October 14, 2013

Objectivity Redux

Our first topic in this series was on the terms "objective" and "subjective". I want to briefly revisit them today, before we continue with "absolute" and "relative". A good philosopher loves to make distinctions, and since these are philosophical terms (at least in part), I feel the need to make one more distinction:

An objective statement is one that is about some object, outside of the speaker. More accurately, its about something outside the speaker's mind. What the speaker thinks about the statement does not change its truth or falsity.

An objectively true statement is everything above--plus its true!

"Huh?" you say.

In the technical sense (the very best kind!), "objective" doesn't say anything about whether something is true. It tells us how we can find out if something is true. Where is the truth hiding: in the thing, or in the person's mind?

Let's say we're debating about God's existence, and I say "God's existence is objective". What am I saying? I'm saying that God is not a matter of opinion. He might exist, he might not, but its not just up to how I feel.

In contrast, if I say "God's existence is objectively true", what am I saying? I'm saying that God exists--it's true whether you like it or not.

The first is a more conservative statement, and that can be a good thing! For one, it's a more likely point of agreement between a believer and a non-believer. You think their opinion about God doesn't make Him not exist. They think your opinion doesn't make Him any more real than believing in Santa Claus does. But you have actually agreed on something! It's a teeny tiny something, but it's there: You've agreed that your opinions don't change the truth about God.

And that's a first step. Its one not everyone's ready to make. If you've ever talked about something that isn't opinion and gotten back "that's just your opinion" or "that's how you feel", you've encountered this.

Up next: "Absolute" and "Relative"

H/T to Christian LeBlanc for some very helpful comments. I was catching up on Fr. Longenecker's podcast "More Christianity"--specifically episode 38--when I came across an interview with Christian. "Now where have I heard that na--HEY!"

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