The Objective Reality of Language

Jeff Carreira Blog Posts, Philosophical Inquiry 3 Comments

We live in a universe of discourse – a flowing ever-adjusting transfer of information. If you want to see the world the way that George Herbert Mead and the other American Pragmatists saw it you have to understand that. Reality (or at least a great deal of it) is an affair of language because it is language that ultimately defines what counts as real.

The concept of ‘objective reality’ is usually associated with science and thought of in terms of that which can be experienced, measured and predicted. The American Pragmatists saw it differently – they felt that ultimately objective truth was social. Things are real because other people in society accept them as real and respond to them as real. Let's imagine a scenario to illustrate the point. A flying saucer from outer space lands in your backyard. You see it, walk up to it and smell the burnt grass where it has landed. You have never seen anything like it before and probably the next thing you do is get someone else to come and experience it with you.

The instinct to confirm objective reality with another person is very deep. When we experience something we are unsure of, we automatically want to verify our experience with someone we trust.

What if you called a friend to come to see the flying saucer and they claim to see nothing. You might get another friend, then another, and another? How many friends would it take before you would come to believe that the ‘objective reality’ is that there is nothing in your yard and that that there is something wrong with you? We would trust the common perspective of reality over our own.

Objective reality, according to the Pragmatists, is held in the common view of society. That is where we go to find out what is real and true.

We live in a universe of discourse – the discourse that happens between members of society and the discourse we have with ourselves in the form of thought. When we want to check the validity of our internal discussion we ask people outside of ourselves to find out what is real.

When we talk about objective reality we usually mean that which is real beyond our own ideas about it being real. It means that it is not only real inside (subjective reality) but also outside. Where then does objective reality exist then? If you are an idealist you believe that it exists in some non-material realm of thought. If you are a relativist you don’t believe it exists at all. And if you are a Pragmatist you believe that it exists in the universe if discourse of the society in which you are embedded.

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Steve Haase
11 years ago

Jeff, it seems you are pointing to how deeply influenced by Pragmatism our culture is. For instance, are there any of us who are so influenced by relativism that we would think our neighbors were the crazy ones we saw the flying saucer and the neighbors said they didn’t? Could we really say “My truth is my truth” when it comes to something as solid as aliens on the lawn? As you say, our need to share a consensus on reality runs extremely deep. Hence the ban on discussing politics and religions among polite company. :) Are you more speaking… Read more »

11 years ago

Thanks, Jeff, for a simple explanation of a profound point.
I can never contemplate enough just how influenced I am by the company I keep.

And, Steve, your reference to the “ban on discussing politics and religion amongst polite company” would appear to refer to the North American company you’re keeping!

11 years ago

Episteme This term, which Foucault introduces in his book The Order of Things, refers to the orderly ‘unconscious’ structures underlying the production of scientific knowledge in a particular time and place. It is the ‘epistemological field’ which forms the conditions of possibility for knowledge in a given time and place. It has often been compared to T.S Kuhn’s notion of paradigm. Structuralism Structuralism was a philosophical movement which achieved its heyday in the 1960s. If we define ‘structuralism’ as a movement focused on the examination of the relations between things and their structures at every level of culture and knowledge,… Read more »