Actually, that's a good point, but I don't think the failure to see where the other person might be coming from marks one as a cultist. This is a problem that is common to practically everyone who feels strongly about a particular point of view, yours and mine included.
It's one element of cultist thinking - other elements include dogmatism, demands for social conformity in a group, degree of deviation from commonly accepted social norms, level of deceit etc. An analogy could be made to killing someone - killing someone doesn't make you a murderer, but it is a necessary trait of a person who is a murderer. You still need to know the motives and the nature of the killing.
Here I think you misunderstand what Objectivism means by "the absolute truth." (Could this be a failure to see where your Objectivist opponents might be coming from? ;-)) If one idea is a better solution than another, wouldn't you say that its ~true~ (absolutely true) that one idea is a better solution than another? The modifer "absolute" in this context is redundant, as it serves only to distinguish this view of truth from a relativistic one ("true for you" but not "true for me"). If something is true, it is true ~for anyone~, because an idea's truth refers simply to its correspondence with reality, irrespective of whoever happens to believe it or disbelieve it. It's possible that I misunderstand where Objectivists are coming from but I doubt it, since I know what you say already. I think that Objectivists (and many cultists) are too quick to conflate their thoughts and judgments with the absolute truth and they consider their judgments incontrovertible from a standpoint that is often trivial. Reality can be interpreted in multiple ways that are compatible with the same reality/truth at the core of it all, yet those multiple ways might seem contradictory for whatever reason, including differences in perspective! There is the danger of thinking that one idea excludes another, when the real problem is that you do not have a wide enough perspective to see how both ideas are both reflective of a bigger reality.
I don't think there's any contradiction here. Either a particular solution works or it doesn't; if it works, then the idea that it works is true - absolutely, 100% true.More often than not, this is a pragmatic stance than a direct reflection of what is really happening.
Right; I see your point: Ignorance or falsehood in one area does not necessarily affect one's judgment in an altogether different area. I don't think that Objectivism would disagree with this, although if your epistemology is irrational in one area, it could conceivably have an impact on other areas as well.Conceivably, yes. However, this is one issue that I would resist discussing in the abstract because many related issues are often skipped over - it's not just irrational epistemology that counts, but the actual level of experience with the details/particulars in this or that field that is also import. This is one of the problems with Objectivism - there are often pronouncements from Objectivists that cross over from general logic to claims about the empirical nature of actual existents. Objectivists sometimes answer questions based on their philosophy of the mind/existence without looking at what experiments or tests show.
Perhaps, but where does the philosophy of Objectivism imply this kind of behavior?
Read The Romantic Manifesto or Rand's view of such greats like Shakespeare and Beethoven. Read Rand's criticisms of the works of such great minds like Friedrich Hayek and her recommendations as to how the works of such writers should be treated.
Granted, there are often many ways with different benefits and costs, but here you are talking about something different than philosophical truth, aren't you? You see, if you say categorically that "there are often many ways with different benefits and costs," you're claiming that this is absolutely true, and that anyone who denies it is deviating from "the truth." You're invoking a form of absolute truth in putting forth your position. In any case, Objectivists wouldn't deny that there are often many different ways to do something, all with different benefits and costs.
I remember what Robert Nozick wrote about the usual retort to the claim that there are no absolutes: he said that the existence of one absolute doesn't prove that everything else isn't relative, and that the claim (that "there are no absolutes" is one example of an absolute) is so trivial that there is nothing to do with it in other contexts.
Even if an idea has a invariant kernel in all its different forms, the wrinkles added by the use of that idea by different individuals may have benefits and costs in different contexts.
And in the end, the most important knowledge isn't that which is abstract and philosophical, but that which is useful for making predictions about the future. Most "deep philosophical truths" are trivially accepted by children in one form or another - it's the application of these truths to specific contexts that matters, and if many people are able to apply these truths without having heard of them, maybe something else is responsible for differences in the success of different individuals, and not one's mastery of abstruse philosophy...
But Objectivists often like to reject benefits/costs analysis in favor of some principle, labelling those who do benefits/costs analysis as "pragmatists", which is a slur in Objectivism. Of course, when Objectivists do such analysis, they appeal to context. A simple example would be the Objectivist position on taxation and government funding. Of course, defenders of taxation appeal to all kinds of empirically demonstrable facts about human nature such as the fact that many human beings acts as free-riders when there are no negative consequences to deter them. However, the Objectivist must find a way to counter this argument, not because it is wrong, but because it necessarily offends the Objectivist position on taxation and individual sovereignty! And while doing it, the Objectivist must also insult those who argue that human beings have tendencies to act badly when there are no negative consequences for bad behavior or positive incentives for good behavior as determinists or something like that.
I don't think that truth is contextual. I'm not even sure what that means. If an idea is true, then it correspond to reality. Insofar as reality is what it is irrespective of context, an idea's correspondence to it is what it is irrespective of context. Truth does exclude other possibilities, because there is only one reality. The only possible alternative to the truth is falsehood; either an idea is true or it is false; there is no third alternative.
I think that this view of the issue doesn't deal with many of the psychological and philosophical problems involved in apprehending the truth. It also leads to a dangerous bifurcation between truth and justification. These issues and the relevant problems for Objectivism have been discussed by a variety of critics, including George Smith, Bob Bass, Scott Ryan and Greg Nyquist.
But Objectivism rejects the idea that the truth value of an idea depends on the agreement of others, which is a form of collective subjectivism and, in Objectivist lingo, implies the primacy of consciousness. Furthermore, don't you see that you yourself are putting forward a philosophical ideology of sorts - an ideology that is not itself subject to the kind of "efficient testing" that you presumably have in mind. Yet you are quite willing to accept your own views as true and the views of those who disagree with you as false.
And Objectivism is demonstrably wrong about this claim on a variety of issues, though I agree with the spirit of what Objectivism is trying to say. If I tell you that George Bush is the President of the United States, it can only be because many people in America agree to call him the President and grant him all the powers that a President has. Without that agreement, Bush couldn't be President. In the same vein, there are many things that are true because of the similarity of human minds and brains - these truths depend on the similarity of our mental faculties and the fact that we use them in similar ways. We agree that a hand shake is a greeting, we agree that a rose is a sign of endearment etc. Sometimes, some things are true because many people agree that they are. This doesn't make them any less subjective, but this makes these truths dependent on people's choices and minds.
Secondly, there is a spirit in which I accept my own views as true and the views of those who disagree with me as false. It is not a spirit that demands conformance unless something of demonstrable importance is at stake, and even when this spirit demands conformance, it is not a spirit that enforces this demand unless the benefit/cost is easily demonstrable. It is a spirit that is willing to hear people out, even when I disagree with them, and see what is of value in what they say. It is a spirit that is ALWAYS open to hard evidence, especially testable and repeatable evidence. It is a spirit that almost necessarily devalues verbal arguments in the face of hard evidence (of course, the two are not as mutually exclusive as my post might seem to make out), because many sweet arguments are just false.
Many perspectives are compatible with the truth? Not if we are talking about the same object of belief. If you believe X and I believe non-X, at least one of us is mistaken, because two mutually exclusive ideas cannot both be true. You say that knowing what is wrong is far easier than knowing what is right. I'm not sure I follow you. Do you mean something like the following: A claim is made that cell phones cause brain cancer and that view is discredited. We discover that it's wrong, but we don't yet know what's right, i.e., what does cause brain cancer? I agree that it may be easier to discredit one idea than it is to validate another. But there's an obvious sense in which by discrediting one idea, we ~are~ validating another. Insofar as it is false that cell phones cause brain cancer, it is true that they do not cause brain cancer. In that sense, knowledge of what is false ~presupposes~ knowledge of what is true.
Yes, at least one of us is mistaken, but we might both be mistaken, and even if one of us is right, it might not be in quite the fashion that he who is right has in mind. Moreover, many people fail to note that we cannot be both completely in error, because every judgment has other judgments as components that have to be true. The claim that cell phones cause cancer requires us to agree with such propositions as "cell phones exist", "there is a disease called cancer" etc. A single error doesn't destroy all knowledge.
I agree with your obvious sense in which discrediting one idea makes another valid - we must have agreed that only those explanations were the valid ones, or at least, the empirically useful ones or possible ones. And in many contexts, it is the sense we need. However, this is a practical issue - there may be other possible explanations we have not considered and we may simply be justified in using the only one we currently understand. It may also be that the two things we consider contradictory are only apparently so -there might be a context that leads to the initially opposing ideas being no longer contradictory or mutually exclusive.
One of the reasons I don't discuss philosophy as often as I used to is because without a real problem (scientific/experimental) to fix the context and check the ideas with experiments, I often consider philosophy a waste of time. You're a smart individual, Bill, and I'm not going to get caught up on making mountains out of molehills, though you might be convinced that what I consider a molehill is really a mountain. Your view of truth has done good work for you from what I see/hear. I'm not sure what value there is in seriously debating it unless you have a problem in mind that needs resolution.