The "Myth of Objective Truth."

I am here to pose a question for those willing to engage with it. It, no doubt, seems to be the case that the American frontier is in the midst of a cultural war. My question assumes this, although it is perhaps true that many are not aware of it.

How important is a theory of truth in the midst of the cultural war? It is my contention that truth is interactional, truth is uncovered in understanding, truth, furthermore, is inherantly metaphorical and figurative. Objective truth is literal, and would exist even if there were no subject available to perceive it.

I think that the theory of truth is at the centre of the cultural war in America. My question is as follows, and will perhaps warrant some clarification, do either of the primary players in the cultural war actually believe in objective truth?

Those who subscribe to a theory of objective truth believe that metaphor is merely a literary device without truth. However it seems to be the case that as humans interact with the world, and things in it, they do so metaphorically.

Metaphor, essentially explains one thing in terms of something else.

If this is the case it would seem that metaphor is not simply a literary turn of phrase, but rather essential to our proper functioning in the world. Our conceptual framework, or referential totality, is that on the basis of which we interact and understand in the world. I will provide some examples in order to properly disseminate my intention.

Argument is war
Time is money
Life is a story

Can we understand argument outside of a warlike context?
Do we not act in the world as if Time were money?
Is it not the case that most of us structure our experience in terms of a narrative?

If it is the case that we understand the world, and especially novel experiences in terms of metaphors (I think of the internet as a particular example of something entirely thought of in metaphorical terms) than a theory of truth, which takes truth to be objective, would be increadibly dangerous.

So my question, therfore, in the battle waging in America over what truth we shall follow; do either of the players truly believe in objective truth?

That’s an interesting post, Trotter.

The ideas you put forward particularly bring to mind an influential book called ‘Metaphors we live by’ by Lakoff and Johnson, whose argument was not dissimilar to yours. They argue, quite persuasively in my view, that in different cultures, differents aspects of life are mediated by different metaphorical understandings. One contrast they offered was the way French/continental and Anglo-Saxon thinking conceived of debate as respectively, like a dance, or like a war. Such metaphors come to not only shape the conceptual framework through which we see the world, but the psychological posture that colours a particular set of actions.

Metaphor is the vehicle by which we make the unfamiliar familiar and is the cognitive tool to understanding something new. As far as the cultural clashes in the United States are concerned, I think there is something to your argument that thinking on either side has ‘objectified’ a particular perspective. This is a division that has existed in the US since the declaration of independence, and the growth of the slave trade. A social scientist, or a Weberian social scientist for that matter, would analyse such divisions by assuming that while the social world is made up of competing subjectivities, in ‘objectified’ form these differing perspectives can become ossified and intractable. Yet, there is a key distinction to be made when thinking about what can be analysed in objective terms and what can be anaylsed as a subjectivity. When looking at different conceptual/metaphorical frameworks through which people interpret and understand the world they inhabit, this is, I think, best done as an analysis of subjectivities. One common mistake is to think that generalisations can be made in this respect (e.g. the South sees US foreign policy debates in protectionist terms, the North in multilateral terms). There are always subtle differences and distinctions that make for a whole complex web of understandings. Where I think objective analysis is useful is in respect of structures and institutions. While there will be different subjective understandings of such things, we can say with a degree of authority that there does exist federal and state tiers of government in the US, or that the European Central Bank is the only institution that releases new money into the eurozone economy.

Objective structures and institutional arrangements not only take on a subjective understanding, but in fact rely upon such cultural understandings for their maintenance and continued legitimacy. It is in this respect with historical hindsight, I would argue, that we can understand ‘sovereignty’, for example, as a fluid rather than a fixed concept. Many people believe in sovereignty as a fixed objective source of instititutional power. Yet, as we have seen in Weimar Germany in 1920s, or even in present-day Iraq, when there is limited cultural unity on the source of sovereignty, all else unravels, hence the importance of metaphors as not just vehicles for understanding the novel, but of nothing less than social and political order.

Your post brings up a number of important issues and poses a complex question, and I’ve tried to extend your perspective according to a particular school of thought in the social sciences. What do you think?

As central as anything could possibly be. What we call ‘culture,’ I would argue, is precisely that which emerges from the implementation of a theory of truth. Subsequently, a ‘cultural war’ and a ‘war between theories of truth’ are essentially one and the same.

I think both do, and yes, much as you seem to be intimating, this has dangerous effects. Namely, we’re talking about the ‘objective truth’ of Christianity and the ‘objective truth’ of Islam; on a more local scale, we’re talking about the ‘objective truth’ of ‘objective truth’ and the ‘objective truth’ of ‘subjective truth’ - i.e. the battle between Right and Left.

The nature of ‘truth’ is the very center of virtually all significant issues facing the world. All other dicussions are mere manifestations of its consequences. So far, for example, we’ve been looking at this issue in a macroscopic sense; but it can be seen at a microscopic level as well. In your own mind, the concept of ‘truth’ and the concept of ‘reality’ are identical. Therefore within every single argument or disagreement - in fact, within every choice - is the battle of truth versus untruth, the battle of right versus wrong: the battle of the theory of truth.

Truth is not relative; truth is objective. Why? Because there is only one ‘object’ - you. But truth cannot only be ‘objective’, because there are other mental configurations than your own: hence, it is also ‘subjective.’ The consequence of this is that when examining the concept of truth independently from the truth of ‘theories of truth’ that are seperate from your own, you run into problems - in this case, contradiction; in the larger sense, cultural war.


You are very astute, and perceptive, my arguments come directly from Metaphors we Live By. It came to mind during a recent paper I wrote on the metaphorical content of the understanding. It would seem that even our everyday coping with the world is inherantly metaphorical.

I read an article by Lakeoff, I think it appeared in a book instructing Democrats as to the importance of ‘framing’ issues and debate in order to allow their positions to be taken more seriously. It would appear that the conservatives are far better at this notion of ‘framing’ than are their democratic counterparts.

It would seem that the notion of absolutes is a particularily salient one in the context of the American cultural war. I think the conservative movement in the United states shares, at its core, a notion of absolute truth. Liberals seem to adhere to a more perspectival subjectivist notion of truth. This generally brings forth the charge of relativism, which is quite damning.

While these views seem incommensurate I see an interesting phenomenon at play. If my assumption is correct, that the conservatives do adhere to a notion of objective truth, why are they so good at framing issues in the context of our highly metaphorical conceptual framework? It seems almost as if they act, or react to events in a metaphorical way, yet claim to adhere to a notion of literal truth.

Perhaps, I am wrong?

Sorry, I am not familiar with Metaphors, sounds like fun.

Hum, one person’t truth is another person’s lie. What is truth? A Jewish truth is not a Christian truth; a Christian truth is not the Islamic truth. Do we not all suffer from our cultural biases? I sure do, and often have difficulty when attempting to understand the hyperbole in much Latin literature, that the various authors have claimed to be a fact. Whereas, many in the West realize that The Lord of the Rings, or the Harry Potter books are fantacy, with underlying themes, good vs. evil, deforestation, cloning, etc.

The U.S. claims to be secular, but our money has “In God We Trust,” when sworn in we take an oath on the Bible, etc. So, are we really secular? No, not really.

Cultural war in the U.S. is really not new, we have always had our cultural wars. During the Irish migration to the U.S. there was a huge outcry against them which actually carried over to the JFK, Kerry presidential campaigns. Then the Chinese migration to work on the railroads, huge outcry and much discrimination. This eventually sorts out as laws are created to protect minorities, except in times of war.

According to the structuralists there are a series of recurring myths or inherent structures that find expression in all forms of art, literature, music and so on, regardless of cultural or geographical location as they are the substance of what it is to be human.

Of course, nice as that sounds, it isn’t true.

   Even before the colonisation of the Americas there were culture wars. Mayans vs Aztecs, Algonquin vs Iriquois, all the way back to prehistory. Eurpope has had cultural wars since the time of the Cro Magnons. I am seeing this as something inherent in humanity not a "modern" issue
  Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't cultural war an inevidible occurance when 2 or more differing cultures are in contact with one another? What is it with in us that makes us want to "be right". What drives us to validate our truths to the point that we (sometimes) will go to war and die for them? 
   I am wanting to learn more of sociology etc, I've not taken much college. Call me a wannabe scholar:}

I sometimes wonder if it’s because people don’t want to question their own beliefs.