An Essay Featured In The Conflict of Mind by O.G. Rose
On Objectivity/Subjectivity, the Phenomenology of Truth-Encounters, and How to Change Our Minds
Why does one person find the case for x compelling while another finds the case against x convincing? Both believe they are rational and intelligent to assent to the case they believe in, yet both cases cannot be true. One person finds the argument that Israel is justified to use force legitimate while another finds the argument Conservative propaganda; one person finds the case that Robert E. Lee was a “hero” grotesque and absurd, while another person finds the argument nuanced and conceivable; one person finds it believable that Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor ahead of time, while another finds the argument a silly conspiracy. Why does one person find x believable but not anti-x (or y)? Clearly it is because one person is convinced by one case and not the other, but the question is why? Why is a person compelled and convinced by x, what occurs in the act of a person being compelled and convinced, and why does what occurs in the act occur at all?
When I read an argument against the War in Iraq, for example, I never read it not being me. Inside of me, I carry every experience, conversation, thought, conviction, and the like that I’ve ever had (at least subconsciously). I cannot read the argument not being this summation, and likewise, I cannot read it without experiencing the feelings, associations, thoughts, and the like that this summation will cause me to have. I don’t will to feel “agreement” and/or “good” when reading the argument — it just happens — as the opposite might just as well occur. Though I will to read the argument, I don’t necessarily will to feel and experience all I feel and experience while reading the argument. Perhaps I willed to experience the thoughts, conversations, and so on that contributed to me being the summation that feels and experiences what I do while reading the argument, but I don’t necessarily will to feel and experience what I do now, in the act of reading.¹ I just feel and experience what I feel and experience, and since these aren’t a result so much of conscious choice, these feelings and experiences are prone to strike us as coming from the argument, not from us. Hence, if we feel “bad,” we are prone to think “the argument is bad”; if we feel “good,” we are prone to think “the argument is good”; in other words, we are prone to judge the quality of an argument based on how we feel about it (even though if we felt “bad” about “2 + 2 = 4,” it wouldn’t be any more or less true). But here’s the key: we don’t do this in such a way that we realize we are judging the quality of an argument based on how we feel about it; rather, we objectively believe we are judging the argument on rational and intellectual grounds: we believe we are objectively judging it, not subjectively (though of course there is no “subjective and objectivity” ultimately, just “subjectivity/objectivity,” as discussed in “The Heart and Mind Dialectic and the Phenomenology of Argument” by O.G. Rose). After this judging occurs, considering the thoughts presented in “Self-Delusion, the Toward-ness of Evidence, and the Paradox of Judgment” by O.G. Rose, it is very difficult to go back.
This brings us to a problem: how can we tell when we are judging an argument as false based on feelings versus based on intellect? Seeing as “the heart” and “the mind” aren’t split, we “feel” and “intellectualize” simultaneously: the two are always blurred. We can’t only “feel” or “think” about an argument against the War in Iraq; we can only “feel/think.” How can we “draw the line” then? How can we tell when we are convinced by an argument on the right grounds? How can we tell when we are “under” our subjectivity-that-is-“dressed”-in-objectivity? How can we tell when we are “convinced” and “compelled” for the right reasons?
There are no easy answers to these questions, and we can never be entirely free of the existential uncertainty that comes with being a thinking human in an age when objectivity (as a thing in itself) is cherished, yet subjectivity/objectivity inescapable. The challenge is especially great if “the map is indestructible,” but that must be discussed at another time.
We cannot be compelled or convinced without a self; rocks aren’t moved by arguments. If we had no self, we would have no worldview, and so lack a framework in which an argument could fit (we’d lack a “world” to attract a “view” toward, per se). As if magnets attracted by identical charges versus opposites, so a Conservative attracts and is attracted to Conservative argument while being repelled by and repelling Liberal arguments. If there was no magnet (no self) there would be no attracting or repelling: nothing would happen.
Arguments would not exist if people didn’t exist; rocks don’t argue. Without the self and subjective arguments we try to “get around” and “get under” in order to critique objectivity, arguments wouldn’t exist. Likewise, if selves didn’t exist, arguments wouldn’t be able to compel or convince, for there would be nothing to compel or convince, nor would there being anything that could experience the argument as more than unintelligible marks or sounds. Without the self, there wouldn’t be intellect, and so there wouldn’t be the capacity to comprehend arguments. The self makes possible the intellect and yet also begets the subjectivity which the intellect ironically strives to transcend: what tries to solve the problem and the problem itself share the same source.
The desire to be objective emerges from the self which begets the subjectivity that we desire to be objective against. To erase subjectivity, we would have to erase the self which makes possible the intellect, and for the sake of the intellect, we desire objectivity. We desire to be “subjective and objective,” but we are inescapably “subjective/objective” beings, torn apart by our splitting desire.
When I read an argument against the War in Iraq, if I’m intellectually honest, I want to be objective and examine the argument on its own terms. But problematically, the very reason I’m reading the argument is because something in me was attracted to this article versus an article about “Why New York is the worst city?” It is thanks to subjectivity that I pick x to “want to be objective about” versus y: without subjectivity, I’d lack any sorting mechanism and end up either focusing on nothing or overwhelmed. Furthermore, in the act of reading the article, certain sentences are going to “stand out” to me as “good” or “bad” — why? It’s because of my “you”: it moves sentences like a magnet. If I was so objective that I was an object, sentences would “stay in place,” per se. And yet when I read the article, there is a sense that I want to be an object — I want my subjectivity to completely “move aside” — and yet if I was an object, I wouldn’t have any “self” that could be convinced of anything (or to even desire to be an object). Irony, paradox — inescapable.²
Trying to be objective by denying the presence of subjectivity isn’t as fruitful as trying to be objective while accepting not our subjectivity so much as our objectivity/subjectivity. It is imperative that we not forget that “subjective” isn’t a simile for “wrong”: just because we subjectively believe that “x is true” doesn’t mean “x is false.” This is a common mistake, but admittedly it is very hard to write about subjectivity without implying this notion. “Subjective” doesn’t mean “wrong,” but rather “the possibility of being wrong and/or right,” for without subjectivity, there is no “you” to be either. Rocks can’t be right or wrong. Yet at the same time, “objective” doesn’t necessarily mean “right”: I can be objective about the War in Iraq (relative to the information available to me), and yet still be wrong. The conflation of “subjective” with “wrong” and “objective” with “right” have been costly.
Both “subjectivity” and “objectivity” imply “the possibility of being right and/or wrong,” for there is no such thing as “subjective and objective” (separately), only “subjective/objective” (as one). Technically speaking, we cannot be “objective” or “subjective,” only “subjective/objective.” Yes, perhaps we can in one instance be more so objective than subjective and vice-versa, and yes, there is truth to the notion that when trying to decide if we are for or against something, we should be more so objective than subjective. But if we want to be only objective, we want what is impossible, and in fact, this very want may lead us into deceiving ourselves into thinking we are objective when we aren’t. If we are so self-deceived though, this won’t necessarily mean we are wrong, but it will increase the probability that we will think we are more right than we actually are (especially if we conflate “objective” with “right”). Additionally, we will be more likely to think of those who disagree with us as “subjective” and/or “wrong,” which will contribute to self-deception and the probability of being not only wrong but unwilling to change views (even if our view is wrong).
Can an object be right about the War in Iraq? No, and yet an object is the most objective of things; it is actually “objective” (alone), not “subjective and objective” or “subjective/objective.” Strangely, in wanting to be objective about the War in Iraq, there is a sense in which we want to be that which can’t have a (right or wrong) view about the War in Iraq at all. The desire is paradoxical, and yet there is validity to the desire: we should want to be objective, even though we technically can’t be. This is because we as humans seem more prone to be subjective than objective — we’re fundamentally selves, after all — though we are always to some degree both, and this desire helps us achieve a better equilibrium (though that isn’t to say there are no situations in which one should be more subjective than objective or objective than subjectivity). Though we can’t be objective (alone), wanting to be what we can’t be helps us be better intellectual beings: though we fail at what we attempt, the attempt makes us fail more successfully. But we do fail, and acknowledging this perhaps will help us live together, for it will give us something humbling that we all have in common.³
Considering all this, what does the phrase “be objective” even mean? To start, it means “be a being capable of being right and/or wrong” (as does the phrase “be subjective”).⁴ Yet because objectivity/subjectivity is inseparable, if someone says, “be objective,” it must mean “be more so objective that subjective” — the phrase must be about emphasis for the sake of restoring the balance already discussed. And there is validity to this, certainly, but there is a difference between telling humans to “be objective” who think subjectivity and objectivity are separable versus those who assent to the reality that humans are (inescapably) subjective/objective. For the latter will understand that “being objective” isn’t about erasing subjectivity but crafting it, like a potter, into a means for understanding the world in its fullness. After all, a world without subjectivity is a world without beauty, truth, and goodness, so to embrace subjectivity is to embrace a dimension which colors life, making it worth living. But those who believe in the myth that subjectivity and objectivity are divisible will take the phrase “be objective” to mean “transcend the subjectivity that makes life worth living: transcend that which makes you attracted to anything at all.” This pervasive understanding is not only unhelpful but a threat to human flourishing and happiness.
Before moving on, please don’t take me to be saying that we can never use the words “subjective” and “objective” to mean what we usually take them as meaning (I certainly have used them as such). My point in this work is to emphasize technicalities and the importance of remembering those technicalities as we use the words as we usually use them. Again, to put what this paper has said another way, when we talk about “objectivity,” we are mostly talking about perspective: when we say, “You are objective,” we say, “You have a clear perspective” (more so than “You are right”). Likewise, when we say, “You are subjective,” we say, “You have a cloudy perspective” (more so than “You are wrong”). Considering this, both objectivity and subjectivity belong on the same “bar of perspective,” with “objective” being on one end (represented by black) and “subjective” at the other end (represented by white):
(100% Objective)…………………………………………..(100% Subjective)⁵
As we move from one end of the gradient, the colors blend into one another: at the middle, an individual is half objective and half subjective. No one ever achieves (overall at least) complete objectivity or complete subjectivity: we all fall somewhere along the gradient. At one moment, we are 70% objective and 30% subjective; at another, 42% objective and 58% subjective; and so on. No one can say for sure about themselves or anyone else what percentage of what they are at a given moment, but regardless the breakdown and nature of the person’s perspective, the individual won’t necessarily be either right or wrong. Someone who is completely objective can still be wrong, as someone who is completely subjective can be right.
Especially as we use the words as we usually use them, it is imperative to realize that both “subjectivity” and “objectivity” are two sides of the same coin of perspective: both are ways of seeing. If we didn’t have subjectivity, we also wouldn’t have objectivity, for the only way to be free of subjectivity is to not have eyes. In other words, our vision is always both cloudy and clear, but just because our vision is cloudy doesn’t mean it can’t identify, and someone with clear vision doesn’t always correctly identity what he or she sees clearly. And clouds aren’t inherently bad: without them, there wouldn’t be rain, and without rain, the world dries up and perishes under clear skies and the relentless beating of the sun. A world without clouds and rain would be colorless and dead, as would be a world without subjectivity.
Arguably a digression (though “digression” isn’t necessarily a simile with “unproductive”), we now come to the matter of certainty/uncertainty, which is very similar to the matter of objectivity/subjectivity. The matter of convincing and compelling is notably interesting when considered in light of the short story “Ludwig” by O.G. Rose (deeply inspired by On Certainty by Ludwig Wittgenstein), for as that story makes clear, we have certainty over very little, and yet we are still compelled and convinced. Few have actually been to Iraq and know for sure that the war there is a fiasco: we rely on the authority of the media to inform us about world events. Few have actually done the math themselves to verify M-Theory. We rely on the authority of experts. Few have studied actual documents from the Civil War era to determine for sure what the war was about: we understand the war as historians have taught us to understand it. All this isn’t to say the War in Iraq isn’t a fiasco, that M-Theory isn’t true, or that historians misrepresent history, but rather to point out that we don’t actually know for sure much of what we believe we know for sure, and yet in no way whatsoever does that seem to impede our capacity to be convinced or compelled.
How can we be convinced and compelled by that which we cannot be certain about? To be uncertain about x is precisely not to be convinced by x, and yet we seem to be convinced readily that “a tree is a tree,” “Pluto exists,” “my friend is honest,” and so on. How? There seems to be a point where we are certain enough that we can be convinced and compelled (even though we can’t be completely certain). This brings us to another gradient:
(100% Certain)………………………………………………(100% Uncertain)
We never seem completely certain or uncertain: we seem (ultimately) always (un)certain (as we are always subjective/objective). We are in one moment 80% certain and 20% uncertain, another moment 30% certain and 70% uncertain, and so on — there always seems to be “space” for us to be wrong, and realizing this is healthy for Pluralism. “Objective” and “certain” have very similar meanings, as do “subjective” and “uncertain”: they seem to follow one another. What we are objective about is that which we seem to be certain about; subjective, uncertain about. And as it is not the case that what we are objective/subjective about is that which we are necessarily right or wrong about, so it is the case regarding what we are certain/uncertain about: I can be utterly certain about something that is false, as I can be utterly certain about what is true.
But still, how can I be compelled by that which I hold uncertainty about? For one, we don’t actually feel uncertain about much of what we are actually uncertain about (without realizing it): I’m not actually certain that the Roman Empire existed (I haven’t studied the evidence myself), but I feel certain that it existed (because I rightly/wrongly trust the experts), and hence can be compelled by evidence about it. Second, I am “truly ignorant” about my actual uncertainty: I don’t know that I don’t know if Rome existed. My trust in experts is so great that the fact I haven’t studied the evidence myself becomes “invisible” to me, and the thought Rome doesn’t exist absurd. The thought that we don’t actually know for ourselves much of what we are told rises and falls in consciousness if it ever rises at all, and we become “truly ignorant” about how much in the world we are actually uncertain about. And when I am “truly ignorant” of my uncertainty about x, I paradoxically feel certain about x, making it possible for me to be compelled and convinced by x. What I am compelled by isn’t that which is necessarily true, but it must necessarily be that which I feel is true.
I am why I can be convinced and compelled by that which I am actually uncertain about, for I am the source of my feelings and my “true ignorance”: I can bridge a gap in myself that I don’t bridge at all, and do so in a way that makes me genuinely believe that I’ve actually bridged the gap. More often than not, when I am convinced by x instead of y, I’m relying on authority that I cannot hold actual certainty about, and yet I’m reliant in such a way that I hide from myself the very fact that I am relying on (uncertain) authority. I project onto x my idea of x, and then I am attracted to x like a magnet because of something within me — something out of which “my idea of x” very well may have been crafted. In a sense, I attract myself, and if I am attracted/compelled by x instead of y, it is probably because x makes “more (invitational) room” for me than does y (perhaps because y confronts my “true ignorance” in ways that feel bad and uncomfortable). X is “more like me” than is y, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that x is false and y true; rather, it could mean only that I am prone to self-deceive myself in a manner that helps me feel objective and clear-sighted.
Ironically, we strive to be certain to avoid the self-deception we are all prone to, and yet certainty itself is prone to being a worse kind of self-deception, precisely because we believe it is freedom from self-deception. We run from self-deception into blindness of blindness. But what is “certainty” then if not “rightness?” It’s just a feeling, one prone to utterly self-deceive, and yet one that is vital for us and “the main drive of human action,” as will be explored in “The True Isn’t the Rational” by O.G. Rose.
This all brings us to a question that we have in some respects answered but that needs more elaboration:
Is objectivity in any capacity possible, or is it always just escaping us?⁶
Answer: it depends.
With “A is A” by O.G. Rose in mind, let me explain.
What can I be objective about? “2 + 2 = 4?” Yes/no. Math doesn’t exist “in the world,” yet it exists “objectively” to humans. The number two cannot be found walking on the sidewalk: it is created in the human mind and projected “into the world” from there. The source of math is in fact the human being, and it exists because subjectivity exists. Does that mean math isn’t objective? Yes/no: it means math is subjective/objective but leans “toward” objectivity, per se. Relative to humans, math is indeed (more so) objective, but math isn’t such relative to the whole of being. So, in one way, I can be objective about math, but in another way, I cannot be.
Can I be objective about the historical fact that “the Constitution was signed September 17, 1787?” Yes/no. Relative to humans, a certain piece of paper “is” “the Constitution,” but relative to the world “the Constitution” isn’t real, only a piece of paper. In fact, there isn’t even “paper,” just atoms (but not the word “atoms”). And without humans, there would be no topic of history, and so no “historical facts”; in fact, it is perhaps the case that there wouldn’t even be “facts.” Yes, there would be actualities, but no beings for these actualities to be “toward” (and hence known as “facts”). And so historical facts are subjective/objective too, though lean toward “objectivity.”
I could go on: my point is that at best, humans can achieve a “subjectivity/objectivity that leans toward objectivity” (though remember, “objective” isn’t a simile with “true/right,” though that doesn’t mean what is “objective” isn’t “true/right”), and if this is what is meant by “objective,” there is validity to the word. But if “objective” doesn’t necessarily mean “right,” what is the use of the word? It would seem that what is “objective” is “that which has a higher-than-normal probability of being right,” but not necessarily. But if that’s all the word means, is the word worth using, seeing how prone the term is to causing misunderstanding?
To conclude, reminiscent of Giambattista Vico, humans can only achieve (meaningful) “objectivity” about that which is created by, and relative to, humans (such as math, historical facts, identities, etc.), even though such entities are beget by and out of subjectivity/objectivity (human selves). Hence, it is possible to be objective “relative to” something, though not objective overall, and considering this, it is a valid endeavor to try to be objective (“relative to” this or that). But it should never be forgotten that none of us are capable of true objectivity (overall), for this contributes to a humility that is necessary in our Pluralistic Age — an age which I believe requires success of the Habermasian project to continue. Furthermore, like the realization that “true ignorance” exists, never forgetting our state of subjectivity/objectivity can contribute to a healthy existential tension in each of us that will help us constantly reexamine what we think and the very experiences we undergo of arguments, discussions, debates, and the like. What is hard can also be good.
Relative objectivity being possible, how do we achieve it? Not easily: again, many papers by Rose are dedicated to the question of how to function well as an intellectual being. But do remember that “objective” not being a simile of “right,” it is possible for us to achieve the difficult-to-gain objectivity and still be wrong (and the existential tension that we “might be wrong” will always be present). Exercising perfectly “the art of thinking” doesn’t guarantee being correct (“relative to” this or that), though it does mean there will be a higher probability of such. Nothing is guaranteed and only nothing (especially if “the map is indestructible”): we will always have to live with wondering if we are wrong, and yet this can be healthy.
Fair enough, but assuming we follow these lessons and achieve objectivity best we can, how will we know when we encounter (actual) truth? How will we know when we are being compelled and convinced by that which is actually true versus that which we only think is true? We will never be able to know for sure — existential uncertainty is unavoidable to some degree, though it is possible to achieve states of less versus more — but if we are to have some degree of existential stability on the matter, we must first recognize that we are looking for a kind of experience of truth more so than a simple intellectual assent. Math is encountered through an experience, not simply thought; a historical fact is encountered in a classroom while thinking about practice and worried about what our peers said about us earlier: facts are always experienced, not simply contemplated. This is a reason why everything is always subjective/objective, because experience itself is necessarily a mixture of objects and subjects: to humans, there is no such thing as an object that isn’t experienced or an experience that doesn’t consist of objects (keep in mind that a living thing is both a subject and an object: Sarah is her body and self, for example). Hence, if we are going to discuss “how to recognize (actual) truth,” we must discuss what it’s like to experience truth (while not forgetting there will always be some degree of uncertainty). This brings us to “the phenomenology of truth-encounters.”
What is it like to encounter (actual) truth? It’s very much like encountering our truth — a truth that is only true relative to us — and perhaps exactly the same. Are there experiential characteristics that separate “a relative truth” from an “actual truth?” In other words, what is different about an experience of “a truth to me” from an experience of a “truth that is actually true?” First realize that the experiences can be similar, for “what is true to me” can in fact be “actually true”: it’s actually easier to tell the difference when the two conflict then when they synthesize (and in that way, ironically, the existential tension over “Am I right?” can actually be worse when “what I think is true” is in fact “actually true”). Second, considering “The Death of Skepticism” and “On Critical Thinking,” both by O.G. Rose, a feeling of existential anxiety can be a sign that we are encountering that which doesn’t simply reinforce our worldview but forces us to reexamine it. If what we are encountering has existential consequences, this can be a sign of encountering (actual) truth, but not necessarily: if a Christian encounters a strong argument for Atheism that causes the Christian to feel anxiety, this doesn’t necessarily mean the Christian is encountering truth (but it may).
This phenomenological matter is a difficult one to settle. What are the features of something that “clicks,” of a line that jumps out from a book, a point made by a person during a lecture that stands out, a thought that we can’t forget — what are the characteristics of these things that strike us as “true?” Are these simply a reflection of bias and ideology, or is it that what “clicks” is that which is “(actually) true?” It’s hard to say — getting “under” “a truth” for “the truth” is an incredible challenge — but what might be helpful is a list of characteristics of something that “clicks.” Consider the following:
The truth in question isn’t limited to one area, but rather it can be applied to many areas. The world isn’t segmented, but holistic: humans split the world apart in thought in ways that that world is never actually split in of itself. Hence, a truth that only applies to “one of the slices” is a truth that is more likely to be something “created by the human mind” versus something that is actually “in the world.” Just because something is made in the mind doesn’t mean it is fake, but if a truth is “transferable,” there is at least a higher likelihood that it isn’t only a mental apparition.
The truth demands something of us, and there is a strong sign it is “actually true” when it forces us outside our comfort zone. It forces us to “do” something and impacts how we “practice” in the world, the idea has some kind of impact on our world, which is evidence that the idea isn’t simply reinforcing “how we want to live.” Just because an idea will impact how we live in the world doesn’t mean it is necessarily true, but it is a good sign.
“Hierarchies of value” are made by humans: nature does not think of a creature that survives over others as “better” (what occurs is simply what occurs). Whenever a person uses a word like “better,” “faster,” and the like, a hierarchy is created, which instantly necessitates the presence of a human with a subjectivity that ranks this as that and that as this. Hence, a truth that implies a hierarchy automatically necessitates the presence of a human subjective, which implies the possibility of a confusion of “an idea of truth” with “(actual) truth.” Additionally, a hierarchy implies a “splitting up” of the whole of “being” into “beings,” and relative to the world, the world is never so “split up”: its parts are always working in concert. Yes, technically, there is no such thing as “the world,” just each of its individual parts all referred to at once with the word “world,” but it is the case that those individual parts always operate within a network that they never exist outside of, and yet hierarchy implies they can. A truth that doesn’t imply a hierarchy has a higher likelihood of being “(actually) true,” but I don’t mean to imply all truths that imply hierarchy are necessarily false. It depends.
4. Non-Moralizing and/or Non-Valuation
An ethic necessitates a human presence: there is no murder in nature, only killing. A truth that establishes “x is wrong/right” is a truth that necessitates an observer who holds a set of values relative to which “x is wrong/right.” Relative to another observer, a different set of values and morals could be present. “Murder” cannot exist as distinct from “killing” without values like “human life is irreplaceable”; “theft” cannot exist without a value of “private property”; and so on. A truth that doesn’t moralize or valuate is a truth that has a higher likelihood of being “(actually) true,” but this doesn’t mean “murder isn’t wrong.” Values and moralities don’t make a truth false, but they are a sign that relativity is involved, warranting skepticism (which isn’t a simile for “disbelief”). Please note though that we might be more equipped to identify subjective truths than “ultimate truths,” assuming Giambattista Vico is correct.
5. Explanation and Justified Premises
A case which is justified by its premises and “held up” by an explanation which is grounded in those premises is a truth that has a higher likelihood of being “(actually) true.” However, identifying what constitutes “justified premises” and a “justified explanation” is no easy matter, seeing as we are locked in ourselves, and what is “justified to us” may not be “(actually) justified.” How can we tell? Many of the essays by Rose hope to offer some tools.
This is a short list, and at the end of the day, isn’t it possible that all these phenomenological characteristics are only of “what I think is true” versus “what is true?” Perhaps, and if it were the case that I were to encounter “my truth” versus “the truth,” I very well might “not know that I don’t know” that I’m encountering “my truth” versus “the truth” (“true ignorance” is a constant threat to “being actual”). However, this is always the case, but at least by knowing the characteristics of something that “clicks,” along with the ideas and advice offered in other works by Rose, there is at least a better chance of achieving actuality. But then again, perhaps not: how can we say for sure?
Is it possible to compel and convince anyone who isn’t already compelled and convinced? Perhaps by presenting truths with the characteristics listed above? Perhaps, but if “the map is indestructible” (as will be discussed in other works), it would not seem possible. But surely people have changed their minds in history — convincing can’t be impossible. How does it happen? What “in” a person makes it possible for the person to be convinced and compelled away from his or her worldview into another? Admittedly, it seems incredibly difficult, especially if we’re speaking for non-emotional reasons.
Before addressing these questions, it’s helpful to ask why a person participates in the worldview a given person participates in. It seems to be the case that the worldview a person starts with isn’t something that person is “convinced into,” but more so “born into.” A person without a worldview can’t really be convinced of anything, for there is no standard against which a person can be convinced of this or that, nor any worldview from which the person can be convinced into another. One’s “starting worldview,” per se, isn’t one a person acquires via “convincing,” but more so “absorbing,” and yet we all experience our “starting worldview” as if we acquired it rationally through skepticism, weighing the evidence, and so on. This doesn’t mean our “starting worldview” is necessarily false, but it does mean we are prone to overestimate our own intellectualism.
Hence, the matter of being convinced isn’t a matter of why people adopt the “starting worldview” they do, but a question of how to convince a person from that starting point to something else (though it’s possible for a person to be convinced, in the name of truth, from truth to falsity). Considering the magnet metaphor from earlier, there has to be something “in” a person to attract that person from x to y (at the very least, rationality). And what seems to be most “in” a person is their “starting worldview,” which is a matter of not simply abstract frameworks, but experiences, emotions, and so on. Hence, to convince someone from x, y must have some “image” or characteristics of x; otherwise, the person being convinced can’t be “attracted” from x to y (or at least it is incredibly difficult). Therefore, it is at least somewhat possible to compel and convince someone who isn’t already compelled and convinced by his or her self, but only if y is presented in a way that “brings out” its likeness to x. If x has no connection with y, to try to convince someone to x is like trying to convince someone in English to convert from Atheism to Christianity who only speaks Chinese: it’s possible, yet not really.⁸
But if there must be something “like” x in y, doesn’t this mean that in some way, we can never fully escape our “starting worldview,” since we can only be convinced into that which is “like” it? In a sense, but just because a y is “like” x doesn’t mean it is “less true” or “more true”: “likeness” has no direct relation with “validity.” And it doesn’t seem fated that we all be stuck, to some degree, in our “starting worldview,” but it does seem probable that a given person never truly escapes (though again, this doesn’t mean a given individual is necessarily wrong). At best it seems, as long as they are linked by “bridges of likeness,” a person can move from x to y, then y to z, and then z to b, with b being “not very like x” directly, though “like x” through y and z.
It seems probable that we never really move but so far from our “starting worldview,” rather it be true or false; if we are compelled into another framework, it is probable that framework be “like” the framework we absorbed. But at the end of the day, it is likely we will maintain our “starting worldview,” a framework we weren’t convinced into, but started with (to even make possible “being convinced,” though it is unlikely we ever will be, though that isn’t to say our worldview is unlikely to change in degree versus kind). Living out what we start with, we experience our framework as “one we are convinced by,” when really it is more so “one we absorbed,” and go through life probably never actually being convinced of anything at all (that changes our framework “in kind” versus “in degree”). Do note that this means when we try to convince someone to change their view, we are likely asking them to achieve rational grounding for something we ourselves probably just “absorbed” (and then saw evidence for). In other words, we are likely demanding a standard to be met that we ourselves didn’t meet (and yet we likely believe we met that standard). Additionally, “being convinced” is an unnatural process — it is natural to “absorb” and unnatural to “conclude,” per se — so we ask others through argument to undergo something unnatural that we ourselves probably didn’t undergo. And then we get frustrated when they resist. (Also note that “absorbing” is how we can all hold worldviews despite the formidable epistemological challenges that come with assenting to a view.)
It is probable that we live in a state “un-convinced” of our worldview (for we just “absorbed” it), and that gradually our worldview becomes “invisible” to us (like a doorknob that works, to borrow from Heidegger) as we live out our lives and just try to make it through this hard life in one piece. In a way, we forget we are a Christian, an Atheist, etc.; like air, it covers everything, is through what we see all, and that which sustains us. Until we travel to outer space where air is gone — which few will ever do — we never think about the presence of air; likewise, the Christianity of the Christian is “invisible” until the Christian encounters the Atheist (and vice-versa). Ideology is real and necessary, as is air, and yet exists as a “present absence” until something threatens it.
Is all this a problem? Perhaps, perhaps not: it is reality. It would seem that we cannot so much convince other people to change from x to y so much as people must convince themselves, and we at best can present a given individual with evidence that y is “like” x, which the individual must choose to acknowledge on his or her own. Simply put, it seems we can present others with water, but not force them to drink; we can present others with fire, but not force them to burn. But what if we only think we are presenting a person with living water and not deadly fire, truth instead of falsity? Then the person shouldn’t accept what we offer, and it is up to that individual to have cultivated “the life of the mind” within his or her self to have the necessary discernment. We all have responsibilities.
But what if people are born ascribing to an “apocalyptic ideology,” an ideology that if they aren’t convinced out of, the world will end? What if a situation arose in which “failure to convince” was “failure to save humanity?” If it was necessary to stop the Apocalypse to move x to c, how could this be done (without resorting to violence)? Well, aware that it is unlikely a person be convinced from x to y unless x is “like” y, we are at least equipped with a guide for what we need to do if there is to be any hope at all. If we realize y must be “like” x, we know we must look for “what in my view is like another’s view,” versus “what in their view is wrong” and/or “how do I get them to realize they are wrong.” In a sense, to be convinced to move from x to y necessarily entails admitting “I was wrong,” but it’s not the same as throwing out our entire worldview versus only changing it by degrees (perhaps from out of “being apocalyptic”). “Being wrong” and “adapting” aren’t the same thing, existentially or philosophically.
To find what in x is “like” y, we must be empathetic: we must try to see the world through the eyes of those who ascent to y. Hence, convincing takes empathy, and in the act of convincing, one also has to convince his or her self of what he or she is preaching.⁷ This is because empathizing entails seeing one’s self through the eyes of another; in fact, that might be the first thing we see through different eyes. Hence, empathy entails seeing what is most familiar as strange, and to see one’s self as strange is startling and even overwhelming: it’s like returning home after many years and finding home tainted and mutated with apartment complexes. The existential uncertainty caused by pain is a reason many don’t empathize, but it is necessary for convincing. To the degree a person engaged in trying to convince another isn’t empathetic is to the degree the person will fail to find the “like” which the person who believes in x needs to transition to y. “Common ground” isn’t simply needed for “political correctness” or “bipartisanship,” but for the possibility of an argument changing a person’s mind at all.⁹
People cannot convince without also convincing themselves.¹⁰ This is why few of us ever try to convince anyone of anything: we let others live their lives because we don’t want to threaten our own way of life (leaving others alone is often to be left alone). And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless that is an “apocalyptic worldview” forces us to attempt convincing and compelling others from x to y. In this situation, self-preservation is self-destruction. But even if in this situation we don’t cave into the temptation of self-preservation and engage in empathy, convincing individuals away from an “apocalyptic worldview” isn’t simply a matter of presenting them with a “likeness bridge” they can choose to use or not to use (and note here that even if we present an incredible case for y over x, there is no guarantee people will change out of their “apocalyptic worldview”). Not only must people be convinced, but they also must be given the tools necessary for being convinced; in other words, they must be able to think and intellectualize well. Seeing as no one thinks they can’t do these things well, we first have to convince others that they are “truly ignorant” about their lack of capacity to conceptualize (which might also be our problem). And that will only occur if we can make people realize for themselves that they are so “truly ignorant” — we cannot force anyone to believe this — and even if we succeed at this, we then need them to recognize their need for “the tools” necessary for thinking well, and this is all before we can even begin moving the individual from “apocalyptic worldview” x to y.¹¹ And if a person ascribes to such an “apocalyptic worldview,” it is very possible that the individual will be difficult to speak to, let alone convince to move his or her self into accepting “true ignorance,” the need for “tools of thinking,” and worldview y. And keep in mind that as a person probably requires a “likeness bridge” between ideologies to shift, so a person must see something “like x” in the argument itself that the person is “truly ignorant” and needs “conceptual tools,” for otherwise the person probably won’t be “moved” to confront his or her “true ignorance” or lack of “conceptual tools.” And don’t forget, even if we succeed at compelling a person to grasp the need to think and confront “true ignorance,” let alone y, we cannot make the person accept y.¹² No one can make anyone accept anything, even that which will save the world.
Clearly, the challenge is great.
It is hard to empathize with those who hold an “apocalyptic worldview,” precisely because their view is apocalyptic, and yet it is with those who empathy is most necessary. Empathizing with such people feels like accepting their worldview, which our desire to stop the Apocalypse will not readily allow us to do (and do note that we tend to think of those who disagree with us as contributing to the destruction of the world in some way). Furthermore, to empathize requires becoming existentially uncertainty with our own self, which is hard to bring ourselves to do in a world where living without such existential reflection allows us to live our practical lives happily and well.¹³ But if an “apocalyptic worldview” formulates, the only way to stop it is to become uncomfortable with ourselves. But what if “the map is indestructible?” Then won’t we make ourselves uncomfortable for nothing?
¹The “self” or “summation of me” is a matter of “high order complexity,” as discussed in “Experiencing Thinking” by O.G. Rose, and furthermore this sentence alludes to questions of responsibility, as discussed in “On Responsibility” by O.G. Rose.
²This paragraph is inspired by the “People and Objects” series by Bernard Hankins.
³This will increase the likelihood of succeeding at the Habermasian project.
⁴The conflation of “subjective” with “wrong” and “objective” with “right” has been as destructive as conflating “rational” and “true” (as discussed in “The True Isn’t the Rational” by O.G. Rose).
⁵A similar image and idea has been used elsewhere to describe sexuality, gender, etc.
⁶A similar question could be asked about subjectivity.
⁷And changing a person’s mind is hard enough as it is: to change our worldview is to change our entire way of life, our habits, our routines, our relationships, and so on, all while having to accept that we were wrong for all those years beforehand. What is familiar to us is that which we cannot give up without, in a way, giving up our identity, and to give up that is to give up the lens through which we see and know everything.
⁸Do note the close relation of “empathy” and “critical thinking,” as discussed in “On Critical Thinking” by O.G. Rose, a relation emphasized by the fact that we cannot empathize without engaging in introspection.
⁹Has no Atheist forced a Christian to realize that his or her worldview is insane? Perhaps Atheists have defeated Christians in debate, but without the establishment of a “likeness bridge,” the Christians likely leaves the debate defeated but without changing their way of life.
¹⁰Or reminding his or her self why he or she ascribes to y worldview.
¹¹Before a person moves out of an “apocalyptic worldview” to y, the person must first be convinced that they need to read The True Isn’t the Rational by O.G. Rose, for example, and even if this is achieved, there is no guarantee the person won’t use the conceptual methods from the book to “ideology preserve” versus “change ideology,” as will be discussed.
¹²Why some will ascent and others won’t might transcend intelligibility, which doesn’t bode well if failure to understand why a group won’t ascent can contribute to catastrophe.
¹³Perhaps ignorant and shallow, but fortunately we necessarily don’t know we are ignorant and shallow.
1. This essay alludes heavily to ideas presented in “The Heart and Mind Dialectic and the Phenomenology of View(s)” — it is in many respect an extension and expansion of that work — and is easier to grasp after “The Phenomenology of True Ignorance,” both papers by O.G. Rose.
2. The “subjective and objective”-myth, along with the conflation of “subjective” and “wrong,” “objective” and “right,” has made it easy to avoid people with who we disagree, for in our mind we necessarily think of them as “subjective/wrong,” and necessarily think of ourselves as “objective/right”; hence, those we disagree with are those who can’t be reasoned with, and its rational to avoid those who will only waste our time. Furthermore, the “subjective and objective”-myth has also impeded our capacity to grasp “both-ness” — “subjective/objectivity” versus “subjective and objective,” per se.
3. The fact we’re all inescapably “objective/subjective” points to why those personally invested in something, even if they are genuinely trying their best to be objective, cannot help but have their discernment impacted. However, that doesn’t mean they are necessarily wrong, and in fact, personal involvement in a story can contribute to people being “more correct” than those not invested, for those not invested have no reason to look closer. The conflation of “subjective” and “wrong” very well may have contributed to the discounting of views that, though “less objective,” very well might be “more right.”
4. Much of society has come to see science as the best way to obtain truth, and though there is truth to this, science is more so about “reliability” (though that isn’t to say that what is “reliable” can’t also be “true,” though keep in mind I can “rely” on a falsity). Science teaches us that if we drop a ball, we can “reliably believe” the ball is going to fall, because under the high majority of circumstances, such occurs (unless we’re on the moon, for example). Science cannot establish that it’s true that “balls always fall,” but science can establish that it’s “reliable” and so “reasonable” to think that when we release a ball, it will fall. Science cannot save us from “the subjective/objective problem,” only give us a sense that we’ve made “reliable” or “unreliable” progress, which is invaluable.
5. We need truth to define truth from falsity even if it’s ultimately a “wrong truth,” but if we get rid of it on those (possible) grounds, we then lack a standard by which we could say we did the right thing. Unless that is we take on a new truth and think retrospectively, but if we lack truth, by what standard could we move into a new truth? And if the last truth is one we now conclude is wrong, why should we trust the new truth that the wrong truth helped us move into?
6. To allude to the thought of Bernard Hankins, objects are objective: “(object)ive.” If I pluck a string on a guitar, it is object-ively true that “I struck a string on a guitar” (though perhaps different words could be used). If I am bad at guitar and pluck on the string, the object will make it clear to the world that I’m not very good: the object won’t cushion the blow (considering this, perhaps the key to compelling and convincing a person is through objects?). Objects force us to deal with “object-ive reality,” and it is because we are a conscious in an object-body that we are “subjective/objective” beings. Perhaps if there was ultimately only subjectivity, there would be no objects.
7. Can we be objective about the standard against which we define (our) objectivity?
8. Facts convince only insomuch as an interpretation of those facts is irrefutable, assuming there is such thing as an irrefutable interpretation.