond that boundary.
As we think about those differences within this story about Betty, we all know her assertion that this woman is not her mother is the “truer” more meaningful and significant counter-assertion over and against her biological mother’s assertion that she is Betty’s “mother.” We all can see that. Given the context, there isn’t a person reading this blog who would take up the biological mother’s side in this exchange. No one would argue her point or think her assertion of motherhood to have more “weight” than Betty’s—and anyone seriously attempting to do so would be dismissed as, at the very least, quite odd if not cold and uncaring. Only a socially/ethically stunted person would defend the biological mother’s view (“I am your mother”) in the context of this exchange and background.
Thus, we know that empirical “truth” as a comprehensive and exclusive way of knowing is incomplete. It is partial. It is a surface reading and can hardly capture the “truth” of existence or of an encounter/event like the one between Betty and her biological mother. I think this is what Bernard was getting at with his example of the truths from literature, and I agree completely. Therefore, one should never found a narrative or world-view exclusively upon a strict empiricism. It should be an aspect to a narrative, but it would be unwise, to say the least, to “restrict” one’s view to the purely empirical and not consider these other types of truth. Notice that the Judeo-Christian narrative accommodates both types of truth—while a strict empiricism can only accommodate one type (the sun is hot), which means it has to exclude or ignore the other type (“You are not my mother.”) and the narratives from which they arise. This is another way we can evaluate narratives. Which can accommodate both types of truth? Clearly the one that makes room for both is the wiser choice and the one, I believe, we can say is “truer.”
Another interesting development was that some suggested that both mothers (biological and adoptive) were Betty’s “empirical” mothers, so “what’s the problem,” they seemed to say. Well, I was hoping that someone would try and make that point, but let me back up a little first. It has constantly been asserted on this blog that “empirical” be limited to those facts and evidence that all can objectively agree upon. In my posts on consequences, I suggested that we should consider the “empirical” results or consequences of what happens when cultures believe and act upon a narrative as a clue or pointer regarding its truthfulness. If we can consider the “empirical” results of Betty’s adoptive mother’s love and caring for her as also revealing “truth” and being “empirical” then we should be able to do the same for the consequences of narratives and call it “empirical” evidence as well. In other words, if we are expanding what “empirical” usually implies or means, then it helps my point regarding the consequences of narratives and their pointing toward the truth just as the adoptive mother’s actions (consequences) pointed toward the truth of who the “real” mother was.
Also, a thought regarding this matter of different types of “truth.” The question the strict naturalist defaults to is, “But does this “truth” correspond to some objective outward truth about reality or does it correspond to something only subjectively true that is inner and personal to each person?”
First, if we agree that this “truth”, whether one wants to call it poetic or artistic is more meaningful, significant, and “truer” than what can be captured by the strictly empirical then what it corresponds to is the reality of recognizing that very difference. I will take “more significant and meaningful” over “true” any day of the week. In reality though, we equate them to be the same and they should be. It is this very difference that conditions the way we understand the empirical facts. How could one “truth” be false but at the same time more important, significant, and meaningful than some other “truth”? That doesn’t make any sense to me, nor, I think, to most as they go about living their daily lives.
What matters is we recognize that one interpretation (Betty’s) of the “facts” or state of affairs is truer and more significant than the other (the biological mother’s) interpretation. Secondly, the question simply reveals the underlying hidden presupposition of a fact/value distinction, which is question-begging because that is the very distinction disputed. The answer to the naturalist’s question is that it doesn’t have to be either/or (the trap of all fundamentalism). A truth can be subjectively felt and personal while also corresponding to an objective outward reality that others are also able to recognize. To claim otherwise is simply to presuppose all such claims or “truths” have to or must be of psychological/cultural origins exclusively.
Finally, a nod to Ron and a “thank you” for a good laugh. With some frustration he noted that to believe what Burk, Bernard, and JP were telling him he would be forced to stake out three different options for himself, all of which were negative and rather insulting. He chose what he thought was the most acceptable and least insulting of the three. He did this of course with the ironic view that such is what one must do when following the logic of his interlocutors, some of whom are quite vocal in telling us how much they dislike intolerance and privileging. Somehow this dislike translates into “As long as you agree with me that you are irrational, I will accept and tolerate you.” Wow. Nice. One could almost feel the polite pat on Ron’s head.
But what was worth the price of admission was then hearing the same interlocutors extending their glad tidings or even congratulations he had made his peace with the fact he is irrational. I’m glad that was settled and I’m sure Ron is too. Just like with AA, the resolution comes from admitting up front what one is. “Hello, my name is Ron and I am an irrational person.” He is on his way to healing now. God speed.