OK, so I finally got out of the house and tried to go talk to human beings in person (I work from home … long hours). Naturally, I started it easy by going to a meetup of the “Socrates Cafe” group, and the topic was “Is it possible to have philosophical inquiry without positing absolutes?”, and a corollary of “If philosophical inquiry incorporates absolutes, how is it different from religion?”. Yeah, my head is still swimming …
A nice fellow, Andy, ran the meeting since the organizer, John, wasn’t able to make it, and I think he did a pretty good job of balancing passionate and interesting speech with the point were it becomes soap boxing. The format of the meeting follows the Socratic method which has both advantages and disadvantages. I’m not sure what the ideal group size is, but it seemed that our group was perhaps a person or three too big, as it took a long time to get around the circle. Also, not knowing the other players, it made it difficult for me to select the victim for my question and follow-up, so I picked on the topic presenter (who I also sorta know since he’s my father 🙂 ).
Since the topic was a good philosophical topic, i.e. dealing in the definitions of “absolute” and the belief in “absolute”, it naturally lead to a lot of semi-off topic or tangential or just completely “what??” questions and answers. But that in itself was interesting in the manner that each person interpreted the topic and how that shaped their questions and answers.
One gentleman certainly sounded like he wanted everyone to believe that he was very smart, and spouted chapter and verse of the classic philosophers (Plato, et al), but I never did figure out what *he* thought or believed. Perhaps, he believes that what he thinks they said that is right is absolutely right, and he is smart enough to know which parts of their dissertations were right and which were not. I couldn’t tell for sure, but he certainly sounded confident that he was absolutely right. I will concede that he was extremely passionate and excited about hearing himself educate us, but he talked so fast that I had to concentrate to keep tuned in.
Anyway, this brings me to the term “absolute” and its variants. It was part of the core of the conversation. I commented that I found the term “absolute truth” odd since “truth” should be “true”, so the “absolute” part is basically redundant, no? Do we consider that “truth” has degrees to it, and at which point is the “truth” “close enough” to be considered “true” or “absolute”?
Pondering this, it made me consider the following:
The gap between what we believe is “truth” or “fact” and what actually *is* the (absolute?) truth or fact defines our level of uncertainty. As, in many cases, we may never know if we have determined the truth in its finality (i.e. “absolute”), however we may *believe* we have gotten “close enough” to consider something the truth or a fact.
That gap is significant.
In fact, I would propose considering referring to that gap as “faith” (not necessarily religious based). As that gap becomes smaller, the leap-of-faith to consider the “fact” as “truth” becomes easier to swallow, but still, to accept the “fact” as “absolute truth” requires accepting it based on all of its current merits (proofs, probability, sensory confirmation, etc) as well as some amount of “gut”. As Stephen Colbert points out, never let facts get in the way of the truth. 🙂
Consider the situation where the gap between belief in a truth and its absolute version is larger. For example, I believe that electrons flow through the power lines and make my electrical devices function. However, I’ve yet to *see* an electron move, much less even feel them shuffling their way through my power cord. I can remember some of my electrical theory and that fosters this belief that I have in the “truth” that electrons flow through a seemingly solid copper wire and make stuff go. But since *I* cannot prove what is precisely happening to the extent that it is an “absolute” truth, I have a component of “faith” that fills in the gaps in my direct knowledge. This is necessary to support my belief that the proposition that electrons flow through the copper wire and make things go is “true”. We have plenty of evidence that this is true (hey, my monitor *is* lit up, and if I lick the power cord, I get a nice ZAP!), but we also had a lot of evidence that the world is _FLAT_ — we no longer believe in that “truth”, however.
Taken to the extreme, we have “truths” that are based more on faith than discernible “facts”. As I understand my father’s definition of religion, a religious truth is something you *know* to be true, in spite of a potential lack of perceivable evidence (for or against is insignificant). To me, this is the ultimate “gap filler” for a “truth”, and may be the only way that one can fully believe a “fact” to be the “absolute truth”, as I fully believe that all things we consider a “truth” have some component of faith within their proof.
And that’s the Absolute Truth!