February 28, 2012

Thought for 2.28.12

Why is it that some who are most fervent in defense of objective truth seem to adopt positions that are subjective at best and improbable at worst?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

17 comments:

wdg_pgh said...

Perhaps because the basic premise that only objective truth is real is not itself an objective truth.

Bill Ghrist

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

That could be it, Bill... or at least a part of it, relatively speaking ;-)

JCF said...

See re Rick Santorum's "the way things are supposed to be", or his church's (the RCC) "Natural Law".

Mark said...

Could you say that another way, or give an example? Maybe it is the late hour, but I feel like I'm on the verge of understanding... But not quite.

Christopher said...

Because claiming objective truth on our part is to claim a God's-eye view. To claim a God's-eye view is to already admit oneself of heading to megalomania, which is nothing more than the self superbly curved in upon the self, and hence, ueber-subjective.

At best, we can say that truth is inter-subjective, contingent, partial, open to correction and further discovery. Truth in other words is not finally completely graspable even if greatly comprehended.

Even God meets us as Person, meets us through our inter-subjectivity; and Person is irreducible to grasping, so that theological Truth remains at the level of Mystery (not mystification), which is an objectivity that is rooted in the Inter-subjective and Communal.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks all. Mark, I think Christopher explains it best. It goes back to the whole debated between idealism and realism -- hence the hashtag.

While it is fine to affirm that objective truth extists (as reality exists!) to claim full knowledge of it -- as some do -- rejects the limitation of sugjective perception and knowledge, such as St Paul affirmed in the famous passage on "seeing as in a mirror, darkly" -- "our knowledge is partial" in part because we do not have in this life a "God's eye view" -- and only will at the last when what is mortal is taken up to immortality.

I was thinking of Mr. Santorum and fundamentalisms of all sorts. The irony is that they put their greatest trust in things that they believe to be absolute, but which they in fact cannot prove; and they are very doubtful of things about which the evidence is really rather persuasive -- on that count I have in mind Creationists and Climate Change Deniers.

I hasten to add that there are ideologues of the Left as well as the Right, but progressivism by its nature (not liberalism) by virtue of being goal oriented imply an imperfection in the meantime.

Christopher said...

I see it as a deeply conservative outlook on Truth, embodied in statements such as "the Church doth err."

Anonymous said...

Christopher wrote: "To claim a God's-eye view is to already admit oneself of heading to megalomania, which is nothing more than the self superbly curved in upon the self, and hence, ueber-subjective."

Is that statement objectively true?

- H. Cargile

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Christopher. My favorite Anglican aphorism...

H Cargile, I'd have to say not objectively true, but certainly probable. The issue here is the difference between Reality and Knowledge. Reality, shall we say, objectively exists, and statements that reflect that reality are "true." But the statements themselves, deriving as they must from our own perceptions, are necessarily subjective, and perhaps wrong. In short, perception is not reality, and may or may not accurately reflect that reality. Hence we have that asymptotic approach to Truth that Paul seems to affirm in his teaching on the limitedness of human knowledge. God's "knowledge" is of a different order -- if you accept that as a point of argument or thesis, itself unprovable -- and is unmediated, since God is the ground of reality itself. To put oneself in the place of God is a kind of category error. I think that is what Christopher is pointing to.

Anonymous said...

Tobias, thanks for the clarification.

Insofar as "perception is not reality, and may or may not accurately reflect that reality," it is incumbent upon us when making truth claims about God and God's will (and this is especially the case when it comes to claims to truth that have the character of "new" revelation), that we do so in as large and inclusive of a community of interpretation/discernment as possible. We cannot go it alone. And so it is not sufficient to say, "General Convention passed it, so it must be the work of the Holy Spirit."

I'm reminded of a quote attributed to Susan B. Anthony:

"I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires."

- H. Cargile

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, H.C. Hving been a deputy to several General Conventions, and serving as staff at several others, I am among those who is relatively sure that the Holy Spirit is not at work at all times in that conclave --- much as I would hope it were otherwise! The Anthony quote is one of my favorites, and I think any church action should be imbued with the humility to admit to its provisionality, rather than the hubris that asserts infallibility. But of course, that's why I'm an Episcopalian!

That doesn't mean I don't very strongly believe some things to be true -- some of which cannot be proven (such as that Christ is the Son of God and rose victorious over death) -- but I'm happy to say, "I believe this to be true."

Christopher said...

At best, our knowledge is precisely mediated and therefore partial, incomplete, approaching reality, and approximating truth. By mediated, I mean precisely what Fr Tobias notes, "our perceptions," which can be wrong, yes, but can also simply be partial, behold to partiality, and incomplete. That means that even our best true statements would best be framed as theory in the best sense of that term, meaning open to change, development, being proven inadequate, etc. That also means that our best true statements retain mystery. For example, even the best true statements we know about canis lupis familiaris, such as they too have basic emotions, does not mean we know dogs completely, muchless know completely a particular dog. We try by applying what we know about ourselves, but dogginess remains mysterious despite our best knowledge.

I would add that it is precisely because of the compromised and contingent historical nature of Anglican Christianity that a notion of this sort about truth need not terrify Christians. Our contingency is a blessing that at our best helps us avoid absolute claims in favor of best true statements that locate our own contextedness and retain paradox, provisionality, humility, and mystery.

I deeply distrust straightfoward claims re: the Holy Spirit and Church matters. I do believe the Holy Spirit is ever at work among us, and often, that work is picking up the pieces of our mess and sin, and working something new and redemptive nevertheless. To say this is a way of professing trust in the Incarnation.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thank you, Christopher. Very well said.

Erika Baker said...

The difficulty here is that everyone can probably agree with the premise but we differ in its application.

I have been intrigued lately on Thinking Anglicans by an exchange in the comments that consists largely of bible quotes, each person flinging theirs at the other, each thinking they are a perfect example of what they're criticising in the other and never once considering that they might apply to the speaker.

Accepting that we cannot grasp objective truth, our challenge is whether we apply that knowledge to ourselves or whether we use it as a sledgehammer against those who disagree with us.

I believe that to be the true dividing line.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Erika. That was the underlying thought: that those who seem most to value Truth are often those who feel most secure in their possession of it, unwilling to allow any ground of fault to themselves or rightness to those with whom they disagree -- and often with little evidence for their position other than the strength of their conviction. Strength of conviction is not proof of rightness -- it says more about the person than the premise.

Erika Baker said...

The other question, of course, is what we do when we truly believe to be right.

Do we demonise the others and try to impose our rightness on them or do we let them live their own life and convictions even if we don't approve.

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Good question. I think it important not to demonize or seek to control. I think all have the right to testify but only one to prosecute or judge.