National Association of Christian Ministers Summary Series: Theology
By Michael Mooney, NACM Exec. Elder
“What’s true for me may not be true for you…” Really? Possibly?
Upon hearing such a thing, it may seem like this is a good explanation for why people believe different things, and a great attitude to hold to enjoy peaceful interpersonal human relations. However, upon greater consideration this statement begins to reveal major inconsistencies.
- For example, what if I decide that gravity is true for most people, but not for me, and proceed to jump from a roof? I would soon discover that I am subjected to the truth of the existence of gravity no matter how much I deny it. Anyone who would deny this and choose to jump from a roof would likely cause us to question their sanity. Why? The answer seems to be because many humans in the world would claim the denial of gravity on our planet to be inconsistent with their experiences with reality.
What are the implications here?
We can identify at least 3:
- 1) Reality is a concept which people claim exists, and that they are able to identify their experiences with it through one or more of their five senses (seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling).
- 2) Based upon perceived favorable and unfavorable outcomes associated with these experiences, people tend to form absolutes, probabilities, and heuristics.
Absolutes are things that seem unwavering and always consistent with the same outcomes.
Probabilities are things that may or may not occur in cause/effect relationships.
Heuristics are mental shortcuts to making decisions based upon previous experiences.
- 3) In any given sequence of events, desirable and undesirable outcomes exist. Perspectives of that which is “right” are based upon the desires held by people anticipating and or experiencing them. For these reasons, people have all sorts of ideas about the definition of truth.
Therefore; if we are to categorize truth, there seems to be at least two standards: objective and subjective truth.
- Objective truth suggests that such exists apart from human experiences, observations, or definitions. In other words, objective truth stands alone as true reality, without the distortions of human biases and perceptions of its meaning (Objective, 2006).
- Subjective truth suggests that truth is defined by norms, and therefore is subject to our experiential interpretations of its meaning, along with our assessments of personal values (Truth, 2007). It is uniquely individual in its scope; thereby, making it cognitively and privately observed. In this vein, it may be described or shared with others, but it remains as experientially biased information that is not objectively observable and therefore unknowable by others (Subjective, 2009).
- Whether Objective or Subjective, truth can only be understood through the filters of the 5 human senses, previous experiences, and the acceptance of absolutes, probabilities, and heuristics.
“It seems clear that truth is not defined as either/or…”
Following this reasoning it seems clear that truth is not defined as either objective or subjective, but rather it is categorized as at the least one of these. To force truth into an all-encompassing either/or position is a straight path to the fallacy of a false dilemma.
Consider the analogy of someone who decides to jump from a roof:
Gravity is a good example of objective truth. It applies to all humans and is observable by the 5 senses.
Our opinions about people who jump from roofs are subjective truth. The opinions may or may not be accurate, but the existences of those opinions are subjective truth. If people say they feel sad when they see people jump from roofs, this is indeed a subjective truth.
Therefore, we conclude that truth exists in both objective and subjective forms.
What are the implications here?
Despite the contrasts of these two categories, it seems that the elements of objective and subjective observations are inseparable.
Objective truth can only exist as an ideal in the minds of humans. All information that becomes thoughts are forced through filters of experiential knowledge. Without experiences, there are no bases upon which to anchor information, or to define reality.
Humans experience the world through themselves as individuals. They are unable to experience the world through other beings. For this reason, they are unable to observe objective reality by any other means than an ideal that it exist within processes of reasoning.
Therefore, from a human standpoint, objective truth exists as a matter of subjective understanding.
Right and Wrong?
Wherever objective reality exists, there is a necessity to categorize things into “right” and “wrong.” When humans attempt to do this without an objective standard, such cauterizations become the subject of “ethics.”
At the core of all ethical conduct is the notion of human “responsibility.”
Herein is a major problem. Objectivity does exist as an ideal. Yet, the only way that humans seem to be able to affirm its existence is through majority consensus. That is to say that the majority of a population agrees upon a shared experiential observation using the 5 senses. This approach is logically fallacious because it assumes truth is identified by a majority –argumentum ad populum (Informal fallacy, 1999).
This brings us full circle again to the circumstances that truth is something that must be accepted by faith, with all the possibilities of deception. If objective reality exists beyond an ideal, it follows that it is held accountable by one who is objective. Such said existence must not be limited by the constraints of humanity. Such an existence must be divine.
So Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him, “If you live by what I say, you are truly my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Joh 8:31-32).
- Informal fallacy. (1999). In The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy.
- National Association of Christian Ministers, Official Blog: The Ministry Practitioner (2012).
- In Collins Dictionary of Sociology. (2010).
- In Encyclopedia of American Studies. (2006).
- In Philosophy of Science A-Z. (2007).
- Subjective. (2009). In The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology.