Friday, 3 October 2008

True Opinions

Pluralism is a strange beast. We cherish the co-existence of people who have beliefs contradictory to our own, who live according to those beliefs and still peacefully with other people. Two people can make opposing statements and yet preface those statements with, "I believe" and therefore the listener takes it in as an opinion or a statement of faith.

To the listener, the "I believe" is almost the same as a license to disregard the validity of anything the speaker has said. "I believe that the Greek gods are alive and active, and am going to a festival in their honour this weekend," is not heard in any persuasive sense, but is entirely interpreted so as to give context to the speaker's weekend activities. The listener can feel content in ignoring any of the content of the statement.

To the speaker, however, the "I believe" is cherished and at the core of conscious experience. As I heard someone say one day, "It's my opinion, so it is 100% true because it is my opinion. And your opinions are 100% true, because they are your opinions." Truth in this sense is determined by assertion of ownership. For as long as one claims an opinion as one's own, it is true in one's consciousness, and therefore one's universe.

All these words (believe, opinion, and so on and so on) and their secondary meaning of doubt for the listener, serve to reinforce the maxim that our experience of the world is mediated through the senses and the experiences we have had. Absolute truth (the view from nowhere) is beyond our reach, with the possible exception of mathematics ("Mathematics is ontology," said Badiou.).

And with this in mind, we return to pluralism. Absolute truth is always mediated and out of reach. The remainder is opinion and subjective experience. The reality in which we live is mediated, and although it supervenes on a universe of physical laws, it is the level of experience. It is only at this level that we can make sense to each other, even if when we listen, we find reasons to dismiss the opinions of others merely because they are opinions.
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