Idea of objective truth

Derek asked:

I am 16 years old and teaching myself philosophy. I plan on becoming an cognitive experimental psychologist. I am currently developing my own philosophical thoughts and beliefs. I strongly believe that answering philosophical questions with logically sound, valid and truthful arguments that are without fallacies is most important. I got overwhelmed by attempting to answer a question of mine a few weeks back. Are human beings capable of knowing objective truth through our subjective experiences and if so, how much and what objective truth are we able to know? Any insight that you may have would be very appreciated because I do not even know how to begin to answer the question. I do not even know if it can be answered. Thank you for your time. It is much appreciated.

Answer by Hubertus Fremerey

I would begin with two separations: First the separation of “truth” from “facts”, and the the separation of “sciences” and “humanities”.

A simple fact, a stain of blood, say, will tell you not much. It can be from nosebleed or from a murder case. Thus you need some “theory of a situation” to make sense of the fact.

The facts that led Newton (“the apple”) and Einstein (“the speed of light”) to their pathbreaking theories were banalities in themselves, as much as a common fag that may be the clue for a Sherlock Holmes to solve a case. An oblong small object in the grass can be a little branch or a serpent. One has to find out.

But even if you have got a context that seems to give meaning to your facts, your theory may be wrong or contested and doubtful. Think of Marx: Was he right? Who decides and by what arguments? There may be no final answer. Marx is from the field of humanities. Einstein is from the field of “sciences”. But he too could be wrong.

So even if you have some theory and explanation, you may be wrong and perhaps unable for a long time or forever to decide what to call “true”.

What you do in fact is: Invent models of the situation that seems to make sense to available facts and then check those models against other models that may be as plausible.

The models of Marx and Freud (and many others) are just plausible (while stimulating) suggestions and always doubtful and thus “neither true nor false”.

Here Popper’s concept of “falsification” steps in which requires to find an experimentum crucis that would show your theory to be wrong.

Look up Popper on this, I will not dig into it here. Even this has its shortcomings.

Start reading the entry on “truth” in the IEP and in “SEP”, see https://plato.stanford.edu/ and https://www.iep.utm.edu/

My answer was just a start. I could write many pages now, it is difficult.

The idea of “objective truth” is overall a naive one. To understand that is a first step in the right direction.

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