Categories
- Consultation Knowledge

Consultation and Objectivism / Relativism

Previous posts’ discussion on the concept of consultation shed some initial light on transcending the false dichotomy between objectivisim and relativism. Some knowledge has a foundational basis, that has an existence beyond the human mind, and through consultation, we can become increasingly attuned with these truths. However, our understanding will always be relative and incomplete at any given time and with any given group. The object of human study – reality – is complex and multifaceted, and every individual has a limited comprehension and perspective. Thus, the validity of a truth-claim put forth by one group of individuals is relative to the diverse perspectives from which each views the same foundational truth – and with this understanding, one can claim that all truth-claims have equal validity, for they are all relative.

However, to transcend the dichotomy implies that we must become more and more attuned to the actual truth. This necessitates methods of investigating reality that distinguish more attuned truth-claims from mistaken ones; more holistic truth-claims from non-coherent ones; deeper truth-claims from superficial ones. The goal is the process of validating, deepening, and integrating understandings of our one, interconnected, reality.

One such method is consultation. And one significant prerequisite, already discussed in connection with creating a culture of learning, is a posture of humility.

What are your thoughts? With your friends and co-workers, what methods of knowledge-generation do you see that moves beyond objectivism and relativism?

Categories
Knowledge

Beyond Objectivism and Relativism

The history of epistemology and society’s current views of knowledge have been and are plagued by a perennial and pervasive false dichotomy: tension between objectivism and relativism.  That is to say, people in every sphere of social life divide themselves artificially into two camps: one which believes that knowledge is foundational, unchanging, and absolute; and the other which believes that knowledge is socially constructed, changing, and contextual.

Those who align themselves with objectivism often come across as dogmatic, rigid, and formulaic.  They believe that truth exists in reality, that human knowledge directly corresponds to this truth, that the world can be comprehensively known; they believe in the system, and they want to make sure others do things the way they do.

Those who align themselves with relativism often come across as evasive, flighty, and scattered.  They believe that human knowledge is socially constructed and has no connection with any underlying truth in reality (if there is any), that this knowledge is a function of self-interested power struggles, that the world cannot be thoroughly known; they oppose or want to dismantle the system, and they want everyone to do things their own way.

Both of these descriptions evoke images of Republicans or Democrats, western doctors or eastern herbalists, religiosity or secularism, but the fact is that people don’t come packaged as either/or’s.  We have the capacity to think about the world in both it’s objectivity and its relativity.  Some aspects of reality are more or less objective, and others are more or less relative.  In order to see the world as it is, we can adjust our mode of thinking to match the type of knowledge we seek to gain.  For instance, many aspects of the natural world are objective.  Many aspects of human psychology are relative.  What is important is to employ the mode of thinking which harmonizes closest with what we’re observing and what we’re trying to accomplish – mathematical analysis may call for a more objectivist perspective and the creation of art may call for a more relativist perspective, though they each have aspects of both.  By employing both perspectives appropriately, we can transcend the polarity in thinking that leads to intractable conflict and seek a middle path which is not a political compromise, but rather attuned with the nature of reality.

Do you find it useful to think of some things more objectively and other things more relatively?  How can we protect against merely shifting our analysis when it’s convenient?  How should we hold each other to account on the one hand, and create space for unique expression, on the other?