Saturday, January 07, 2017

There's No Such Thing as "True for You, but False for Me"

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Monroe County Community College

I begin another semester of teaching Logic at Monroe County Community College. The text I am using is Lewis Vaughn's The Power of Critical Thinking: Effective Reasoning About Ordinary and Extraordinary Claims

Right at the beginning we have a claim that is logical but seems extraordinary to many students, because, unbeknownst to them, they are subjective relativists. They think that truth is relative to persons. And that is absurd.

I explain it like this, and as I do I have the sense I am stepping on some of our relativistic culture's most cherished beliefs.

Logic is about evaluating and formulating arguments.

An argument is a series of sentences that are statements.

A statement (also called a "proposition") is a sentence that describes a certain (as Vaughn puts it) "state of affairs." A statement makes a claim that a certain state of affairs obtains. Another way to put it is like this: a statement is a sentence that is either true or false. 

For example, consider the statement The lights in this room are on. This statement describes a certain state of affairs; viz., the lights in this room now being on. Now here comes the subjective-relativist crusher. If this statement is true (that is, if the state of affairs of the lights now being on obtains), then it is true for everybody. And if it is false, then it is false for everybody.

Consider the statement God exists. If that statement is true, it is true for everybody, even for persons who think it is false. And if that statement is false, then it is false for everybody, even for people who "know" there is a God.

But what about these statements? It's true for me that Pepsi is better than Coke. But it's true for you that Coke is better than Pepsi? Here the words It's true for me are redundant, unnecessary. At most they mean I believe, or I think. Such as: I think Pepsi is better than Coke. Now note this: If that statement is true, then it is true for everybody. And we have this state of affairs: John likes Pepsi better than Coke.

Consider this statement: God told John individually and no one else that he knows of that he is to start a ministry to the homeless. Isn't that statement just for John and not for everyone? Yes. Of course. But watch this: the truth of that statement is for everyone. That is, it is true for everyone that God told John individually and no one else that he knows of that he is to start a ministry to the homeless.

What a person believes is irrelevant to the truth of their belief. Otherwise we would have the idea that believing something makes that state of affairs true. And then we'd all be infallible, which is absurd. In that case if I believe I can flap my arms and fly, then that is "true for me." Beliefs do not make a state of affairs true. But beliefs are statements that are either true or false and - watch very closely now - if a belief is true, it is true for everyone, whether they know it or not or whether they believe otherwise.

Take this statement: There are an even number of stars in the universe. That's either true or false. What we believe about it is irrelevant to its truth or falsity, since believing something does not make it true. The truth or falsity of this statement cannot be known. Even though we can't know if it's true or false, it is either true or false. And if it is true, then it is true for everyone (because believing it to be either true or false is irrelevant to the actual state of affairs).

A statement cannot be "true for you, but false for me." I might believe that a certain statement is true, while you might think it to be false. But a statement in itself is either true or false, and if true, it's true for everyone, whether they realize it or not.

Thus, someone who says Truth depends on the individual's perspective utters something incoherent. Anyone who thinks that truth is relative to individuals lives in a world of logical absurdity. The antidote to such a misconception is to show them that their statement (Truth depends on the individual's perspectivecannot be true, because it makes a truth claim that is for everyone. That is, it is self-refuting, hence logically incoherent.

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My recent book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

I'm currently writing Leading the Presence-Driven Church.