Re: Postmodernism and Truth (was Re: virus: Simulacrum)

Bill Godby (
Mon, 20 May 1996 22:40:01 -0400

At 03:54 PM 5/20/96 -0600, David McFadzean wrote:

>Everyday you rely on deduction to get through life too. Often unconsciously:
>"IF I step into the path of the car THEN I will probably regret that
>decision in a big way, THEREFORE I will remain on the curb until it passes."
>I have no idea where you got the idea that deductive arguments say nothing
>about the real world.

Unfortunately your example is an inductive one. By entering the word
probably, you have entered into the realm of probabilities, which is what
induction is all about.

Deduction is reasoning from a general truth to a particulars instance of
that truth, i.e. all humans are mortal, Bill is a human, Bill is mortal. The
process of making explicit the logical implications of statements or
premises. The process of inference from statements (premises) in which a
necessarily true conclusion is arrived at by rules of logic.

Induction is reasoning from a part of a whole, from particular individuals
to universals. Reaching a conclusion about all (or many) members of a class
from statements describing only some of them. Example: All observed x's have
had the characteristic y, therefore all x's are y's.

Here's a valid deductive argument.

If all cars are made of soft squishy stuff,
Then cars hitting people won't hurt them,
Therefore, if I step into the path of a car
Then I won't get hurt

The above is a logical proof, using deductive reasoning, yet it obviously is
worthless for applicable knowledge.

However lets look at an inductive example.

I have observed a car hitting people,
The person was injured
If I get hit by a car
(probably) I will get injured

This type of knowledge is what I'm referring to. To what degree of certainty
can you base your decision throughout the day? If any decision you make
involves any possibility of negation then it is based upon induction. This
is why abstract logical statements are deductive, they don't allow that
possibility, 2+2 is always 4. But is the sun always going to come up? Not
necessarily, but we assume that it will.

>>You are defending some type of objective truth aren't you? If so then you
>>are saying something to the contrary.
>I said:
>1. Objective truth exists.
>2. Individuals and cultures have a dynamic description of objective truth.

What is a dynamic description?

>Where is the conflict?
>To put it in concrete terms for illustrative purposes:
>1. There is some fact of the matter about the origin of humans.
>2. Cultures create narratives to explain the origins of humans, all with
> varying degrees of accuracy (relative to the objective truth mentioned
> in (1). From gods moulding the first couple out of clay, to the garden
> of Eden story, and now the theory of evolution.

Cultures do not necessarily create narratives about their origins with the
intent of "accuracy". The theory of evolution is not a metaphorical model,
it is a scientific model. It is a mistake (which Judeo-Christianity makes)
to interpret mythology as intending any type of accuracy.

>I see you focussing on point #2 above as if it was some argument against
>point #1. I don't see any conflict so I guess you're going to have to
>spell it out for me.

There may indeed exist scientific facts regarding the origin of humans,
however I steadfastly believe that scientific knowledge is subject to
revision and change, "some fact of the matter" doesn't constitute very much
in the way of objective truth.
>Logical positivism claims there exists an objective truth, and further that
>false statements are meaningless.

The issue transcends false statements, it is the issue of interpretation and
meaning, this is why logical positivism has been show to be very problematic.

>Postmodernism claims that truth is a cultural construct and there is only
>subjective truth.

I'd like to emphasize that subjective truth is not individual truth, that
everyone has their own. The idea is that knowledge systems are culturally
constructed within a set of historical and social circumstances. The issue
of objectivity and subjectivity comes into play when these systems are
confronted and contrasted to others, ala multiculturalism. The dynamic is
such that the whole issue of truth and belief is called into question.

>My synthesis claims that there is an objective truth, but our descriptions
>of it can only approximate it due to limitations of narrative. Our ideas
>about what constitutes the truth evolve over time, they can't be 100% true
>but they aren't meaningless either. Both LP and PoMo have right elements
>which I've identified and combined into the synthesis.

You may very well be correct regarding the limitations of narrative. I
certainly believe that there are things about life which cannot be put into
words and perhaps these are the things that are objective truths. The
experience of being human, feeling love, happiness, sadness, epiphany,
wonder, etc. There is no doubt that even with all the cultural difference we
are all still human and the equipment we all come with works the same way.

>I'm in no way suggesting a divine truth but I am suggesting the existence
>of a reality outside the mind.

>Ideas about truth and reality are in the mind. Truth and reality are external.
>E.g. the idea of "elephant" is in the mind, but that doesn't mean that there
>are no elephants independent of minds. Maybe someone else can explain it
>I can't think of a way to put it more simply than that.

Now I feel like I'm getting an idea of what the trouble is here. I'm not
suggesting that there only exists ideas. There certainly exist things
independent of us, elephants, etc. However, the issue is how much are we
able to know about these things, and the degree of truth that can be
constructed from what we observe. As I pointed out earlier, following Hegel,
we never get to know the "things in themselves", whatever they are, it seems
that you believe this as well. I wouldn't for a minute support any argument
that there is nothing outside of our minds, that is a very useless path to
follow, one that Hume eventually confronted. My real interest, the interest
for becoming part of this discussion list, is cognitive science and issues
about understanding the mind. For me this illuminates my quest in
anthropology. In this journey I have discovered that for me to assume a
position of objectivity, once thought to be necessary to study other
cultures, is a grave mistake, one that is presumptuous and arrogant. I
accept that I can never know what it is like to be a member of another
culture. I can only approximate that knowledge. This is the practical
reality of my theory and one that I accept and work with. As I said the
"truths" that may be discovered regarding cognitive science may be very
useful in universal applications for understanding human behavior, but there
still remains the application of the information by humans and the
interpretation of the evidence by the humans. That's all for know.
Bill Godby