When I got out of the shower something occurred to me: at that moment reality was cold and wet and it didn’t matter if I changed my perception of it, it would still be cold and wet. If my reality was what I wanted it to be, as some relativists claim, then it would have been a warm Saturday morning and I would have gotten enough sleep.
Interestingly, relativism is one of the prevailing thought systems in academia these days. It claims that each person has their own reality and what’s true for one person’s reality may not be true for another’s. It also claims that since there are so many opinions of what is real that the nature of reality is therefore unknowable. I have a lot of problems with this line of thinking.
The first thing I’d like to point out is that some one that claims reality is unknowable is indeed claiming to know reality. When a person claims that no one can know what reality is, because it is unknowable, they basically just told you that they know what reality is. I find this to be highly contradictory. If we cannot know what reality is then we would not be able to know that we can’t know it.
Similarly, when some one claims that there are no objective truths, they just presented you with an objective truth. If truth in the objective sense does not exist then there is no point in claiming that it does not exist. This is because if you are correct, then you just refuted your own statement, and if you are incorrect then you just wasted your breath.
Besides the contradiction behind the simple stating of the claim, it is also just a poor argument to say that diverse opinions mean that there is no correct opinion. Just because people disagree about something doesn’t mean that neither of them are right. Reality is reality whether we agree about it or not. Our own ignorance does not effect the fact that there is an actual state of affairs and some have a more accurate knowledge of it than others.
It is true that people each have different and unique perceptions of reality. However, a distinction needs to be made between perceived reality and actual reality. When discussing this topic with my professor an interesting example came to my mind: this summer I visited Pender Island off the coast of Vancouver, Canada. Before this year I was ignorant to the existence of such an island. In my perceived reality, no such island existed. However, the island was still in existence despite my ignorance of it. My perceived reality expanded and became more accurate when I visited the island, but the island itself had been there already and actual reality was not effected.
Relativism claims that there is no actual reality, only our subjective perceptions. Yet that doesn’t match up because the state of the physical world around us does not change based upon our perceptions of it. Pender Island was still Pender Island before I knew of its existence. The actual state of affairs around us is not limited to or soley defined by our mindsets.
The same stands true with history. Actual objective events really took place at one point. Just because we were not there does not mean that they didn’t happen. The actual events took place even if we do not know some of the details. Although our knowledge of the past is limited, that does not mean that history didn’t happen or that we can’t know some of what happened. For instance, George Washington did not fight Napoleon at Pearl Harbor. It doesn’t matter how awesome that would have been, or how bad my knowledge of history might be, it simply did not happen. We do not even need a myriad of historical records to tell us that. It is fact and it does not change based upon how I view it.
Another thing, if reality was different for each person, I don’t see how one person could impose their reality upon another person’s reality. For instance, if my reality states that I am immune to pain, and Jimmy’s reality states that if he hits me in the face it will hurt me, then whose reality will win out? It does not matter how firmly I believe myself to be invincible, if Jimmy smites me on the nose, it will hurt. That does not make sense if my perceptions can effect the actual state of affairs around me. Though it makes perfect sense if there is an objective reality. If I were a relativist that thought I was invincible, a sock on the nose would swiftly modify my perception of reality.
Well, that’s about all I have to say. I just felt like ranting for some reason. I hope it made sense to you. And if you’re a relativist: I hope a train never imposes upon your reality. I will close with this:
“How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”
– Abraham Lincoln.