Time for a philosophy lesson! I know the seven people who read this blog – hey Mom! – are all really big on epistemology and have just been dying for me to give my thoughts on Truth. Well fear not, because I have listened.
The basic premise that I think bears discussing is how we as humans, voters, and teachers think about the objectivity of truth. We’re in an age now where many young people are questioning whether there is anything that can be considered objective truth. Is there anything we can know for certain, or can everything boil down to opinion?
Obviously, we know there are certain objective facts like the boiling point of water or the healing properties of a well-timed poop joke, but what about the bigger questions of life? Questions like: are there aliens, is there a God, will this blog site ever stick to a consistent and interesting theme? That’s what I want to talk about, and until I use up all my free space on wordpress, there’s nothing you can do about it.
First things first, let’s define “truth.” Basically there are two types of truth:
Objective: Inherent to the object.
Subjective: Inherent to the subject or just based on the subject’s perception.
This is something most of us learn in school. Objective basically applies to things like facts and subjective usually lets you have an opinion on the subject. Whether the grass is green is objective, whether I enjoy eating it or not is subjective.
In addition to these two sides of truth, we can add two other qualifications:
Known: We know it.
Unknown: We don’t know it.
Straightforward? Maybe. But it’ll make more sense in a minute. Now, given those parameters, we can make a handy punnet square of truth. It’s like third grade science all over again, but instead of figuring out eye color, we’re going to solve the big questions in life.
Now let’s fill those boxes in.
Known/Objective = Facts. This is stuff like grass is green, 2+2 = 4 etc. It’s a truth inherent to the world that we have learned over time. While these may change as we learn stuff, they aren’t something we usually argue with too much until something new comes along to disprove it.
Known/Subjective = Opinions. This is stuff like your favorite color, dessert, place to weep openly after losing a game of Madden. Opinions are inarguable. You can’t claim somebody’s subjective opinion is wrong. It makes no sense. You can change your own opinion if you like, but that’s ultimately your issue.
Unknown/Subjective = N/A. This cannot exist. A person can’t have an opinion or attitude towards something they’ve never experienced or don’t even know about. This is like if I asked you which of my Mom’s pies is your favorite. You can’t answer because you’ve never experienced them. You either have an opinion on something you’ve experienced or know about, or you don’t. You can’t arbitrarily decide opinions on things you aren’t aware of.
Unknown/Objective = Belief/Theory/Faith. This is basically where I want to get to with the argument. With unknown objective truths there is an absolute answer, but we just don’t know it yet. Maybe we will never know. For example, whether God exists, whether aliens exist, whether the earth will explode in six years, whether AI will ever become sentient, are all questions that have an answer. These are not opinions.
If aliens decide to arrive guns blazing and blow up the whole planet tomorrow, they won’t do so only with people that “believe” in them. They’ll kill everybody. Similarly, if God exists, He’s likely not exclusively worried with people that believe in Him or not. Same with AI, same with Earth exploding. There is an answer, but we just don’t know it.
So, great. What the heck do we do with that? Well, it’s important to realize that the big questions in life need to be addressed. It’s not enough to simply claim these questions don’t apply to us. They’re just people’s opinions or whatever.
For example, one of those big questions is morality or what right or wrong is.
Say, I’m sitting in a chair, and then I get up to make some food. I come back and you’ve taken my chair. “Get the hell out,” I say. “I called dibs.” You calmly respond with, “Your dibs are negated after five minutes, ya ponce.” We proceed to argue. The thing is, by having this argument, we’re both agreeing there actually is a right answer in the Universe to the all-important question of who should be allowed to sit in the chair.
Somewhere in the cosmos, it is written about how dibs on chairs work. Otherwise, what are we even arguing about? If there isn’t a right answer, then we have no basis on which to communicate. If it’s simply a matter of “opinion” then there’s no way we can convince each other. Opinions are subjective and can’t be argued about. Clearly, we both see dibs as an objective truth.
We’re both appealing to our interpretation of Morality with a big “m”, but neither of us know the full answer. But we both should strive to get as close as we can. It’s not a matter of opinion, it’s a matter of belief. Which is to say we can be wrong.
Opinions are inarguable. Beliefs are not. They can and should be challenged, and that needs to be okay. Republicans and Democrats don’t have different opinions on how the government should deal with the poor. Both parties genuinely agree that there is a correct answer that works better than others. Naturally, there’s one way that should work better within the fabric of the universe we’re in. Politicians should discuss and seek answers to what that may be so we may strive ever closer to the correct answer even if we never nail it perfectly.
The worst thing we can do is just let important questions pass us by without considering them. Big questions matter.