A Note on Holding Truth in Common

You will often hear people say things like: "What is true for you may not be true for me". What they mean to imply is that there is no single truth that we hold in common. Just as beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder, so is truth. This is called Subjectivism.

But it is not possible to maintain this position consistently, and just a bit of reflection will show why this is the case. All you have to do is ask the subjectivist (i.e., the one who holds that there is no common or universal truth) the reasons for which he asserts that there is no universal truth, only individual perspectives equally valid or "true". He will either sit there, silent, with a smile on his face, or he will provide you with the reasons for his position. The problem is that when he begins providing you with "the reasons" for his position, he begins sharing "truths" with you, or what he holds to be "truths" that he clearly believes you hold in common with him.

In other words, he begins to establish premises that he holds to be true for you as well as for himself. Now the only reason any of us establish premises is to eventually draw a conclusion. For example, if we lay down the premise that "All men are equal" as well as the premise that "John and Trevor are both men", we can conclude that "John and Trevor are equal". The conclusion "John and Trevor are equal" is a single and universal truth only on condition that our premises are true and our reasoning is valid.

And so the instant the subjectivist begins to offer any kind of rational basis for his position, he reveals then and there that he indeed holds for the existence of a body of truths that human beings can and do hold in common.

Note too the irrationality and self-refuting nature of the subjectivist's entire reasoning process. He begins to provide reasons for holding that there is no common truth and in doing so he establishes premises that he regards as valid for both of you, in order to eventually deny the existence of a single common truth -- except perhaps the truth that "there is no common truth". If his conclusion is correct, then the premises he used to establish it are false. But if his premises are false, then he cannot validly establish that there is no common truth. The situation can be compared to a person who gets into a boat, rows out into the water and announces to those on the shore that boats do not exist. If boats do not exist, then he'd have been unable to row out into the water to make his announcement to all who are on the shore.

Moreover, it is obvious to everyone that there are many truths we hold in common that even subjectivists cannot deny. For example, it is true that we have ideas in common; it is true that we can communicate those ideas; it is true that we can disagree; it is true that truth is worth knowing and worth trying to communicate; it is true that I can know something other than myself; it is true that you can know something other than yourself, otherwise I wouldn't bother trying to communicate with you, and if I affirm that I could be wrong about something, then I affirm that it is true that I can be mistaken; and if it is true that I can be mistaken, then I also imply that it is true that I am not the measure of what is true, and that there is something outside of me that is the measure of what is true, and that I ought to conform to that measure.

Also, to be able to see or understand that there is no common or universal truth implies the intellectual ability to grasp what is common and what is not common. In other words, it requires the ability to grasp universals, for I can't deny what I cannot grasp. If the subjectivist can grasp universals, then he grasps universal truths.

Also, to be able to understand that there is no common or universal truth also implies the ability to" step outside myself" so to speak. In other words, I am able to know something other than myself. The subjectivist at least believes that he can see into your reality, enough to "know" that you and he do not hold any truth in common. He also presupposes that you can do the same, for he is telling you that there is no common truth. Hence, he expects you to understand that. If he is completely locked inside himself, if he has no contact with that which is outside of him, then he cannot affirm or deny that there are truths that we all hold in common.

But the subjectivist would not go this far. He believes that he can know something outside of himself, and if he attempts to communicate what he discovers to others, he seems to believe that others have the same ability, otherwise they couldn't begin to understand him (at the most they would only be able to know themselves). For if I communicate something to you, I imply that I at least believe that we have some abilities in common. For we are able to commun / icate, enter into communion, enter into a common arena, so to speak. We have a lot in common, which is why we can communicate, and which is why the subjectivist tries to communicate what he regards as important to know (namely, that there is no common or universal truth). And yet it is true that we have "common ground" on which to communicate. We have this common ability to "exit ourselves" and know something other than ourselves. The subjectivist can know something about you, and he seems to believe that what he knows about you is that you and he cannot hold truth in common. If he knows that, then what he knows about you is not merely an opinion, but something true -- and true for both of you.

No matter how we come at this problem, denying universal truth is entirely self-refuting.

Next Page: Chapter 04: The First Three Self-Evident Principles
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