Truth vs. Opinion

Truth vs. Opinion

Logic in general refers to the inner organization of people's activity, the way we act. However, subjectively, we often discover our logicality through explicit statements concerning the different aspects of our attitudes to the world and other people. Such judgements do not necessarily stress the logical side of activity; however, every single judgement necessarily contains a logical component as well. In this respect, any human activity at all can also be made into a logical form.

The hierarchical nature of human activity assumes a hierarchy of attitudes, with the corresponding levels of judgement. On the most basic, syncretic level, judgement takes the form of opinion, a very common type of immediate reflection closely intertwined with people's everyday life, their personal experience. On the next stage, reflection grows in a separate activity, detached from its cultural basis, the activity we reflect upon. One could consider that self-contained development of reflection as a cultural representation of the ideal side of consciousness; in this sense, this level could be referred to as spirituality. Of course, spirituality develops its inner hierarchy as well. The distinct (qualitatively different) levels of this hierarchy are not arbitrary, they reflect real cultural structures.

When opinions grow into people's spirituality, they retain their syncretic character, the inseparability from the common practical decision. Such decisions do not need any further justification; they become socially fixed as beliefs. However, on the level of spirituality, there is no more immediate practical background, and therefore assorted beliefs tend to support each other forming all kinds of conglomerates, complexes, constellations… Under certain social conditions, such organized beliefs can form the core of a religious system.

A more developed kind of spirituality is already aware of the difference between people's judgment and the actual ways of the world; this critical self-assessment could be characterized as analytical reflection, and its principal levels (stages of development) are known as aesthetic, logical and ethic judgment in the specific sense, currently institutionalized in art, science and philosophy as cultural phenomena.

Aesthetic judgment usually takes the form of a (personal, subjective) view. Of course, the subjective character of a view does not mean that it belongs to a particular individual; there are different layers of the subject, including various groups, classes, nations or even the humanity as a whole, so that a collective entity may objectively play the role of an agent of activity and hence develop all kinds of collective judgements.

Views are not as rigid as beliefs; they can be intentionally combined or altered, thus allowing people to mentally try the available choices before it comes to a practical decision. However, this apparent arbitrariness is always limited and culturally bound, intrinsically depending on the historical circumstances and the fundamental trends of economic and social development. As people are not yet fully aware of what is yet to come, the arts may occasionally express quite unexpected ideas, thus becoming their first explicit formulation.

On the next level, in science, the very rules of developing views become interrelated and standardized; as soon as a view is culturally accepted as compliant with such formal criteria, it acquires the status of truth. Science is a huge machine for producing truths: it takes the products of all the other levels of reflection and puts them in the same methodological frame. In this sense, science is twice analytical: first, it makes us observe ourselves from a distance, and second, it opposes the ways of expression to the results of observation. As the accent is shifted from the content to its form, there is a risk of producing spurious truths devoid of any practical significance. It may seem that mere adherence to the scientific method is enough to come to a kind of knowledge; one cannot distinguish truth from delusion within science, one needs to always try formal results against the practical needs. In particular, the very scientific method cannot develop into a science and be true on its own. The norms of analytical reasoning are culturally depended, they depend on the current level of material production and the corresponding power of reflection. There are no “absolute” or “eternal” truths (just like there is no eternal beauty, or universal moral). Scientists pretend to go beyond mere opinions, and they are right as long as it concerns the difference between an individual opinion and a practically established procedure that can be taught and learned. However, in the hierarchy of the subject, this difference becomes relative: a scientific truth is normally a kind of collective opinion, but some individuals (or smaller groups) may be ahead of time (the current level of cultural development) and represent new modes of scientific judgement that are to eventually extend the already established paradigms. Scientific rigor is based on social acceptance (institutionalization) of certain modes of activity, which makes science much more conservative than art or philosophy. That is why scientific revolutions are usually more painful and often tragic.

Moving still higher in the hierarchy of reflection, people become aware of the origin of their views and truths and thus develop the ability to consciously control them, which takes the form of conviction, a kind of judgement considering the practical importance of anything, its historical scope, from its origin to the inevitable expiration. Convictions regulate the choice of other forms of reflection, as well as the transformation of abstract ideas into real activity. It is here that the very idea of a unique, all-comprising and integral world enters the minds; we try to abandon the primitive anthropocentric position in be honest with ourselves, admitting that the humanity is only a part of the infinite Universe, possibly not the best, but objectively necessary for the whole. This attitude could be called ethical in a wide sense, since it is concerned with the development of conscious behavior, incorporating all kinds of available regulators: moral norms, ideals, beauty and truth, ideological stand etc.

In the hierarchy of judgement, one cannot isolate one level from another. There is no sense in preferring one kind of reflection and despising the rest; they always go together and are readily convertible to each other. Breaking this integrity means spiritual degradation, inability of conscious attitude to the world and, as a consequence, impossibility of inner development. In this broken hierarchy, one form of judgement is undistinguishable from another, they all degrade to the most primitive state, with scientific truths becoming mere beliefs, or opinions. Normally, every individual act of judgment will stress a specific attitude, retaining the others in the background, ordered by their relevance to the topic in a hierarchical structure.

People's communication makes the partners compare their individual hierarchies of judgement and merge them into a synthetic whole that could serve as a common platform for joint activity. This does not always happen in an automatic manner; quite often, such personal pictures of the world require a special activity to reveal their intrinsic commonality determined by the partners' belonging to the same culture. A poorly cultivated person would fail to perceive the hierarchy of the other's attitudes, trying to plant one's own vision of the world in the other's head. This leads to tensions and conflicts that can be easily avoided provided everybody accepts mental diversity as an objective precondition for communication and learns to observe the apparent differences as superficial and formal, while the very fact of communication indicates that any individual positions are culturally comparable and present the complementary aspects of the whole.

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