The Instigator
KeytarHero
Pro (for)
Winning
16 Points
The Contender
XimenBao
Con (against)
Losing
5 Points

Absolute Truth Exists

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/12/2011 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,324 times Debate No: 16463
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (14)
Votes (5)

 

KeytarHero

Pro

I would like to open a debate to anyone who wishes to accept. I will make my argument here so we can get right underway.

My argument for the existence of absolute truth is really three-fold.

Argument one: The statement "there is no truth" is a self-defeating statement. In order for it to be true, it must be false. Therefore, there must be truth. And to add an addendum to it that the only truth is, in fact, that there is no truth is a cop-out.

First of all, if the "only" truth is that there is no truth, then who's to say there aren't other truths? If you can have one truth, then there must be others.

Secondly, if you're going to use a definitive statement that there is no truth, there must be true reasons to back that up. You must have arguments to support your premise. If these statements are also false (as the premise, itself, states), then the original statement must be incorrect.

Argument two: There are definite absolute truths that we can observe. Everyone dies, it's just a natural process of living beings. Everyone requires food, water, and oxygen to live. There's no getting around it. There are absolute truths that occur in front of our very eyes.

Argument three: There are subjective truths, and objective truths.

A subjective statement is one in which there can be many truths. For example, if I say mint chocolate chip is the best ice cream, that's a subjective statement. It's only the best because it's my favorite flavor. Someone else may enjoy a different brand of ice cream, so to them another flavor may be the best.

An objective statement is one that is true regardless of who believes it. Water is made up of two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen molecule. If I walk up to you and say, water is not H2O, water is actually C2HOAU, you're going to look at me as if I'm a crazy person. Water is H2O regardless of who believes it. This is an objective truth. It will not change, no matter who believes it.

-Conclusion-

While "there is no truth" seems to be a fairly common belief, under close scrutiny I don't believe it can be proven correct. I look forward to my opponent's response.
XimenBao

Con

I thank Pro for the challenge and admire his confidence in putting his R1 argument up front.


Before I begin my arguments, I would like to clarify definitions and goals. As confirmed in the comments section, Pro is using absolute truth synonymously with objective statements as described in his third argument, and throughout his R1 he uses the ‘statement’ construction in his description of truth. Pro needs to show there is such a thing as an “objective truth” which is always true regardless of subjective considerations. I need to show either that it does not exist, or that Pro has not shown it to exist.


There is no such thing as “objective truth” using this definition, and I will demonstrate this with two independent arguments. First I will argue for inherent and unavoidable subjectivity, and second for the limitations of perceptions as described by the philosophy of fallibilism. As I will not be making the statement “there is no truth” argument one does not apply. Arguments two and three will be addressed.


Subjectivity:


Pro says, “An objective statement is one that is true regardless of who believes it. … Water is H2O regardless of who believes it. This is an objective truth.” However, this can easily be shown to be false.


Leaving aside the formatting of “2”, consider a community of people using a different periodic table of elements where H corresponds to Helium rather than Hydrogen. For this community, water is not H2O. Pro’s example is proven false and “Water is H2O” is not an objective truth, as it would not be accurate if this community believed it.


This same argument applies to his argument two, and is more compelling because the subjectivity is not hypothetical. Pro argues that “Everyone dies, it's just a natural process of living beings.” However, in many cultures, such as Teutonic Tribes (1) or ancient Egypt (2), there was no word for death. It would not be truthful to say that “everyone dies” there, because “dies” would have no meaning. It would be meaningless rather than truthful. Taking that example a step further, imagine a culture that shares Dr. McCoy’s view in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, “He's not really dead. As long as we remember him.” Saying that “everyone dies” is a false statement in that context.


The sample principle applies to all examples. All truth statements are by necessity composed of some form of language. All language, even mathematics, is a socially constructed set of subjective symbolic meanings. A statement cannot be true regardless of who believes it. Such statements are always placed within the subjective semantic structure of the person or group making the statement and thus it is trivial to create a hypothetical or find a culture where a different viewpoint would consider the statement false or meaningless.


Fallibilism:


Even if it were possible to create a statement that somehow escaped its inherent subjective status, it’s possible to definitive know if that statement is true or false. This is the thesis of Fallibilism (4), that no matter how convincing our evidence or solid our logic seems, there is always the possibility that we are wrong. This means that Pro cannot know that an absolute truth exists because no one has ever known a fact that is 100% certain to be true. As Carlo Rovelli, a physicist at the University of Aix-Marseille put it, “certainty is not only something of no use, but is in fact damaging. (5)”


The only possible exceptions are tautological statements which rely exclusively on the subjective language in which they exist. For examples, if we were to use the convention that the second number in an equation is always one greater than depicted, 2 +2 = 4 is no longer a correct statement. Even in these cases, while it is certainly unlikely that usual convention would be used, it is not absolutely unlikely and Pro can never be sure it isn’t the case.


Conclusion:


Pro has tied absolute truth to objective statements, and in doing so, ensured that he will never find it. Statements are always subjective. Even if he found a way around that, he cannot show that absolute truth exists because there is always the possibility of error and thus he is left with an unsupportable hypothesis.



(1) http://tinyurl.com...


(2) http://tinyurl.com...; Page 93


(3) http://tinyurl.com...


(4) http://tinyurl.com...


(5) http://tinyurl.com...

Debate Round No. 1
KeytarHero

Pro

I would like to thank XimenBao for accepting my debate. It has been awhile since I've debated this topic, and I look forward to testing the insight he brings to the table.

Also, the reason I put my round one argument up front is because I tried this debate once with someone who forfeited in round two. Since I started this with three rounds, I figured to give us an extra round for argumentation, it might behoove me to set up my argument right out of the gate.

I do tend to use "absolute truth" and "objective truth" interchangeably, since they are basically the same thing (the difference being that "objective truth" tends to refer to statements made rather than truth in general). However, I will try to remember to use the term objective truth for the purposes of this debate.

I still believe my argument about absolute truth is a valid one. After all, if we are arguing subjective truth, then if you were to simply make the claim "we cannot know what is true," then it seems to me that the concept of truth should be abandoned altogether since it cannot be known. And to say "there is truth" would be an erroneous statement, since truth may not be the same for everyone. Therefore, any arguments used to back up the claim "there is truth" would not be reliable. There must be objective truth in order to have any truth in the first place.

I will now answer my XimenBao's objections. First, regarding Subjectivity.

If I were Con, I don't think I'd be so quick to dismiss the example of H2O. Con says: "…consider a community of people using a different periodic table of elements where H corresponds to Helium rather than Hydrogen. For this community, water is not H20."

First of all, the Periodic Table of Elements is the generally accepted table to label the elements around the world. Hydrogen is H here in the United States, and also in England, Italy, and Australia. So H2O is H2O no matter where you go. And any culture that doesn't use the periodic table of elements probably is not advanced enough to understand Chemistry. However, even if each culture had a different Periodic Table of Elements, to where H could, in fact, be Helium to a different culture, the truth still remains that water would be made up of two of the same molecules, and one of a different molecule, even though different cultures may label them differently. It is still true that water is made up of those molecules.

Con also argues thus: "…However, in many cultures, such as Teutonic Tribes or ancient Egypt, there was no word for death. It would not be truthful to say that ‘everyone dies' there, because ‘dies' would have no meaning. Again, whether or not we can label everything the same is irrelevant. People still die in the cultures that have no word for death. They come into existence through a sexual union, and they eventually cease to function as living beings when their cells stop communicating with each other. There is still a circle of life and death, even if they don't have a word for it.

And kudos for the Star Trek reference. But as we know, in science fiction, people rarely die for long. :D

Con additionally argues: "All truth statements are by necessity composed of some form of language." Is this true? I don't disagree that language is a powerful thing. However, I contend that language helps us to learn more about the world and universe around us; it is not the basis for truth. For example, we now know that the Earth revolves around the sun when at one point common belief was that the entire universe revolved around the Earth. Now it would be unthinkable for anyone to question this belief. The only reason the geocentric view of the universe was challenged and eventually changed is not because we said it should really be the other way around.

Now, regarding Fallibilism.

Con said: "This is the thesis of Fallibilism, that no matter how convincing our evidence or solid our logic seems, there is always the possibility that we are wrong." My response here would be, tell that to Evolutionists. I am a Creationist myself, but Evolutionists contend that there is nothing we know with greater certainty than that Evolution happened. They are dogmatic about it and in their minds, they are not wrong. Whenever I pipe up that I disagree, they scoff and insult. So obviously the concept of objective truth is not a foreign one to most people.

I also believe in life after death. Now, I cannot prove that empirically here in the natural world. However, not being able to prove it does not mean it's not true. It's true or false regardless of whether we believe in it or not, or know how to describe it, and once we die we will either not know anything or discover that there really is an afterlife.
Con also argued: "The only possible exceptions are tautological statements which rely exclusively on the subjective language in which they exist. For examples [sic], if we were to use the convention that the second number in an equation is always one greater than depicted, 2+2=4 is no longer a correct statement. Even in these cases, while it is certainly unlikely that usual convention would be used, it is not absolutely unlikely and Pro can never be sure it isn't the case."

Actually, we can be sure it's the case. For example, if I'm in a math classroom and I have to answer the equation 2+2=?, then the answer will be four. I have never known anyone who would make the case that 2+2 equals anything other than four, and unless Con can find a case in which it would be different, I think the argument is pretty well moot.

-Conclusion-

I believe in the power of language. But I don't believe it has so much power that it can define the nature of truth, it can only aid us in understanding truth. Whether or not we label things differently, it doesn't negate the fact of the truth being truth in the first place.
XimenBao

Con

I thank Pro for continuing an engaging debate.

Subjectivity:

Pro and I agreed to talk truths as statements about the factual nature of reality. Reality is reality, but reality is not truth. Truth is a human construct. Aliens aside, if humans disappeared from the Earth tomorrow, truth would disappear with them. This concept forms the basis of the debate, and Pro’s arguments haven’t addressed the distinction.

What humans call true, what humans call factual, all of this is expressed in language. All these expressions are symbolic. All these symbols are subjective. These two paragraphs summarize the subjectivity argument and the following examples attempt to illustrate this.

In whatever way water exists in reality, for humans to express a truth about it requires language. It is not an absolute objective truth that water is H2O, because the meaning of "H," "2," and "O" are subjective to shared meaning. Pro acknowledges this but states that whatever those meanings are, “It is still true that water is made up of those molecules.”

Given the context I assume Pro is referring to absolute truth, but he doesn’t gain any ground here, as “water,” “molecules,” and the rest of the words in his restated truth claim are subject to the same subjectivity considerations he conceded regarding "H," "2," and "O." Just because we share a common definition of “water” doesn’t make the statement objective, merely intersubjective.

Pro argues that “whether or not we can label everything the same is irrelevant,“ but it is precisely this point that he must engage and overcome. Since truths can only be born of language, and language is essentially nothing but labels, Pro can only claim objective truth if there is such a thing as objective labeling. Since Pro appears aware that labeling is subjective, it follows that truths about life, death, or anything else are also subjective as they rely on subjective labels.

Pro could not have picked a better example to illustrate my point than the rotation of the Earth around the Sun. Pro says that “the Earth revolves around the sun,“ and it’s certainly an easy an intuitive way to label our perceptions of reality. However, it’s also a subjective way to look at it, relying on an Earth-Sun frame of reference. One could also say that the Earth and the Sun obit around a common center of gravity called the solar system barycenter (1). This instance of a common-sense statement turning out to be completely relative segues nicely into the discussion of fallibilism.

Fallibilism:

Once again, Pro and I agreed to talk about truths as statements made about the factual nature of reality. In the previous argument I said that Pro was wrong. In this argument I say that Pro cannot show he is right.

Pro cannot honestly make a statement he knows with 100% certainty to be correct. There is always some outrageously unlikely far-fetched possibility I could come up with to inject a tiny margin of uncertainty. Since he cannot do this, he cannot show that absolute truth statements are possible.

Pro unintentionally concedes this when he addresses my math example. Pro asserts that he can be absolutely sure that 2 + 2 will always equal four because he’s never know anyone who uses the math conventions I suggested that would provide a different result. He then says, “unless Con can find a case in which it would be different, I think the argument is pretty well moot.”

I provided that case in my R1, and I’ll restate it here. In my rounds, the second number in any equation is one greater than depicted. Therefore, in this case, 2 + 2 = 5, and pro was unable to state with anything close to 100% certainty that 2 + 2 will always equal 4.

This illustrates the point of fallibilism. You can never be sure. Even when you think you have an ironclad case that every person in the world will use conventions that result in 2 + 2 equaling 4, you might walk into a debate round where your opponent intentionally uses idiosyncratic conventions to prove a point.

Pro’s main defense against my fallibilism argument is to misrepresent the statements of proponents of evolution and try to use their confidence in the theory of evolution to show that most people believe in objective truth, and that this is somehow evidence in its favor.

Even in Pro’s rephrasing of their statements, evolution proponents are stating, “there is nothing we know with greater certainty than that Evolution happened.” This is not a statement that there is no possibility of them being wrong. Even if it were, it would not be generalizable to most people. Even if most people do believe in objective truth, it does not mean it is correct. And, if most people believing in objective truth did make a difference, it would prove that not ony truth, but reality is entirely subjective.

Conclusion:

Reality exists independently of humanity. Truth does not. Truths are created by humans with their subjective thoughts, language and symbols and must always be subjective. Further, we cannot access reality directly, as we are limited creatures and can always be wrong, and thus even if humans were capable of being objective, we could not show that we were saying objective truths rather than objective falsehoods.

(1)http://books.google.com...

Debate Round No. 2
KeytarHero

Pro

I want to thank Con for accepting the debate and challenging me on this issue.

On Subjectivity:

Con makes the assertion that reality is reality, but reality is not truth. If humans disappeared from the earth tomorrow, truth would not disappear with them. For example, humans disappearing would be a truth. Even though there would be no humans around to appreciate the nature of this truth, the truth would be that it happened. It happened in reality (being a theoretical analogy, notwithstanding), therefore it is also a truth that it happened.

I really don’t see much of a distinction between truth and reality. Truth is defined as “conformity with truth or reality.” [1] Reality is defined as “the state or quality of being real.” [2] Truth and reality go hand-in-hand. Whether we can label truth the same way or not, and whether anyone is actually around to appreciate it, what happens in reality doesn’t change, and neither does the state of it being true.

Con argues that “since truths can only be born of language, and language is essentially nothing but labels, Pro can only claim objective truth if there is such a thing as objective labeling.” I do not believe objective labeling is essential to objective truth. If a star goes supernova, whether there is anyone around to witness the star going supernova, or whether we can agree on what to call the “star” or the process of going “supernova,” the reality (the truth) is that a huge ball of gas has just exploded. The star didn’t explode because we said the star went supernova, it exploded whether anyone cared or not that it happened. Language is what we use to understand truth, and even label it, but reality is not subject to language. The reverse is true. Language is subject to reality.

On Fallibilism:

I do concede that I misunderstood Con’s math example, and I thank him for making it clearer. I would still argue that even though there may be some “outrageously unlikely far-fetched possibility,” context is key here. For example, in situations where the outcome matters, 2+2 would always equal four. For example, if using math in order to prove a scientific hypothesis or some other matter of important, 2+2 would always equal four, and universal math conventions would be used. It would be important that the findings are clear and that every member of their particular field would be able to understand it.

-Conclusion-

Language is a powerful tool. It helps us understand the universe, the reality, around us. But it does not create or manipulate truth, for truth exists regardless of what we call them or whether we can appreciate them or not. Reality is the state of things being real, and truth is anything that exists in reality that cannot be wrong. I freely admit that humans are prone to making errors, but even if we could never know truth for ourselves, truth would still exist. And if we didn’t believe it did, there would be no reason to continue seeking it through religion, philosophy, and science.

Again, I would like to thank Con for accepting my challenge and providing a rigorous debate.

[1] http://dictionary.reference.com...
[2] http://dictionary.reference.com...

XimenBao

Con

I would like to thank pro for finishing this debate with me and also feel it was a rigorous challenge.

Subjectivity:

Pro has attempted to win the subjectivity fallibilism argument by using a single tactic: redefinition. The redefinition argument is the only argument used on this subject in R3, with the arguments about the subjective nature of all statements going unchallenged. If you reject his attempts at redefinition, extend my arguments and let them stand uncontested.

The last round of the debate is not the time to start attacking definitions. In R1, Pro did not give an explicit definition of objective/absolute truth, but constructed his argument there around statements, saying:

"There are subjective truths, and objective truths.
A subjective statement....
An objective statement...."

After clarifying that he was using "absolute" and "objective" synonymously, I defined "absolute truth" in my R1 saying "Pro is using absolute truth synonymously with objective statements" making explicit what Pro constructed argumentatively.

If Pro objected to this or wanted to challenge it, the proper time was during his R2 argument. After he declined to do so, the definition used by Pro and clarified by Con in R1 of absolute truth as "objective statement" should stand.

Allowing Con to spend the entire R2 argument arguing against the definitions used in R1 and unchallenged in Pro's R2, then shifting the goalpost to a new definition in R3 is an unfair tactic by Pro as it moves the target and thus illegitimately undercuts all of Con's existing argumentation by attempting to effectively change the resolution in the last round.

Please reject the new dictionary definition used by Pro in R3 in favor of the definitions established in R1 and not challenged in R2. Language is always subjective, all statements are couched in language, thus objective statements/absolute truths cannot exist.

The resolution is negated.

Fallibilism:

Even if you accept Pro's redefinition, there is still a lack of a significant response to the fallibilism argument.

Here, Pro says that if we allow him the constraints of a serious scientific process, he can be 100% sure that the conventions used will mean that 2+2=4.

It's simple to argue that the serious scientific process could be using base 3, in which 2+2=11 (1).

More importantly, I would like to note that his argument here is entirely to my example and ignores the thrust of the fallibilism argument. He makes no argument that humans can ever know the actual state of reality, and makes no argument as to how he knows that an absolute true state of reality exists if he can never access it to verify.

It is intuitively comfortable to assume that there exists some absolute state of reality in existence, but in this debate Pro has a burden of proof to show that it is so, and has not answered my claim that he cannot, meaning that he has not met his burden of proof and thus the vote goes to Con.

Conclusion:

This debate was about whether an objective statement was possible. This definition was used in R1, not challenged in R2, and then Pro attempted to shift it in R3 without arguing against the positions taken in the previous rounds. Please reject this attempt at redefinition and vote Con on the inherent subjectivity of language making objective statements impossible. Otherwise vote BoP for Con as Pro hasn't shown how he can know an absolute reality can exist given human limitations.

Again, I thank Pro for creating this challenge.

(1)http://www.cut-the-knot.org...
Debate Round No. 3
14 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by KeytarHero 5 years ago
KeytarHero
jar2187 -- vote bomber.
Posted by KeytarHero 5 years ago
KeytarHero
Ah, I see.
Posted by XimenBao 5 years ago
XimenBao
No apology necessary, in other words.
Posted by XimenBao 5 years ago
XimenBao
It's not a faux pas or anything, just a point I can argue about.
Posted by KeytarHero 5 years ago
KeytarHero
"The last round of the debate is not the time to start attacking definitions."

I admit I do still have much to learn about the debate process, and i apologize if I haven't followed debate protocol. I'll try and keep this in mind for the future.
Posted by XimenBao 5 years ago
XimenBao
It's Truth, Jim, but not as we know it.
Posted by KeytarHero 5 years ago
KeytarHero
And by the way, I'm a huge Trekkie, so kudos for the Star Trek example. :D
Posted by KeytarHero 5 years ago
KeytarHero
Actually, it's not a big deal that I put my r1 argument up first. I tried this debate but my opponent wound up forfeiting. So I figured, since I'm only doing three rounds, it wouldn't hurt to put my argument right out in front to give us an extra round for argumentation.
Posted by XimenBao 5 years ago
XimenBao
Thank you. Contextually it seemed that way, but you switched from absolute truth to objective truth when you talked about that, so it wasn't clear whether you were using it as a synonym or a subset.
Posted by KeytarHero 5 years ago
KeytarHero
I wasn't worried, as you still have over a day. But what do you mean I haven't defined what absolute truth is? Absolute truths are truths that are universal; they're objective, true regardless of what our subjective feelings might be. Do you have any questions before you formulate your response?
5 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Vote Placed by SkepticsAskHere 5 years ago
SkepticsAskHere
KeytarHeroXimenBaoTied
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Total points awarded:50 
Reasons for voting decision: Since [Pro] cannot do this, he cannot show that absolute truth statements are possible = an absolute statement
Vote Placed by ReformedArsenal 5 years ago
ReformedArsenal
KeytarHeroXimenBaoTied
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Total points awarded:70 
Reasons for voting decision: Vote Bomb c-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-combo breaker!!!
Vote Placed by JoshBrahm 5 years ago
JoshBrahm
KeytarHeroXimenBaoTied
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: Con refuted his own case by saying: "Since [Pro] cannot do this, he cannot show that absolute truth statements are possible." That looks like an absolute statement to me.
Vote Placed by Cliff.Stamp 5 years ago
Cliff.Stamp
KeytarHeroXimenBaoTied
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Total points awarded:12 
Reasons for voting decision: Strong performance by XimenBao, and weak response by KeytarHero such as - "First of all, the Periodic Table of Elements is the generally accepted table to label the elements around the world. " That does not make it an absolute anything. Point to Pro for being a new member and putting up substantial debates, 2:1 Con.
Vote Placed by bigpoppajustice 5 years ago
bigpoppajustice
KeytarHeroXimenBaoTied
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: Great debate, but Pro was unable to defend against a number of Con's attacks. This is really an interesting debate.