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Truth and Post-Modernism

Waiting for my dentist, I picked up a magazine titled Truth. Its writers are pictured in the magazine – kind and decent looking men. One of the lines, by T Sean Sullivan, reads:

It is pretty clear that the masses are seeking, as best, "situational-truth" and definitely have a love for "flexible-truth" (as if such could exist).

Mr Sullivan complains of people having "drifted from things being 'right' or 'wrong'." He writes:

We have a desire to see right or wrong being dependent on the "who" or "what" and mostly on the "why." In this emotional slide away from absolute truth, as a culture we have departed from truth's true essence – we have left truth behind.

Truth's true essence? I don't need the redundancy. I know what he means, and turning pages I find another writer, Chris Reeves, criticizing post-modernism, which he describes as a way of looking at truth that began around 1960. He writes: "Post-modernism is a belief that one cannot be certain about things (truths, realities)." He adds:

The post-modernist can be found using a number of catchwords like "subjective," "individual worldview," "pluralistic," "relative," "truth construct," "tolerance," and "choice" ... The problem with the post-modernist is that he doesn't play by his own rules. He is illogical and guilty of practicing the very thing he condemns. For example, he says "There is no absolute truth," but then he wants that statement itself to be absolute.

As one of the errant masses, and as one described as a post-modernist, I must say these writers – who are claiming to be possessors of the truth – are mischaracterizing my opinions.

Foremost, rather than seeing all values as relative to something or other, a foremost idea among post-modernists, which was given impetus in response to the Second World War, is that individuals are responsible for what they do – none of this I'm just a sinner, I'm just human or I was just following orders nonsense.

As for truth and subjectivity. I believe in facts. I can agree with someone that something is black or something is white – or red. And if one is color blind he can be truthful and tell us he sees gray rather then what we call red, without denying that we are seeing what we describe as red. What we see as color is subjective, but I also believe the empirical fact that some people are taller than others. I believe in standardized measuring and don't consider the result flexible truth, whether it is in inches or centimeters.

As for my wanting Chris Reeves to accept what I'm writing here as "absolute truth." All I would like from him is to consider my words. It's up to him to organize and evaluate those words. I accept that others have to interpret what I say. I can deliver to his senses various words, but I can't put into his mind any truth that by-passes his ability to interpret.

As for "choice" as a "catchword," I am with those who write of the significance of choice in our lives. We choose what to believe, and we choose between alternatives available to us. Our choice doesn't change what is outside our head as to fact: black remains black and white remains white. But choice is significant in social matters and politics. We shouldn't confuse or blur the epistemological and the political. In politics we have a choice between extremes in sharing and individualism. We measure, and in choosing we make compromises, giving something up a little here in order to gain a little there. We do things for ourselves and we share, we like to be with others and to be apart from others, and we can make these decisions without compromising on facts.

Regarding truth and epistemology, I look around for someone whose way of thinking I agree with and who doesn't fit the complaint made by the writers of Truth magazine. The philosopher-scientist Sanda Mitchell qualifies. She writes of focusing on context-dependent realities that are complex rather than simplistic reductionisms. I challenge Chris Reeves to find anything relativistic in connecting points of reality to the context in which those points exist.

It appears that what the writers of Truth magazine are referring to as truth are the utterances of ancient priest-writers filled with the hearsay and stories of their time. In contrast, my attempt at truth is an awareness from sense-experience, including that put into books, and, I hope, free of assumption.

As for dislike by Reeves for the words pluralism and tolerance, I wonder whether he prefers the totalitarianism of Plato or Stalin. The Soviet Union's Communist Party named their newspaper "truth" (Pravda). Their paper was pushing the government's ideological position and a political cause rather than presenting views for consideration and debate. The writers I've quoted here from their magazine called Truth are journalists similar in style. They might accuse those of us who dislike this style as being relativistic, but I submit that relativism has little to do with it. Some of us just prefer presentations that are offerings of discourse rather than immodest declaration.

PS, July 1:

I just read "Why I am Not a Postmodernist," by Edward R Friedlander, MD. He writes:

Real postmodernism is a thoughtful study of the limits of scientific inquiry, the origins and perpetuation of unreasonable prejudices, and the ambiguities of language. Even though I am not a professional philosopher, I appreciate real postmodernism as far as I'm able to understand it.

He then describes what passes for post-modernism that he doesn't like. I sympathize with his view. I haven't read a lot by those who call themselves postmodern. Camus in 1945 rejected ideological associations: "No," he said, "I am not an existentialist." (Les Nouvelles litteraires, 15 November 1945). Labels can be useful tools, but they can be overused by eager people. "Postmodern" is too abstract and vague for my liking. Viewed collectively it can be too much of a blur. I'm not as impressed as some are with the exactitude of divisions created by historians. Call me modern if you like: that I surely am. Or call me post-modern. But I like specificity, and I take stands on specific issues.

Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.