Searle vs Lawson: After the End of Truth - part 2

Has realism failed?

This article was written in response to philosopher of mind and language John Searle's defence of the existence of objective truth. Read John Searle's piece here.

It is time to put behind us the arguments between realism and relativism.  Realism has failed.  Relativism is incoherent.  We must find a new philosophy that is neither realist nor relativist. 

John Searle and I have fundamental differences but let me begin with some common ground.  The relativism that has typically been espoused by generations of students cannot be expressed without relying on an implicit realism, and is at once paradoxical.  At its most elemental, to say ‘there is no truth’ is self-denying when applied to the claim itself.  Some thirty years ago at the outset of my career, in ‘Reflexivity: the post-modern predicament’, I argued that this self-referential puzzle could not be evad

Continue reading

Enjoy unlimited access to the world's leading thinkers.

Start by exploring our subscription options or joining our mailing list today.

Start Free Trial

Already a subscriber? Log in

Join the conversation

Shobha Pawar 26 January 2017

It is the clash between two views of language; metaphysical, where language is referential and the other, poststructural where language is self-referential.
'Reality' is an ambiguous term which needs to be defined properly. If the 'real is equated with 'truth', whether epistemically or ontologically, it further complicates the matter.

J Krishnamurti, the Indian philosopher on Truth:
" Truth is not 'what is', but, the understanding of 'what is' opens the door to truth. If you do not understand 'what is', what you are, with your heart, with your mind, with your brain, with your feelings, you cannot understand what truth is."
Does this quote hint at subjectivity and objectivity at once? I leave it to the scholars to decide.

Jacob Mackey 31 December 2016

Lawson's motivating problem lies here: "realism has failed in the sense that..there is no credible theory about how language hooks onto the world."

Pragmatics and cognitive science show that this is simply a non-problem, but they do nothing to sponsor or support non-realism or post-realism.

blank 30 October 2015

correction, Searle is NOT holding with the 'x'

blank 30 October 2015

Lawson is mistaken. Searle is holding with the 'x' of philosophical materialism. If he were he wouldn't have insisted on Plain Language over and against the logical positivists. What he's saying is as a description, not as a substantive 'x', truth holds.

jairo 10 August 2015

I' m a bit disturbed my her using "transcendental" in place of the correct "transcendent". Yes, realism is wrong and relativism is incoherent. Why not to try a real transcendental approach?

David Morey 2 8 August 2015

Can philosophy be friends with science with absolutely no recognition that experience gives us openness and a plurality of possible closures, and also excludes those closures that are impossible? -this is all we need to make sense of our experience and tell a bigger story of how such a universe could end up with consciousness, science and story telling contextualisation.

David Morey 2 8 August 2015

Lawson is great on openness and undermines scientism well but my challenge to Lawson is whether Closure is always a human decision? Do we not question nature and experience, do we not listen to nature, listen to the data, and thereby allow nature to play a role in where we accept closure? Empirical evidence involves nature as well as self, it is not simply an echo chamber, even if we set the questions and interpret the answers, we press nature for responses or signs to divide the possible from the impossible, and use this to speculate on all the processes that we have to assume go on before, after or elsewhere to human presence to make sense of our incomplete individual and culture related experiences.

Maximilon Baddeley 8 August 2015

I'm sorry but has this not already been put forward through phenomenological roots: we assume that objective reality exists. We assume that you and I both see the same objects in the sky - yet we accept that these assumptions are ultimately inaccessible from each other - inter subjectivity gets around the same issues discussed here. Surely the concept of accessing independent objects, brings in that moment, perspective dependency. The real conflict lies in describing a coherent theory of consciousness.

b561248 7 August 2015

mebigguy:
I don't see that you've understood the arguments here. You quote the following:

We can provide no characterization of the reality ‘x’, nor can we explain the relationship between the ‘x’ and our descriptions of ‘it’.

And then you appeal to the predictive power of science as a rebuttal. But that is non sequitur. What is needed is a statement of how our frameworks for understanding reality (e.g. Newtonian mechanics) are able to 'latch on' to reality in a way that makes them true. You give no account of this. Your choice of Newtonian mechanics is ironic, since it has been superseded as a 'fundamental' understanding of reality by special relativity. Here we see that Newtonian mechanics was not any sort of fundamental feature of reality: just a strategy that worked well enough for many of our purposes - and a strategy that fails when we deal with relativistic speeds. Strategies are to be judged by how useful they are. You are right, science is useful. But you have established nothing about truth.

mebigguy 7 August 2015

Moreover, the argument attacking Rembrandt's birth...

Furthermore, the phrase ‘Rembrandt was born’ is also not straightforward. An art historian might argue ‘the baby that was to become Rembrandt was born in 1606, but the great artist we know as Rembrandt was not born until at least the 1630’s.’

Is just deliberately misunderstanding what the sentence was asserting. Substituting in a metaphorical notion of "birth" as an argument against the validity of the statement indicates how far one must go to hold this position. I don't see that changing the meaning of words in a sentence is any argument at all against the truth of the statement.

mebigguy 7 August 2015

we are progressing to the one true theory, which correctly describes an independent and transcendental reality.

This is one problem with many "philosophical" discussions, throwing around expressions like "transcendental reality".

He further complains:

We can provide no characterization of the reality ‘x’, nor can we explain the relationship between the ‘x’ and our descriptions of ‘it’.

Really? And yet science has produced incredible results, flights to the moon, robots on Mars, microwave ovens, NO characterization of reality "x"? There is nothing of reality in Newtonian dynamics? Nothing of reality in the quantum theory that designs the millions of transistors running the computer that this is being viewed on. That's exactly what scientific theories are fantastically successful characterizations of very real features of our world, the "x" as he puts it.

terence williams 6 August 2015

i already answered this claim with my objection to his assertion but see no sign of it here.
t.williams