- Consultation Knowledge

Reconciling Relativism and Truth

Like all false dichotomies, an approach to knowledge that is either absolutist or relativist is not helpful nor enlightening in efforts to generate and apply knowledge towards the building of a just and prosperous world civilization. A few previous posts have given ways to conceptualize knowledge that demonstrates that a belief in the foundational nature of truth is compatible with a recognition of the relativity of truth.

  1. Truth claims are relative to the diverse perspectives of different facets of the same object of study (reality). Consultation is the method by which human beings collectively advance understandings of our one, interconnected, reality.
  2. Collective understanding of objective truth advances over time – as unity is built, as consultation is employed, as insights from religion and science (humanity’s two systems of knowledge and practice) become more accurate, as vision is sharpened, as methods and approaches are more attuned. Thus, current claims about foundational truth are relative to time and degree of understanding.
  3. Certain foundational truths have a relative latency, in that they are manifest over time either through natural processes or over time through human effort. At any given point, a foundational truth might be less manifest than at a later point, and is thus relatively latent.
  4. Some social realities are built upon foundational truths that are latent relative to human will, and therefore, embody this foundational truth to relative degree. The issue of human rights is a great example: The nobility of man is a foundational truth of reality, which is embodied in some legal and political systems to a relatively higher degree than others. At any given moment, one can claim a system of human rights to be embodying an objective truth to a relative degree.

In the end, this approach to knowledge is an assumption that cannot be empirically validated.  It can be only operationalized; and the fruits it yields over time will be its proof.

Do you prefer this approach to knowledge over the ones currently crippling our academic, economic, medical, legal, and political systems?

How does this understanding of knowledge help free us to generate and apply knowledge towards human betterment?


Socially Constructed Foundational Truth

- 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?


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?