Saturday, December 14, 2019

Age of Truth

I will admit that I have tired of the phrase "post-truth." In part because I feel that it's become a jab at people's political opposition, but mainly because I think that it distorts, and hides, what is actually happening in modern society.

Depending on how one uses the words, there can be different varieties of "truth." Or, perhaps more precisely, there can be a difference between "truthful" and "factual." For example, one can (over)simplify Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative as stating that it is impermissible to treat other people as merely means to one's own ends. One can understand this to be true, but I submit that, like most philosophical positions, it does not follow from that the Categorical Imperative is factual, in the same way that hydrogen fusion produces helium is factual.

What has lead to what many like to call a "post-truth" society is, as I understand it, an attempt to link truthful and factual in contexts where the two may be better off remaining separate. To the degree that a person's subjective experience of the world is sincere, it may be regarded as truthful, although it would not be factual in the way the hard sciences are regarded as factual. Many people, however, understand their subjective experiences of the world to be the logical result of the objective state of the world, that is to say, based on the facts of the world around them. And this is fine. At least, until we call people on it. Then it becomes difficult, in part because there is an implied, if not explicit, challenge to the person's understanding of the world around them. And if facts are the currency that one must spend in order to be seen as comprehending, then people will do what they need to in order to find them. Releasing people from the need to justify their subjective experience of the world against objective reality, would reduce or remove the drive for them to find facts to buttress their feelings, and this would reduce the conflict with less emotionally-charged information.

While the idea of respecting personal truth is at odds with the idea that there is a single truth, this is because not all truth is itself amenable to a singular definition. Being at peace with that may allow people to be more at peace with one another.

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