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Is there an absolute truth?

  1. Aug 5, 2004 #1
    Is there an absolute truth??

    I was having a discussion with a friend a few days ago about the validity of absolute truth. She said that in many philosophy classes, it is taught that there is no aboslute truth. She believed the contrary was true, and based her argument on the following illustration (and for the heck of it, I'll just type our conversation):
    My Friend: "What color is this wall?"
    (the wall would normally be considered white)
    my friend continues: "I believe it is white. Do you agree?"

    me: "Yes. But how do I know the white you see is the same as the white I see? How do I know the white you see is not the equivalent of something I would percieve to be red?"

    My friend: "How do you think we would be sure? I think we should go ask the maker of the paint"

    me: "Ah, but my argument still holds for anyone. What if the maker is color blind? What if he IS blind?"

    my friend: "well, we will have to bow to the creator of the paint. He should know what it is he created."

    Me: "I think you misunderstand. The idea that there is no absolute truth is based on another idea: that there are various perspectives of one thing. There is no absolute certainty of one person's being more right than another. If it were taken as litrally as you have, then there would be no logical system in which to come up with the notion of truth in the first place...The universe has its own logical system of things, and those things have truth in them. On the other hand, we can say truth is defined by a particular logical system."

    Am I right? I really want to understand this subject, if I have come to misunderstand it.

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 5, 2004 #2
    It makes sense, but do you want only to be right? Even if being right meant less understanding of the subject?
  4. Aug 6, 2004 #3
    Nay, I want not to only be right; I would also like to understand the subject. I am really glad what I said made sense...I really wasn't sure.
  5. Aug 6, 2004 #4


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    This was a good discussion. Basing truth on the nature of the universe independent of our perceptions is good, although you get a pretty narrow truth that way. There are problems with getting morality out of "brute nature".

    Similarly the truth defined by logical systems is problematic. Some would say they have no truth in them at all, just self consistency. That in the end they boil down to a = a, a tautology.
  6. Aug 6, 2004 #5
    I basically like your argument. Is it true? What might such a question mean? Is it convincing to your friend? Perhaps that is your goal.

    Here is a conversation that I just had with myself:

    What color is this wall?

    It is white.

    What is white?

    White is the English label for the perception of a certain portion of the continuum of visible light.

    How broad is this portion of the spectrum?

    That depends on the perceiver. It depends on the physical attributes of the perceiver, which are basically similar across English speakers; it is based on the cultural attributes of the perceiver, and on the precision and distinctions in describing shades of color; and it depends on the interest of the perceiver in the conversation, and the precision or sloppiness of the response.

    Perhaps we should ask the maker of the paint.

    Why? You asked me what color the paint is. What bearing on my opinion should the opinion of a stranger possess?

    This is not opinion. There is an absolute truth, and I seek it by discovering the objectively true color of this wall.

    This conversation has lasted quite a long time. Now, it is beginning to get dark. Look, the color of the wall has changed.

    How can the color of the wall change?

    The wall does not contain color. The wall emits light. My eyes receive the light. The color exists in my brain and in my perception of the light. My mind does not interact with the wall, but only with light from the wall. What does it mean to ask the color of the wall, since my eyes do not interact with it directly. Perhaps you meant to ask what is my perception of the color of the light that enables my mind to interact with the wall. My perception is affected by my mind, making it subjective, and by the medium through which the light passes, making it less than absolute.

    Perhaps there is no absolute truth.

    My opinion exactly.
  7. Aug 6, 2004 #6
    Is reality itself, whether we are fully capable of discerning what that means or not, absolute?
  8. Aug 6, 2004 #7
    the only absolute truth is that there ain't no absolute truth.

    ABSOLUTE - ly,
    olde drunk
  9. Aug 6, 2004 #8
    Or, perhaps it's just our perception which is not absolute? Otherwise what are perceiving? Absolutely something? Or, absolutely nothing? :smile: So yes, the absolute truth of reality (whether obtainable or not) does exist.
  10. Aug 6, 2004 #9
    I don't find either of these questions as demonstrating anything in terms of a conclusion.

    So, I am at a loss as to how you can therefore draw this conclusion on the basis of asking two questions.
  11. Aug 6, 2004 #10
    The fact that something exists, states that it exists absolutely. The fact that nothing exists, states that it doesn't exist absolutely. So yes, there is absolute truth relative to either statement. Ever stop to consider that everything is relative to the absoluteness of the whole? If so, wouldn't we also find absolute truth in that sense as well?
  12. Aug 6, 2004 #11
    I see. It must be that I do not understand what you mean when you say that something exists absolutely. You must have a meaning different from mine.

    Would you provide an example of something that exists absolutely, and provide a reasoning as to what it is about your example that is absolute.
  13. Aug 7, 2004 #12
    Your computer won't run without electricity.
  14. Aug 7, 2004 #13
    LOL! Maybe someday they'll make a computer that doesn't need to be plugged in -- but how far off would that be?

    I guess you can get into all sorts of interesting wordplay and semantics puzzles, but I'm not sure what the point of that is. As fine as we'd like to define words, they are kinda like those yellow Lego blocks... rough and quantized, no matter how far the size. Or the pixels of finite resolution on the computer screen. The same words mean different things to different people.

    For example, if I shout out "DOG!", each of us is going to have a different visual image come first into our mind before cycling onwards. If one of us actually has a dog as a companion animal, that dog may be pictured first. If we watch Lassie a lot, that may be the likely first choice pictured.

    And soforth. It's an interesting thing to discuss but I personally am of the belief that humans are full of contradictions. I've come to embrace these relatively absolute personally universal truths ;)

  15. Aug 9, 2004 #14

    I agree with you on that. After reading your posts, it occured to me that, most if not all logical systems are identified by human perception, which is also based on a logical system. Does our perception influence our judgement in identifying independent logical systems? How do we know that non-Euclidean geometry is really non-Euclidean? Our minds, our thought processes are governed by the laws we are trying to classify. How do we know those laws are not effecting our way of thought in such a way that we end up deducing something as a result of a cause and effect sequence in our brain that doesn't neccesarily have to do with what we're studying?How do we know If the universe is a single logical system, then all its counterparts must essentially be based on the same logic, right?

    Solar powered computers don't need to be plugged in. Of course, that would depend on your precise notion of "plug in"....

    Well, obviously there cannot be "absolutely nothing". It wouldn't make sense in the first place. Why? Because something cannot be in a state of non-existence, because for it to be in a state of non-exitence it would have to exist in the first place. Iaachus was merely pointing out that existence is absolute. It's opposite doesn't exist :smile:
    I typed my last sentence "It's opposite doesn't exist " to make a sarcastic joke, but I couldn't help but notice the contradictions it implies. Note that I said "something cannot be" above. IOW, I said something can cannot be which is still not logically sound. Seriously, the fact that it is impossible for something to not not exist makes it possible for it to not exist, right?? :rofl:

    Interesting!! :eek: If our minds work according to defined physical law, then why would there be contradictions?
    I will guess: 1.) The laws of complexity, entropy
  16. Aug 9, 2004 #15
    Truth is a matter of linguistics, and it doesn't make sense to argue that it may not exist in an absolute sense. Two people can only agree on a proposition if both think it is true; if true propositions did not exist communication would be impossible, as we would spend all our time talking nonsense. The fact that we can, to some extent, successfully communicate with other people necessarily means truth exists in an absolute sense.

    The truth of a statement such as "that wall is white" is not as difficult to assert as some people think, because the truth about it has little to do with anyone's subjective perception. In fact, the word "white" does not convey anyone's perception of a certain color, but simply the thing we all perceive in common amongst all objects we call "white". So what makes the wall "white" is not anyone's subjective sensation of color, but the common agreement amonst all speakers that we are all going to call that sensation "white" without worrying about what it really feels like. Whether "white" looks "pink" to you or me is completely beside the point.
  17. Aug 9, 2004 #16
    And of course our perception does not change the fact of "what is."
  18. Aug 9, 2004 #17
    Of course not. If it did, then "what is" would not be...
  19. Aug 10, 2004 #18
    What is the purpose of linguistics? To describe something. Here, I am trying to understand the demensions of an absolute truth.

    They think it is true. That does not mean what they speak of is true. It was once devoutly thought that disease was caused by demons and other supernatural causes. That is obviously not true. Truth exist, whether or not it is identified.

    It is highly subjective. It is not considered to be, but with careful analysis it is perfectly possible that it is indeed subjective. An example would be a color blind person. The color we percieve to be white could be the same as the color they percieve to be red, but with the same name. To some people, (even those who are not color blind) a color may look more orange than pink. I suppose my example (of using color) is not a very good one. Here's a better one:
    I think chocolate icecream is better than vanilla icecream. On the contrary, my sister believes vanilla is the best flavor. Who is right??
  20. Aug 10, 2004 #19
    I suppose you'd accept as absolutely true that you do prefer chocolate over vanilla. And if I see you eating chocolate far more often that you eat vanilla, then I can also accept it as absolutely true.

    Is there anything wrong there?
  21. Aug 10, 2004 #20
    Absolutely. How often, on a daily basis, when you consider that something is true, do you contemplate whether or not that truth is an abolute truth?
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