Gil Bailie posits a question often on my mind:
“The question is: How to avoid the errors of subjectivism without abandoning the essentially personal element in any authentic affirmation or espousal of truth? Truth, as distinct from facts, involves truth-telling and truthfulness. It requires a witness.”
Gil implies that we can choose to ‘abandon’ the ‘essentially personal element’ in what we affirm as true. I don’t see how we have the choice. I can’t be objective, because “I” am part of the equation (it’s my affirmation of truth, my witness) and “I” operate with filters, experience, history, memory, assumptions, judgments, opinions, and so on. My experience is filtered through me (“I”) before I can attest to anyone else about “truth.” My question is more along the lines of how can we minimize, or be more aware of, errors of subjectivism?
The only practical responses I can think of right now come from the Buddhist tradition.
One is doing sitting meditation, which seems to help me notice how opinionated I am, even about issues and “truths” I’m not passionate about or which don’t affect me much.
Another help is being mindful of tenets of ‘right speech’ — such as using plain and simple language, speaking at the right time (in good season), speaking with with intention of good-will and compassion, avoiding harsh language, speaking what is beneficial to all — so that truthfulness really is truthfulness and not a strategy, a well-cloaked jab, a way of fortifying my own opinions, and so on. (This is probably a Quaker ideal, too.)
Related to this is Nick Knisely’s Experience as a Theological Source:
“The standard critique of using human experience as a source for theology is that one of the tenets of the faith is that our human nature is ontologically flowed. If we can’t fully trust reason — which we supplement with other sources — then how much less can we trust our human experience.
“But … there is I believe a way to use human experience in theologically useful manner.
“In a nutshell then, the way theological inquiry really works is that we begin by having an experience. Something about that experience seems holy or connected to God. We test that sense of the numinous by examining our triad of sources [earlier defined as Scripture, Tradition and Reason] and norms to see if that sense can be validated. In other words, experience is the source of our theological inquiry in that it leads us to ask the questions in the first place.”