Paradoxes and Dilemmas

12Jul09

In a recent forum I frequent one poster made these comments about the concept of  “objective truth.”

Here’s a small excerpt from what he says.

The belief that there is no objective truth is a contradiction, it would have to be objectively true that there is no objective truth. So there must be some objective truth. 

I think it’s more like a paradox. Although, there might not be much of a difference. Think about the old scenario about going back in time and preventing your mother and father from getting together. You would never have been born. If not, how could you have ever gone back in time? Our understanding of time and space is limited and our thoughts about it are partial and provisional. Thus, our statements about time and space bring us to a threshold where paradoxes and nonsensical scenarios emerge.

Theoretical physicists have since proposed theories about the nature of time that resolves that dilimma. But before they did, the paradox seemed insurmountable. Enough to send your brain into a spinning, whirring overdrive.

I think a similar phenomenon is true in the case of statements that the positivistic poster made in the above example. What we have is a statement that brings us to the edge of the ability of our human language systems to handle at this point in time. Since thought and language are so tightly interweaved it seems like the thought, “it would have to be objectively true that there is no objective truth. Therefore there must be some objective truth” is unavoidable. It’s tempting to say, “Boy, you got us there!”

But deep inside, doesn’t a warning light start flashing red? Doesn’t an internal clarion start sounding? Statements like this seem like sophistry – a verbal slight of hand, so to speak.

Do statements about something make that something actual? Remember the statement from Anselm’s ontological arugument for god about “god” being “that . . . than which nothing greater can be conceived?”

I believe Anselm and a succession of thinkers who follow in his footsteps went on to say that since actual existence is a thought that is greater than a thought about possible or potential existence, then an actual god must exist in order for us to have the greatest thought. That may be a poor restatement of Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of god, but I have recently seen much worse.

This argument and other agruments like it try to prove something exists from thoughts about the possiblility of existence. Actually, it may be more accurate to say that such attempts try to prove that something exists from statements about the nature of ideas we form as we try to form thoughts about the nature of existence.

Statements that we hope are true or think are true about reality are not the reality themselves. It’s a fallacy to confuse language that attempts to describe and analyze reality with the reality itself. It could be that the language itself is inadequate once you get to the “meta” level of dealing with the universe.

So the better response to statements regarding objectve truth or Anselm’s ontological argument might be to say, “what an interesting paradox!” Perhaps our language and our cognitive abilities are limited at this point. Because, just because what you say about reality is a contradiction does not mean that what you say about reality is not true. If there is no objective truth, then there is no objective truth. It may me that the only objective truth is that all truth besides this observation of truth is relative.

I live in enduring hope that my use of language might be considered creative. But I mean this in the sense of the way in which I choose words and put them together. I never ever expect my language to create reality. This is a thing which logical positivists and others seem to think they can do. I think this is their biggest mistake.

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3 Responses to “Paradoxes and Dilemmas”

  1. This is a great post and I think I certainly agree that human language/communication is certainly a work in progress. And I share your feeling about such verbal slight of hands. As far as language creating reality, I certainly have no clue, but I wonder if you have ever read any Terence Mckenna or listened to his lectures? He has many interesting ideas about language and reality. If you still happen to check in here and have a few moments to spare, you may enjoy cruising youtube and checking out some of his lectures. Here is one among many:

    Take care,

    Jerry

  2. 2 Collin

    The only useful thing about Terence McKenna’s writing is as a study of the effect of narcotics on language ability. This guy is tossing together impressive words seemingly at random.

  3. 3 Collin

    P.S. Don’t be fooled by the math. It’s just defining a shape. Fractal geometry can define an amazing variety of shapes, textures, and patterns. If someone makes a fractal that looks like a kumquat, and publishes the formulas in an essay titled “Life”, does that mean that life is a kumquat?


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