Truth and the Clash of Civilizations

I read this article about the real problem inherent in philosophical discourse today. It’s not western vs. eastern world civilization nor political right vs. political left. No, the clash is between “pragmatic relativism and dogmatic certainty.” Julian Bagginni writes,

How did we get to this dismal Hobson’s choice? (link mine) The finger of blame has to be pointed largely at academics and intellectuals who have been so keen to debunk popular notions of truth that they have created a culture in which the middle ground between shoulder-shrugging relativism and dogmatic fundamentalism has been vacated…

Consider, for instance, how what passes for common sense about morality has been turned on its head. For millennia, most people believed that right was right and wrong was wrong, and that was all there was to it. Now, university lecturers report that their fresh-faced new students take it as obvious that there is no such thing as “the truth” and that morality is relative. In educated circles at least, only the naive believe in objectivity. What was shocking when Nietzsche first proclaimed it at the end of the 19th century became platitudinous by the start of the 21st…

Bagginni makes excellent points about how things are not always “relative” when it comes to truth, and that there can be “right” and “wrong” as a standard for everyone if we just relieve it of the language of certain schools of philosophy and place it back in the scientific camp. The problem is when those in academia redefined the term “truth” to mean whoever holds the power. While power IS a good indication that we should begin questioning the “truth” offered to us by those in power, it is not good to redefine those concrete things that we know for sure because of research, science, etc. simply because there is a power behind it. Bagginni writes,

Ironically, like many left-leaning intellectuals, Rorty thinks that denying objectivity and truth is politically important, as a way of liberating people from the ways of seeing the world promoted as the Truth by the powerful. However, it turns out that Rorty and his ilk seriously misjudged what happens if intellectuals deny truth stridently and frequently enough. Far from making liberal openness more attractive, such denials actually make it appear empty, repugnant and weak compared to the crystalline clarity and certainty of dogma.

And that, folks, is what most people want and are comfortable with; certainty in an uncertain world. I know that’s what I want. I believe this is why we turn to religious rituals and infallible scriptures and all powerful gods, because we feel so helpless in the face of events spiraling out of our control. However, we go down the wrong path when we dogmatize the undogmatizable and make “truth” out of something that was never intended to be absolute to begin with. We also go down the wrong path when we question the facts that science provides and then choose to mistrust those facts in the pursuit of faith. Faith has its place, it just hasn’t learned to stay in it.


2 thoughts on “Truth and the Clash of Civilizations

  1. Very good article. It is true, people reach for what makes them feel comfortable, even though what they find may fly in the face of fact.
    It is important to be open to all of the possibilities, to explore our beliefs to the point where we can find a knowing.

  2. tobeme,
    I wonder why so many are closed to exploring their beliefs. Are they afraid of the unknown? I could never understand what the harm is in looking. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

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