Wednesday, April 06, 2005


I just read an interesting post on the navigation between realism (objectivism) and relativism/nihilism on DuckRabbit. It inspired me to offer my brief take on these issues below.

Human beings have evolved as natural systems embedded in the larger network which is the world. Our view of the world is a view from the inside. There can be no strictly objective truth as if from a standpoint outside the world. Insistence on such a standard leads to confusion. However, our participation in the world's activity provides a solid ground for knowledge and for value. We are not separate from the world, our experience is directly of the world. There is no basis for nihilism.

Also, there is no basis for extreme forms of relativism: human beings are extremely homogeneous with regard to their biology, and their position in space and time. There is therefore an underlying inter-subjective truth we share with one another. Science is based on a methodology constructed to reach this authentic intersubjective agreement. In other spheres of life, like the moral, it is much more complex and difficult, but there is no reason we can't have increasing success as our global culture evolves.


Illusive Mind said...

I agree that commonalities that exist at a biological level go a long way to explain the ostensibly object truths that philosophers come to reify in a very anthropocentric way. I argue for this conclusion in Evolution, Altruism and Ethics.

However I think it is strange that you conclude because of these commonalties we can infer an “inter-subjective truth” that refutes extreme relativism and nihilism. Conversely, I think that the evolutionary biological perspective on human nature and cognition compels one to view the figments of human thinking as wholly arbitrary and brings us no closer to a nihilistic refuting truth than any of the theories that have preceded it. Of course I don’t think the refutation is at all necessary.

Steve said...

Thank. I will be checking out what you have to say on the subject.
One quick thought: "wholly arbitrary" doesn't seem right to me. I believe our status as natural entities linked (however idiosyncratically) to the whole of the world gives us an authentic grounding for to work from.

Illusive Mind said...

I agree, I wish I had another word to describe the specific sense in which I'm using 'arbitrary'.

Arbitrary because if the world was different our behaviours would be too. An cognitivist would have to deny this could be the case because moral truths are objective.

Anonymous said...

given that psychoactive drugs and psychotic disorders can make us believe in a reality, or a belief in something, how do we know there is a reality? how do we know that we are not just a consciousness existing in something we know nothing about?

Steve said...

Hi Anon. Thanks for commenting. We can't absolutely refute that kind of deep skepticism. But there's no good reason to endorse it either, and it doesn't get us anywhere.