In an article published in The Bad Influence in Medium, Alexander Bird asks, “Who Is Responsible For The absence of Absolute Truth In Modern Days?” (sic). In answer, he writes, “Because of Kurt Gödel, Nietzsche, and Spinoza.”
In a Response I wrote the following:
“I would say that the emergence of “relativism” (as used in this article) is the acknowledgment of the reality of human existence: ultimately, people have the capacity to accept as truth and knowledge whatever they choose. Personality, theology, and ideology have been vehicles for asserting authority over people’s minds. Some say science is an example of such authoritarianism, but I disagree with that proposition — though people do have the capacity to accept or reject even the findings of science.
How can people co-exist in societies in the face of the Truth that all (further) truth and knowledge is a matter of personal preference? How can we solve problems related to a social existence in the face of that level of individuality? Given that we have never in the history of our existence been anything but social beings, how can we even continue to exist as a species? Those are things we are about to start learning.”
Here, I want to elaborate somewhat on those thoughts.
The absolute Truth is that there is no absolute truth. That assertion is not self-contradictory. It is a reality of human existence: to assert the contrary is to verify its validity.
There is another Truth related to human existence, one that involves the issue of interactions among people. It resolves the ultimate dilemma we face: i.e., how society can continue to exist — which requires solving societal problems (problems that involve all members of society because they pertain to society as an entity)—given that ultimate individuality we share.
Here it is: human beings have no choice but effect choices (i.e., choose among perceived alternatives and take action to bring that choice to fruition). It applies to all individual human beings and to all societies of human beings as entities in themselves. To utter a denial of that condition of human existence is to effect a choice.
To speak of “interactions among people” is to raise the issue of ethics. Heretofore, ethics have been matters of morality. All morality is a matter of beliefs.
Beliefs are assertions of truths that are transcendent with respect to material existence. All beliefs refer to something outside or beyond that existence. That’s what makes them “beliefs.” There is, therefore, no possible way to ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ any belief by reference to anything within material existence.
Beliefs do not have to be sacral. Secular beliefs exist. One example is a belief in the existence of a priori Rights, such as “Natural Rights,” Rights that are said to have been ‘discovered’ to accrue to human beings as such (as opposed to ‘communal’ rights, such as political rights, that are recognized to have arisen out of the existence of societies). Another example of a secular belief is a belief in human moral equality. Both of those beliefs have been said to be found in religion, but religion is not at all necessary to those beliefs: an atheist can believe in either or both.
Now, an ethic is a rule governing human conduct. As such, that word is value-neutral. Any such rule is an ethic: a rule that says ‘anything goes’ is an ethic.
That particular ethic is incompatible with the existence of a society. A society concurrently provides protections for and imposes obligations upon the members of the society.
A society can have protections and obligations that are asymmetrical: this and that person or group has protections and/or obligations that are different from other members of society. In fact, that has been the case with every society that has ever existed in the history of civilization, at least. So the question that has existed for at least as long as civilization has been in existence is, what are we to make of those asymmetries?
Historically, beliefs have been used to explain/justify/perpetuate/attack them. Science— whether ‘physical’ or ‘social’ — has come down on all sides of that question. The realization that in the end the knowledge needed to answer that question is a matter of personal inclination only makes arriving at an answer to that question for any society as a unit more difficult.
It seems reasonable to say that ‘social justice’ means ameliorating those asymmetries. The problem then is to reconcile ameliorating those asymmetries within an acknowledgement of our radical individuality regarding knowledge, definitely including knowledge of ‘justice’.
For a starting point, there is a fundamental difference between knowledge pertaining to material existence and beliefs. (The former includes, but is not limited to science as a formal approach to obtaining knowledge.) Both have a potential for universality: all people could accept any any assertion of knowledge of material existence or any belief. At the same time, any person has the capacity to deny acknowledgement to either form of knowledge. The former does have, however, an element of commonality that the latter lacks. If two or more people share a belief, for each of them the acceptance of that belief is not the result of a commonality, but the initiation of a commonality; shared knowledge of material existence is, on the other hand, a result of a common experience of that existence. [In accepting such knowledge that is beyond our own experience we are not sharing a common personal experience of material existence, but we are acknowledging its potential material commonality if we had the same material circumstances: place, time, resources, etc.]
Beliefs are always (except under conditions of coercion or manipulation) voluntary: we choose to accept a belief or not (whether coming from another person or being something emanating from within one’s own internality), but that can only be an internal’, purely ‘subjective’ process. Knowledge pertaining to material existence is perceived as being ‘external’, as coming ‘from outside’, as being in that sense imposed upon us.
Of course, I can only attest to all of that as being my experience of my existence. Whatever applies to me, however, in that context can apply to everyone who has the same experience of existence.
So one assertion of knowledge pertaining to material existence is the proposition that human beings have no choice but to effect choices. That is an observation with direct, profound implications for the existence of societies of human beings.
That human beings have no choice but to effect choices makes choosing integral to being human. To take from another person that capacity is to render that person less than fully human. There can be no justification for such conduct. [Circumstances can impose that kind of relationship between individuals in various ways, but that is a result of circumstances, not one person initiating such conduct of that person’s own volition; any such circumstances must always be subject to (ongoing) scrutiny and the limited power bestowed by them must be scrupulously acknowledged.]
So that observation yields an ethic: all people must at all times respect all other people’s capacity to choose for themselves. We can call that mutual respect in effecting choices. We can call that rule of conduct the ethic of justice.
A society governed by that ethic would have the maximum liberty that co-existing people can share simultaneously. It would have a democratic political process. The economy would have three conditions of justice: freedom for individuals to choose for themselves how and to what extent to participate in the economy, the existence of a democratically distributed income, and the absence of economic exploitation; the more of those conditions that are met, the more just an economy will be.