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  • Writer's pictureJacob Hansen

Truth needs no adjective.

A study of the history of social theories in the west over the past 200 years seems to display a pattern. A pattern in which nearly all of the great social questions and debates are happening among 3 groups.


1) Those who believe there is such a thing as moral truth.

2) Those who don't.

3) Those whose behavior and words shows them incoherently bounce between these two options from moment to moment depending on their circumstance.


Sadly it is group 3 that seems to be growing the fastest and contributing to our social instability.


Why would a person ever say "my truth" instead of "The Truth"? What does that sort of linguistic expression convey? Truth is that which corresponds to reality. If a person believes in such a thing as objective truth they are obligated to reject any adjectives related to truth. For instance, there is no such thing as “my truth” or “your truth”. This is linguistically incoherent. It’s like saying a “married bachelor”. The concept of truth is the concept of the existence of an objective reality. Saying something like “my truth” is in no way meaningfully different from saying “my opinion” or “my perception”. A person operating in good faith should not use phrases that conflate the notion of Truth with mere opinion or perception. Truth is a concept that something exists regardless of anyones opinion or conception. It is that which is fundamental and real.

"Social" Justice?


Another term that is easily bastardized by adjectives is the word “justice”. Justice is rooted in the word “just” which means to be aligned with moral truth. What are we really doing when we are seeking “justice”. We are seeking for things to be right or fair (aligned with moral truth). We implicitly invoke objective moral truth and obligation by using the term justice. Would it really make sense to talk about “Nazi justice” vs “American justice” as if those were mere social constructions that we cannot evaluate against an objective standard that we call moral truth?


Social justice is probably the most common bastardization of the concept of truth. There is no such thing as “social justice” there is only justice. Social justice is a clever way to try and linguistically sell the idea that justice should operate at a group level. It’s the concept of group justice. A concept that individuals within groups bear responsibility for the actions of the overall group regardless of their individual behavior. Anyone with a half functioning brain can see why “group justice” is not justice. Justice operates at an individual level because moral truth is ultimately lived out in the choices of individual people. It is individual choice that an individual can control and thus individuals are held responsible for their behavior and not the behavior of others in the socially constructed “groups” they belong to.


"Western" Values?

There are all sorts of linguistic expressions that actually are nonsensical to someone who believes that truth is objective. For example. We often hear terms like “western values”, but what exactly are we saying? That these values were invented by western people? Do values belong to certain groups?

Well that depends…


If you don’t believe in objective moral truth (the notion that some moral conceptions and values are incorrect) then values are ultimately social constructions and it’s perfectly reasonable to discuss social constructions as belonging to the groups that constructed them.



On the other hand if you believe in objective moral truth then the only sense that you can use a term like “western values” is to describe the values generally held by western society. This can be useful but it says nothing about if those values are true (in conformance with moral truth) or not. In the end there is nothing wrong with using a term like “western values” but it’s important to clarify what you or the other person mean by the term.


Conclusion

While this may seem like a trivial semantic matter, it is actually extremely important in the current social discourse. Human language helps shape human thought. One of the major philosophical battles now reaching a fever pitch is the question of if there is such a thing as moral truth or if all such notions are ultimately social constructions. Adding adjectives to truth can convey the idea that “Truth” is a social construction rather than an objective reality. Indeed this is very much the root of the modern vs postmodern divide. Beware of linguistic traps and incoherent notions. Take a stand in group 1 or group 2 and fully engage with the implications of either. Take a page from Jordan Peterson’s rules and be precise in your speech and perhaps you will also learn to be more clear in your thought.

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