Off The Mishnory Road: Absolutes

I’ve long held the belief that any man who’s willing to assert the absolute truth of even one statement must eventually accept that every well-formed statement – i.e., a statement that either posits a fact or a causal mechanism — is either absolutely true or absolutely false, men’s contrary opinions notwithstanding. The concept behind that assertion is, of course, that there is such a thing as absolute truth – objective reality itself – which makes my notion quasi-tautological. For all that, note how few persons are willing to contradict the anti-objectivity propagandists of our time. That latter sort is permitted to gambol about screaming that “There are no absolutes!” virtually without contradiction – not even a murmur of “Including that one?”

Note how this applies to argument. This significant episode related by Mike Adams:

When I asked another feminist to debate me on abortion she said that she didn’t discuss such personal topics publicly. But then I read her biography. After talking about losing her virginity (including details about how she cleaned the blood off the couch afterwards) she dedicated countless pages to the issue of abortion and how a “lack of choice” adversely affects young women. After reading on, I realized why she didn’t tell me the truth. She revealed that she was a postmodernist who didn’t like to use the word “truth.”

The next time I got into an argument with a feminist – over whether a female student who lied about a rape to get out of a test should be expelled – I understood the postmodern feminist position better. Feminists just can’t help but lie because there really is no such thing as the truth.

Since so many feminists cannot tell the truth – because it doesn’t even really exist – I simply cannot take them seriously.

Columnist Maggie Gallagher once wrote that if there is no such thing as objective, absolute truth, then all our statements to one another are merely instruments of manipulation, attempts to use one another, or to avoid being used. Apply that insight to Mike Adams’s encounter related above, and ponder the implications.

A couple of recent political polls have presented the reader with an intriguing question: “Among the following issues in current political discourse, which would be your ‘hill to die on?’” To select any of the subsequent choices – or an issue not listed – would imply that the reader holds that position as “a matter of principle,” not to be compromised at any price. But given how few persons grasp the meaning of principle, we might prefer a clearer statement: “My position on this issue is absolutely right; therefore, I cannot be persuaded to retreat from it.”

In that connection, have a favorite quote from Herbert Spencer:

I asked one of the members of Parliament whether a majority of the House could legitimize murder. He said no. I asked him whether it could sanctify robbery. He thought not. But I could not make him see that if murder and robbery are intrinsically wrong, and not to be made right by the decisions of statesmen, then similarly all actions must be either right or wrong, apart from the authority of the law; and that if the right and wrong of the law are not in harmony with this intrinsic right and wrong, the law itself is criminal.

…and a snippet from 1984:

The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command. His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with which any Party intellectual would overthrow him in debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change. Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall towards the earth’s centre. With the feeling that he was speaking to O’Brien, and also that he was setting forth an important axiom, he wrote:

Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.

If Spencer and Orwell were correct, then our adversaries’ entire campaign consists of the assertion that two plus two can be made not to make four by political decree. Ponder the implications of that.

There is an underlying objective reality. All the froth and gas about the irremediable uncertainty of human knowledge is merely an attempt to confuse the issue: to substitute human limitations for that metaphysical postulate. While we can never achieve absolute precision in our knowledge of reality, we can approach it asymptotically. The Principle of Correspondence, the very heart of theoretical physics, expresses that postulate as well as it can be expressed.

Consider also the Aristotelian approach to definition: the assignment of objects to categories on the basis of their shared properties. No other approach to definition makes abstraction, and therefore reasoning, possible – and it rests immovably upon the assumption that an object’s properties are objectively real rather than mere matters of opinion.

It is possible that objective reality has a dynamic aspect – i.e., that some or all of the laws of nature change over time, albeit very slowly. Indeed, modern cosmology is founded on that conjecture. However, whatever reality is at a given instant is what it is. Quoth Star in Robert A. Heinlein’s Glory Road:

“May it please milord hero, the world is not what we wish it to be. It is what it is. No, I have over-assumed. Perhaps it is indeed what we wish it to be. Either way, it is what it is. Le voila! Behold it, self-demonstrating. Das Ding an Sich. Bite it. It is. Ai-je raison? Do I speak truly?”

Either that truism is true beyond the possibility of refutation, or there’s no point in saying anything at all.

One point of these “Off The Mishnory Road” pieces is to deflect current conversation from politics, a realm in which “everybody’s got a right to an opinion,” to the bedrock upon which all argument must be based, political argument most emphatically included. Given that, this essay should be considered the prerequisite to all the others. It’s rather a pity that that didn’t occur to me up front, but here we are.

In effect, I want us to be equipped to make the following statement to a political opponent:

“Regardless of how passionately attached we are to our respective positions, we can’t evade this: one of us is right and the other is wrong. We have to have some criteria to determine which is which, if our politics is to be beneficial rather than harmful. What criteria should we use? In other words, what evidence would persuade you to reconsider your position, and what evidence would persuade me to reconsider mine?”

Evidence – facts – data from objective reality – is the only means by which any position can be verified or falsified. He who is not prepared to accept the possibility that data might exist that contradict his position has elevated it to an article of faith…and you know it’s useless to argue matters of faith.

More anon.