Oxford Online IV 2020 Open Final
- Motion: THR the narrative that there exists no objective truth
- OG: TCD Hist B
- OO: McGill PF
- CG: Manchester JL
- CO: LSE A
- Result: CG wins on a 4-3 split with CO
Here’s the video: Oxford Online IV 2020 Open Final
This debate is transcripted by Vriti Gupta, Daiwik Dhar and Jiansheng Zhang for the Debating 404 project.
Prime Minister: Jack William
Firstly, this debate is not about principles, it is just about the perception that individuals choose to engage with on their personal level. Three points: individual angst; how this plays out in academia and university life; how this interacts with religion.
Argument 1: Individual truth
Firstly, I would posit that the possibility of no absolute truth existing in individuals’ life often fills them with incredible angst. Why? Because they doubt every single decision they make because that decision may not be the right one. This necessarily fits into every choice that an individual makes, but crucially it is the doubt after you make that choice and how that choice affects your life.
To weigh this, note that individuals making millions of choices within their life and their capacity to choose that often means that on their side it fills them with doubt. It’s like “Whether or not I should do the right degree?” or “Whether or not this degree is for me?” On their side, individuals cannot be represented. It looks like representing people that are wrapped with uncertainty on their side, and crucially means those individuals never actually get that fulfilment within their life. Why?
Firstly, you never get to enjoy those experiences insofar as you don’t know whether x or y is the correct decision for you. So, in hindsight, it may be that that decision was totally wrong, but it’s the fact that you believe objectively it was the right decision for you that allows you to feel okay with that decision. Even if that decision has negative utility for you, it’s the fact that you perceive that decision as being a good one that offsets that negative utility and hurt that you accrue.
Secondly, you have necessarily more peace on our side because you just don’t doubt decisions as much. It is just the perception from an individual level that you made a good decision—every time you have to calculate whether it was an objective truth or a bad truth.
Argument 2: Academia
What does this mean? It’s debate for debate’s sake. On their side, freedom of speech and things along those lines necessarily mean that you don’t believe in objective truth. So, no argument can necessarily be wrong or right.
What does that mean? That looks like when the Oxford Union and the college Historical Society invite fascists to their society because they want to find out whether the truth is correct or not. It looks like inviting and platforming Nigel Farage because you never actually stop and think about whether that is true. It is the fact that you continue to strive towards a subjective truth that can never be accrued.
The average person probably doesn’t think about this, but within academia circles, it’s striving to wind each other off as to who’s the “coolest” academic, or who can justify their points with logic—the point of BP debating.
Here’s the thing. Even on our side if you invite those people initially it crucially means that you probably think that what they’re saying is false and doesn’t fulfill what objective truth is around discriminating against people or directly attacking people based on their identity. The norm that happens on their side is that you just think you can find an objective truth. So, you keep inviting these people. It’s a race to the bottom. So far as you platform the worst extremes of both the left and the right, that is crucially negative. This often just keeps self-perpetuating so individuals can’t go on.
POI CO: What happens when a holocaust denier comes to the Oxford Union and says, “The holocaust did not happen. It’s an objective truth.”
Answer: I mean that’s not an objective truth. On our side you can say objectively that happened. But on your side, there is no objective truth. So, they have the capacity to reject that holocaust happened. That is the distinct difference as to what our paths do stand over. Given the thing that they identify is a status quo thing that frequently happens.
Why is platforming bad?
Firstly, it’s about minority experiences. These are individuals who often feel that they cannot engage in these conversations because these individuals are not debatable. They simply just platform a view that is just not consistent with respecting basic human decency.
Secondly, it’s the emotional harm when a debating society is willing to engage with those debate ideas. Individuals just feel uncomfortable like their experiences are being ignored. That just means that individuals are less likely to talk about those experiences. You’re less able to bridge the experiential gap that often exists between the majority and the minority who don’t understand those experiences. On our side, it’s far easier for you to talk about those issues, have better discourse and be able to solve them.
Why should you weigh this, why is it important? I know I’m Irish, and I’m making an incredibly left-wing argument. Firstly, these individuals are often to some extent vulnerable and cannot offset those harms because not many people have similar experiences to them within that society. So, if you’re a majority person who suffers some degree of discrimination, you can often offset that by talking to other people with similar experiences. But often it’s difficult to find that for minorities in majority societies.
Secondly, right-wing populism. They can often just say “Ah, let’s blame immigrants!” because that is far easier to buy into and it’s just far more visceral for individuals. But when it’s not a subjective truth but an objective truth, then that is not true. Oftentimes, they’re economically disadvantageous for a country and often do not do the things that right-wing populism does. That also compounds the previous harm.
Argument 3: Religion
While I’d note that this narrative probably in this context does not come up a lot, it looks like them defending themselves against no objective reality. Why is this? It’s often that there are subjective experiences. It often looks like religious people not willing to contend that the Big Bang exists because they can debate that something came before the Big Bang. It is the subjective opinion that a God exists; it is an objective truth that the Big Bang happened and people’s genetic makeup accrued from that. This is often why it legitimises religion. Here are the harms of doing that and why you can’t actually opt out of that.
Firstly, you often don’t need the Church. In Ireland and a lot of countries around the world, Catholic priests abused people, but you couldn’t opt out of that because you believed that that system had no objective truth. You couldn’t engage in actual debate and remove those individuals because objectively that was a messed-up system that gave you no capacity to do anything.
Secondly, it looks like affecting policy. So, it’s the fact that we are have a debate about whether gay people should have rights or should they be able to engage in wider society. But when you believe that your God is subjectively correct, then those individuals do not deserve rights. Objectivity within this context is respecting basic human decency.
Opposition in this debate needs to defend three things: Firstly, individuals’ angst is often compounded on the minorities; secondly, there are people who are actively affected by these forms of debate; and thirdly, religion affects people and locks them out. For all of those reasons, OG.
Leader of Opposition: Naomi Panovka
I’m going to start by engaging with what we hear from the PM and then advance three claims: firstly, why conceptions of truth are always shaped by actors who are in a position of power; secondly, about social impacts and then; thirdly, a principle.
The first argument that I want to refute is that individuals feel substantially more validated in their decisions when they believe there’s a subjective truth. I have a couple of responses.
Firstly, Prop completely mischaracterizes how this narrative actually applies in society overall. When you’re doing things like deciding what kind of institution that you’re going to go to, you don’t have a thought process with yourself like “Am I complying with my own objective truth?” They’re complaining about conceptions of truth with moral determinism. Rather, this narrative applies to far more broad moral questions in our lives, like what moral system we want to opt into in the first place.
Secondly, it is not good if people feel more validated in the kind of decisions that they are making if they are making decisions that are not actually in their own self-interest. What we’re going to prove through our case is that we unlock a far broader number of choices to people. So, even if they do not feel as validated in what they are doing, they have material resources that are actually far more aligned with their own identity and interests.
In terms of de-platforming individuals, Farell will give you mitigation about why this is not the reason why we platform people or not. But let’s just take their case at its best. We just don’t think that platforming people is actually something that is that bad. Even in a world with objective truth, people have different conceptions about what their own objective truth actually is, meaning that people still end up having black views. When we platform people, you’re often able to hear how socially ridiculous what they’re saying is. When you have other people who are able to say that holocaust denial is wrong and when you have things like public debates, this is actually a way that we can moderate the opinions of substantial numbers of people.
Argument 1: Positions of power
The first argument that I’m going to forward is that conceptions of truth are always shaped by actors who exist in positions of power. In our world, where we have objective truth, you’re not finding your own objective truth that you magically come to that is most aligned with your own identity. What we conceive as being the truth is always shaped by agents of socialisation, and our agents of socialisation are always those who are in a position of power and privilege over our lives.
Examples of these are religious institutions that claim that their religious texts are infallible or epistemically morally correct. The state often has the narrative of objective truth when they say that a particular ideology, such as nationalism, is something that is infallible and morally correct. Even lower levels of authority like parents can see their conception of the world as something that is absolutely morally correct.
So basically, when these actors are able to say, “This is what objective truth is,” it massively stagnates any kind of questioning of authoritative structures that are beneficial for individuals and society as a whole. This leads to a couple of harmful impacts.
Firstly, individual actors feel substantially more emboldened to perpetuate their conception of what the truth is at the point at which they believe that they are 100% morally correct in what they are doing. So, these powerful actors often have the capacity to shape the agency of other people. We give you the example of Western colonial powers who were very willing to engage in things like developing practices. They believe that the kind of policies that they were engaging in were absolutely morally correct because they have access to some kind of “moral truth.”
Even if powerful actors would have an incentive to do bad things on either side of the house, individual people within authoritative structures become more introspective on our side. If you do not believe that maybe Christianity of your colonial state is absolutely correct, individual people are going to be substantially more likely to question what those structures are and what those structures look like. So, you end up getting your powerful actors to be substantially more inclined to influence the agency of other people, and they feel a lot more validated with their own moral views.
Secondly and more importantly, individual people within these kinds of institutions become substantially less introspective about the nature of these power structures and institutions. If you believe that what you’re being told by your parents or religion is objective truth, you have absolutely no reason to question whether this is actually true or what these kinds of power dynamics actually look like because you’re just blindly following morality.
In theory, Proposition might say, “But what if you have the wrong objective truth?” When you have literally been socialised to believe in a particular truth from a very young age, any kind of grappling with your entire moral paradigm is going to create such an existential crisis on an individual level. Under our side of the house, people are going to be a lot more willing to buy into the fact that multiple conceptions of truth are actually something that exists, which is very important in decreasing the perceived moral legitimacy of actors who try and reinforce the idea that there’s only one kind of particular truth.
This is important for a couple of things.
Firstly, Even if we do not shape entire social structures, individual people become substantially more introspective and are able to make choices that are more in their own lived experiences. So, for example, some religious institutions would question whether their religion is actually morally correct and perhaps be a lot more inclined to convert when they actually introspect on that. This is good because people have diverse preferences, and we’re likely to find an end that is actually meaningful to them.
Secondly, this narrative massively reifies power structures and decreases the rate at which social change is able to occur. Even if they get small quantities of people questioning these structures, large numbers of people massively increase the rate of social change when you increase your perceived legitimacy of how you’re counteracting the social structure. We also get more power in numbers in the form of protests or resources to actually change these kinds of institutions.
The kind of institutions that we were talking about that were established in society first are overwhelmingly regressive and problematic, and we can unlock agency by changing these kinds of bad power structures.
Argument 2: Better for society
Second claim: how are we better for society as a whole.
Firstly, the narrative that there is an objective truth massively decreases our willingness to compromise on issues and to discuss things with others. So, if you believe that your own thought process is something that is absolutely morally correct, you’re going to feel incredibly validated within that particular thing that you were thinking. Therefore, things like cross-political discussions are going to become substantially less likely because you believe that you are so morally correct that people on the other side of the political spectrum are morally bankrupt and crazy. So, we’re able to get a lot more compromise on key social issues under our side of the house.
Secondly, when it comes to institutions like science or academia as a whole, you’re a lot more likely to question embedded biases when you believe that the things that those institutions have discovered are malleable rather than absolutely correct. Science as a whole would have actually developed at a substantially faster rate when you continually question the hypotheses of other people when they’re often wrong. The first person who invents a genius thing is often seen as being correct, but they’re often not. When you can get criticism in the future, you actually unlock that initial assumptions were incorrect. So, when it comes to things like scientific progress, it is vital to get a continual questioning of hypotheses in order to get the best kind of innovation in the long term.
Argument 3: Principle
Finally, what is the principle of this debate? We disagree with OG that there is no principle. Effectively, we think that there is no such a thing as objective truth in the most important kinds of things. When it comes to certain scientific things, there might be objective truth. But in the areas of our lives, the narrative that applies to the most is the narrative that there is no objective truth. These are things like religion, morality, individual priorities, and what the good life ultimately looks like. There is no objective truth in this case because what we consider to be true in the first place is shaped by things that are entirely subjective and individualised. Our entire moral system is shaped by a variety of facts that are reinforced by actors who have their own subjective preferences about what the world is going to look like, which is evidence under the status quo why we opt into entirely different ends and we all have our own preferences.
A narrative that tells people that the world is true actively feeds them a conception of society that is a lie and that is actually false. You tell people there is a truth when there is not. This is a moral wrong within itself because you harm people’s will to actually introspect and come to independent conclusions.
For all these reasons, I’m very proud to stand in OO.
Deputy Prime Minister: Aodh
Two parts to the deputy. First of all, what we heard from OO; second of all, what we got from OG.
First of all, what did we hear from OO? It’s a massive assertion—which I think needs to be mechanised and then would probably be back-building—when they say that the most powerful people define truth. Check your flow, panel. They never explain why this is true. It is a lot more likely that in a world where you believe in objective truth, you will have the most credence for someone who proves that the objective truth is right. So, this means that when a religious leader or a scientist is at conflict, you’ll probably just believe who has the better logic. People can prove exactly true things, using proof by contradiction, for example. You can prove that the Catholic God doesn’t exist because there’s no way they’re suffering in a world where there’s an all-powerful all-good God.
The second thing they say is that powerful individuals are emboldened to act worse. Again, there’s no comparative analysis here. They do not explain how powerful people are linked to the narrative. If you are the Catholic church or a colonial power, you will do awful things because it is in your self-interest. I don’t think it matters whether you can say that you are objectively true or not. You will still act the same way. However, what does change when objective truth does not exist and everything is subjective is that they can always justify their things more. Then you cannot disprove that it is objectively good to try and spread the Catholic Church around the world, even though that is absolutely awful. The way people act is just simply independent of social narratives. Trevelyan was a sociopath when he colonised Ireland. He did so because he was a terrible person. It doesn’t even matter that he believed in some narrative.
Then they say the parents make you unsure of your entire life in the future. Again, this is not the tipping point. On our side, presumably, parents say, “You should believe this because it’s true.” If their comparative is “Oh you should believe this because it’s true. By the way, objective truth exists”, I’m not sure exactly why you believe your parents more.
But it is also incredibly unclear to us as to why they believe once you believe in objective truth, you believe the first truth that you hear. We think that actually—and this clashes well with their points about finding the best objective truth—on our side of the house, you get more analysis, discussion, overview and accountability as to what is true. If something can be subjectively true on their side of the house, when someone says something, then you do not argue against them because you believe that their truth could be subjectively legitimate. Even though you might believe other things, you don’t actually think that you can disprove them because truth does not exist. However, on our side of the house, if someone tells you something and they might be wrong—whether that’s scientists, parents or the powerful people that OO talked about—you are now more able to scrutinise them at the point which you can explain exactly why they do not have access to the objective truth.
I’m very glad that in a very fun speech Jack allowed me to purely run consequentialism, but unfortunately OO wanted to make it about principles. They say there is no such thing as the truth. They never explain why the truth is important. First of all, if they want to make this about what is true and they say there’s no such thing as objective truth, we say, “Yes, there absolutely is.” It’s incredibly intuitive.
What does truth mean? It means something that factually occurs or is factually valid along a certain metric, whether that is “Does it occur?” or “Who won a debate?” These things have particular answers because we’ve created entire academic subsets of logic and philosophy which have proven this. I can not only tell you by intuition but also write out an equation and prove by contradiction why “two plus two equals four.” The truth is only an expression of what language can be determined to be valid. Within our own experience, things can be true. Even though I cannot write an equation for why one girl might be a better partner for me, there’s some objective truth. Compatibility is a defined objective thing because it is a part of the language. Therefore, it is objectively true that there is one person that is most compatible with me. Objective truth exists.
POI CO: Very simply, if this narrative goes away tomorrow, what is the most obvious candidate for objective truth. and why is it good or bad?
Answer: I’m sure you have an answer for that. We’d love to engage with you, and you should probably have told us that.
Argument 1: Academia
First of all, there is the free market of ideas. This is moving on to Jack’s case. We tell you that often the average person, we admit, probably won’t think about this every day of their lives. Where it does apply is for people involved in debating, discourse and philosophy. Naomi says that the DLO will engage with this. We think that is backloading and against the rules of debating. The reason why fascists continue to get invited and platformed is because the free market of ideas tells you that you should always find out the truth by pitting two ideas against each other.
This happens on our side of the house and it only can be good. What changes is that this thing happens once on our side of the house. You have a debate you understand that the Nazi was wrong and then you stop. On their side of the house, you keep inviting the Nazi because there is no such thing as disproving a Nazi on their side of the house. Hamza talks about why is it so bad if the holocaust denier keeps on telling them they have objective truth. First of all, even on their side of the house holocaust deniers believe in an objective truth because they are probably outside of the social norm narratives and because they’re crazy. Secondly, on our side, the holocaust denier will probably not be there in the first place. Jack impacts this well.
Argument 2: Religion
Secondly, in terms of religion. This is where the objective truth is massively important. Even though every individual probably doesn’t think about this a lot, this is the go-to argument for a lot of religious institutions. They depend on their legitimacy from the fact you can’t disprove the existence of God. Even though we tell you that the Big Bang occurred, that Adam and Eve weren’t true because of evolution, that there is an objective fact, and that there’s an objective scientific explanation for all these things, religion still has sticking power because you were unable to disprove it on the opposition. On side opposition, this means they can continue to do all of their terrible abuses.
Argument 3: Individual experience
What do we tell you, then, in terms of your individual experience? First of all, if you are enjoying your life, then you can relax and have comfort in your life, knowing that you are objectively living the best one. If you’re objectively the most compatible with your partner, your college course or your job, this means you have the best thing. But if you are not happy, then you have more assurance to leave that job and that relationship because you know this can’t be objectively right.
Third of all, either way, at least you have the comfort of knowing you’re true. To be human is to choose. What is true is probably undetermined. As long as you believe what you’re doing is true, it’s good. Do I want to tell jokes and rant about institutional racism and debate because I care about this, or do I want to try and win this debate so I get some debating clout? I’ll probably choose the first one and I’m sure of that even if there’s objective truth.
This is why we think we need people to be sure. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life thinking, “God, I could have won the Oxford IV.” But I want to be objectively sure that I did the right thing by talking about something I care about.
Panel, I know I’ve retired like three times this year, but I’m going to do it again. I really enjoyed this competition and I’ll see you next week.
Deputy Leader of Opposition: Matthew Farrel
It might have been true from the perspective of literally everyone else in the round that Naomi and I were in opposition rather than proposition. But that didn’t change the fact that we thought we were on proposition and prepped the wrong side for the first five minutes. But that probably doesn’t change the subjective view of whether a judge values our 10-minute case versus a 15-minute cas.
Prop claims that people will believe objective truth. They cannot claim what objective truth people believe in, and that was their case’s fundamental flaw. I’m going to chat, firstly, about why lying to individuals is problematic independent of practical outcomes, and why our independent principle is more important than any other claim in the round that could possibly come up. Secondly, I’ll discuss the impacts of subjective versus objective on both the societal level and individual level.
Argument 1: Principle
They say, “Objective truth does exist. You know we can tell that God doesn’t exist because of the Big Bang.” News flash: the Big Bang existing does not disprove the existence of God. That is often a deeply epistemic and individual question that is incredibly faith-based. You can’t prove that God—something that exists between the gaps of our scientific knowledge—exists or doesn’t in the same way you can’t prove a floating teapot on the moon doesn’t exist.
But obviously, people believe what they believe based on what they’re told and indoctrinated from an incredibly young age. These are the beliefs that will likely still maintain as being objectively true on their side. But the point is that that is incredibly subjective. It depends on whether or not we’ve been indoctrinated in that faith in the same way that our moral precepts depend on whether we’ve been indoctrinated to be like a Contractualist or Kantian.
They use the example of philosophy as somewhere where there is an objective truth. That is the least true thing they could have possibly said. No, there’s an incredible amount of discourse about whether Kantianism is true, whether or not free will should be valued, or if it exists in the first place. Those are often founded on the fundamental premises that we exist in our society. They’re not founded on rational discourse. Free will is founded on whether or not there could possibly be some physics explanation, but no one’s actually come to that explanation. And so, it’s ultimately subject-based whether or not you believe these fundamental questions in our society.
So, it was a lie to tell everyone in society that they are better off believing in objective truth. It was a lie to them and it was instrumentalizing them to say that objective truth existed when it clearly didn’t. When they could have had different plausible beliefs, when they could have constructed their identity and lived their lives in massively different ways. you rip that control over their ability to craft the truth for themselves on their side of the house.
Now they say that it should just be a debate about consequences, but that’s obviously not true. Lying to individuals is wrong independent of the consequence of that action. You should not lie to a patient who has a life-threatening disease even though that would make their life materially poorer because that person deserves the right to that knowledge and deserves to change their life according to how that truth would impact them. The very existence of this narrative instrumentalizes the entirety of the population in a way that outweighs all plausible outcomes from either side of the house in this debate.
Argument 2: Individual level and societal level
Secondly, then, I’d like to discuss, on the individual level, whether subjective or objective reasoning is better. Now they say that subjective truth is much better because it means that we don’t do things like platform racists, or you can make individual decisions better. Individual angst is cool, but you don’t live in individual angst all the time in your life. The reason for that is that most decisions aren’t consequential enough for you to really care that much whether or not you made the right decision or wrong. But for big decisions, doubt is sometimes possibly pretty good, and it pushes you to deliberate a little bit harder and make the better decision.
But even if that wasn’t true, their side has much much more angst because you don’t know what the objective truth is. You’re trying to deliberate that. You don’t know if you’ve made the objectively correct decision, but you know that there is an objectively correct decision out there. So you’re much more angsty when you don’t understand whether or not you’ve lucked into the correct one or one that will ruin your life for the rest of eternity. The point is, on our side of the house, there are a multiplicity of subjectively acceptable preferences that you could have. Therefore there’s actually much less angst on an individual level. You’re much much better off on our side of the house.
I want to point out that that does not mitigate Naomi’s case, the idea that you can’t find your own objective truth in this instance. Her case was about what you’re told by the elites and those who have power and knowledge in our society. Subjectively, when you see an elite giving you a message, when you have an internalised narrative from a very young age—the children’s stories that you read or through the books that you’re indoctrinated into—that the person is not necessarily true by their mere existence of asserting the truth, then that is much better for that person to grow up. It means they’re much more likely to be sceptical when an authority figure, like a religious person, tries to indoctrinate them or tells them that they have the objective truth. No, you’re much more likely to reject that on our side of the house.
The important thing here is that just because the objective truth is debatable doesn’t mean someone is going to engage with the other side. Their response to this claim was basically, “Look, when there’s an objective truth, you’re actually more likely going to engage with the other person.” But here’s the issue, rejecting an objective truth doesn’t just involve rejecting the idea that you’re right in this one instance. It rejects the idea that you and everyone around you who is telling you something are correct and rational beings in and of it themselves. It says that the professor who told you that evolution was not real in the 1900s was incorrect, the person you trusted the most in your life. It was telling you that your parents were incorrect about your religion merely because someone else was asserting a different “objective good” that they supported on their side of the argument.
The point here is that on our side, we can have subjective discussions. We can understand that just because someone has a subjective disagreement doesn’t mean that they are necessarily baseless, irrational beings. Therefore, you’re much more likely to change your beliefs on our side, when it’s much more likely that the bar for changing that belief is not being objectively wrong but rather being subjectively wrong. You’re much more likely on our side to engage with the other side. You do not see them as a flawed or irrational individual at heart, but as someone who had come to the subjectively incorrect position on a certain ideal or action.
Therefore, you’re actually much more likely, on our side of the house, to have a genuine political discussion. For moderates, you’re much less likely to suddenly agree randomly or objectively with one side. You could be swayed by different political discourse, and you could have a much better democracy because of that. People would actually be engaging and discussing with those individuals and trying to sway them, rather than just assuming that one side will vote for one side or the other. When our side tells you that you’re going to have an objective truth or a subjective truth, that means that it’s subject-based but doesn’t mean you can’t argue for it.
Now they say that you’re just going to invite loads of racists because you believe the truth is subjective. I just like to say there are other reasons why people are invited to campuses. It’s often conservative groups on campus, for example, Turning Point USA in the United States, that invite those people because they believe that’s what the objective truth actually is in their worldview. That’s probably going to happen on either side of the house. They’re probably still going to believe in the authority figures that have indoctrinated them, such as Donald Trump or whoever.
This is also true of populism because populism often does not respond to rational incentives. It’s not like a populist is like “Aha! Therefore I will hate immigrants!” No. They often come to it based on premeditated fears that are riled up by those very authority figures and they believe that to be the objective truth. Now they might be saying, “Doesn’t it mean that the narrative doesn’t exist?” No. The narrative is a buttress, but an imperfect buttress against those demagogues that try to rile up an objective truth against one particular group.
So, it would be much much worse on their side of the house where an objective truth can be claimed but can’t be argued with. Obviously, our world’s not perfect. But when this narrative does exist, it’s much better off. We propose.
Member of Government: Jacklin Kwan
I think the framing that is symmetric on both sides is that people still need to make decisions based on a singular conception of truth, in order to not do contradictory shit. They still need to make decisions on policy that are shaped by dominant opinion either on the individual or state scale and you still need to make value judgments that color your interactions with other people. For example, whether or not you believe in a racist worldview or whatever.
Note that dominant truth is still shaped by the powerful, so this is symmetric on both sides of the house, Opening Opposition never proved a counterfactual. But furthermore, I just don’t understand when you recognize there are other opinions, I don’t understand why you accommodate for that multiplicity on the individual and state scale. The only mechanism they gave us is that you press X to doubt, right, and suddenly that causes you to accommodate for a multiplicity of views, both on an individual level as well as a state level.
I don’t know why people on the counterfactual have the incentive to doubt and whether or not this doubt is actually going to be utilized constructively, such that they can arrive at the correct decision.
Couple of responses before I break the deadlock that occurred in the top half. First, they say, “Ah, it’s really hard to de-entrench objective truth, and now on our side, people can now question these entrenched beliefs”.
I just didn’t think they went deep enough. The reason why truth is entrenched is because you have a vested interest in a specific worldview. That’s why, sometimes, people have the incentive to like to sell something as an objective. Note that people still have a vested interest in a specific worldview, they’re symmetric to both sides.
That is why, when you suddenly allow people to believe that no objective truth exists, white people are still really entrenched in their views and they don’t have any incentive to actually doubt them. For example, people who believe in alternative facts, or like, fake news or whatever, don’t feel any incentive to doubt their world views even if they know other views exist because they have a vested interest within a specific worldview. I’m going to prove to you how we best get those people to reform. Then they say, “Ah, it’s good that you can question seemingly objective things like science”. Note that at some point, the questioning has to fucking stop. I just don’t understand why this continuous questioning of hypotheses is even good to the extent that you never arrive to an actual conclusion.
So I think that at some point you just needed to concede that the earth revolved around the sun, that there are certain types of objective truth that you should stop debating.
So firstly, I’m going to break the deadlock that happened in top half. Top half was in a quagmire about whether or not objective truth was likely going to be recognized by the bad people, like the fascist or the white supremacist, or whether or not the vacuum was more easily weaponized. I’m going to give you structural reasons why it is the vacuum that’s much more easily recognized by the bad actors they want to talk about. Note that power structures, first of all, are not homogeneous, and they are not static. The big and powerful people are not just like one homogenous body, it’s not like they’re all grouped up into one.
There are several bodies constantly competing for credibility. This looks like different political parties and factions with different ideologies, this looks like different social groups, this looks like different expert groups, for example, scientists often disagree with government actors, that’s why it’s not just one big homogenous body out to oppress you.
On our side, I’m going to tell you when you have the concept of objective truth you’re more likely to have the good guys winning. This looks like scientists on climate policy, this looks like doctors in Covid. On their side, I think it’s more likely that the socially damaging guys dominate opinion that is both able to influence on an individual level as well as state policies.
So first of all, I want to talk about what types of knowledge are actually being discussed here. Because I think that top half is completely confused. Just because the concept of objective truth exists doesn’t mean that it is applied universally. So, note that most likely the parts of knowledge that we’re actually going to be making a delta on is things where you can actually arrive at objective truth. Stuff where there is a material objective reality that is a common denominator with all people. These are likely where it’s going to be the most impactful.
So note that Opening Opposition on their arguments, like “Oh, you can have your own subjective meanings of life and the value of life”, you can still have that on our side of the house, because I doubt that just because the concept of objective truth exists doesn’t mean that literally subjective opinions can no longer exist. People are likely going to believe that things like politics, aesthetics, as well as individual spiritualism, is still more inherently subjective in nature and there are other realms where objective truth trumps all. So these are things that have material basis to them, that we can all materially discern.
So note that this is incredibly impactful because this is what we make policies based on. We make policies based on materiality and we aim to affect that. The problem is, is that right now there is room for the insane to affect what that material reality looks like and to question the very material facts and their very value of them. To allow climate denialism in parliament, right.
So why do things get better on our side of the house. Two tiers.
Arg #1 Credibility
The problem right now is that people have equal credibility and there’s no burden of proof on their side. Because note that you don’t discriminate how people arrive to their truth. Because like there is no such thing as objective truth, there is no such thing as a good way of arriving to that truth. And because there’s no burden of truth, there’s no common acceptance about what the standards of truth should be. I think this is now different on our side of the house because now to the extent that objective truth is likely going to be rooted in what the common denominator is, i.e. what you can materially fucking see, I think the burden is to provide material evidence for your claims.
Not that this also has impacts on things like politics and things like aesthetics that are hugely overwhelming to people. Note that, for example, when a person says, “Ah, Western civilization is objectively the best civilization”, now on our side of the house we actually put a burden of proof onto that right. We should just say, “Where is your material evidence that western civilization is intrinsically better than all other civilizations”. When people make really bad claims, there’s now a burden of proof onto them, and people commonly accept that this is the burden of proof. That you need to put material evidence because that is what is objectively agreed upon by all of us, this is the common denominator of our senses. Note that because of this the primacy of material evidence then allows for those checks and balances that allow the bad fascists to be pushed out.
Arg #2 Individual complacency
Opening Opposition says, “Ah, just like people like don’t seek out other truths to the extent that they believe that they’re already right, that’s why they were emboldened to do things like colonialism”. Look. People on our side of the house don’t immediately assume they have objective truth just because the concept exists, especially if their subjective truth differs from the one held by the mainstream. So note that if your views differ from, for example, the experts that you now believe are more credible, for example, the scientists, the doctors, you’re more likely going to seek those answers out. More likely to read on it, more likely to try to align your opinion with them, to the extent that they are more credible than you.
So because of this you probably get more inherent self-doubt, more inherent skepticism, more ability to constructively actually engage down in the first place on our side of the house, to the extent you have objective metrics about the burdens of proof and the primacy of material evidence.
For all those reasons, CG breaks the deadlock and takes this debate.
Member of Opposition: Ana
What CO will do in this debate is acknowledge that this is a narrative debate, not a debate about, “I as an individual should embrace one or the other thing” which seems to be what the opening half collapses into. We will clash directly with the closing government which acknowledges that this is about how societies are run, what societies believe, and how societies function in terms of what they perceive is the goal of their collective pursuit. We think this debate should exit debate-land and consider how reality changes when we embrace different norms within our structures.
I will have 2 specific contributions.
Firstly, we’ll talk about what the comparative in this debate is: What becomes the objective truth in societies that embrace this principle? We will take them at their best and say, ‘We think this is science.’ We won’t say religion or anything obvious to negate. We’ll take science, as it is the one thing that progresses the technology of society and brings it further. We’ll say this is the specific danger that we will tackle.
But secondly, we’ll tell you that it is not about power structures necessarily controlling the truth, but it’s about creating policy and bringing people in and liberating them once we realize that there are different needs, perceptions, and realities in which they live towards the circumstance. We think that practical policy-making is much better when we don’t do what CG is doing, namely saying “Oh, we should stop at some point” and merely implement whatever seems good enough because of this “arrival to the end.” We think this is dangerous and should not be imposed.
Firstly, let’s talk about science. We have this notion on CG that suddenly we should say, “Oh, there’s objective truth. We can arrive at it and there’s some point at which the discussion needs to stop.” We can see historic examples of societies that have embraced the objectivity of science. You know eugenics used to be a thing, thinking about making the efficiency of society and that there’s some objective optimization problem that we’re trying to solve. We say the problem there is, that if you look at people that work in sciences, you see that they got caught up in their ideas and paradigms and believe that there are objective overalls and those are societies that are trying to maximize something overall that they do not question. We see that it is important to have an intellectual humility that comes to a degree that says, ‘Look, we have cognitive limitations and limitations of capacity that are shaped by our perceptions, emotions, and past histories due to which we constantly need to question whether what we are doing is correct.’ Note, this is not to say that science should disintegrate and everything goes. Our argument is not about the Relativism of truth, instead, it is about skepticism and humility when we arrive at this truth. Specifically, what we mean is that, once we are checking this against our biases we can expand things in terms of science and not arrive at radical solutions.
Look at sciences that have embraced it with physics, theories of things that are plausible with biology moving to things that think about different mechanisms that might work and how different perceptions might come into place because that enriches the knowledge that we have. But note that science can only be democratized, inclusive, and serve society once we accept that there is no objective reality to begin with. This is the significant advancement from the 1950s our societies have achieved from science that was objective in some sense to the one that is democratized that comes from the critiques of feminism or post-modernism that acknowledge the shortcomings of people that think closely in the terms of optimization problems.
We say that it is about questioning the very premise and paradigm in which you operate, and only then can you arrive at a useful model. This is why science doesn’t disintegrate on our model. It is about embracing different kinds of models that approximate and investigate realities from different kinds of perspectives to arrive at some kind of ‘every solution that works for the most people possible.
This is where I come to the second point, about social liberation and inclusion when you come to subjectivity. What do I mean by inclusion? Look, when you think about it, there’s some objective reality when you try to distribute taxes or when we talk about social problems. What we negate is that people have radically different experiences of things.
Note that this is the impact of what OO fails to do. It is not about you being coerced or controlled, it’s about you being alienated and unable to participate. This is the real harm on your side, it means that your policy is never done with different perspectives and realities in mind. It’s not about whether or not you as a black person don’t know you are having a different reality than what’s promoted by the powerful. It’s about how your narrative is not acknowledged in a society that promotes optimization of the objective, to begin with. This is where we give you the analysis that says, ‘Look, it is about breaching that isolation, loneliness, and alienation when you allow for the possibility that policy addresses different possible subjective realities.
But thirdly and more importantly, we say that people that can acknowledge that there are different kinds of subjective experiences lead to important parts of social cohesion in societies. Note, that this is important: We live in societies that are increasingly diverse and fragmented. At the point where we pursue the idea of objective reality, this necessarily clashes with the subjective experiences within these particular groups. This is like where hatred between different groups of religion, ethnicity, and color comes from because we’re unable to acknowledge that what I am experiencing is different than what someone else is experiencing. What we say is that by acknowledging this you’re able to bring some kind of social consensus of mutual difference. A mutual difference in which we can co-exist. Realize, our case is specific because it talks about how subjectivity can liberate us from simplistic solutions that can alienate people and are unable to dissolve differences that exist in our reality. Note, that the problem with objectivity is that it is a theory that assumes things about our human nature that are not necessarily true. We know, as a part of questioning from the 50s’ that the progress of the science of behavioral economics and behavioral psychology shows that we’re unable to perceive things that are outside of our personal reality/perceptions. And what comes when we try to integrate with the norms that don’t correspond to our reality is radical solutions that deny our humanity and can drag us to purely dangerous extremes. We say that the contest society of science is dangerous, alienates people, and causes social strife.
Vote Closing Opposition
Government Whip: Lucie Slamova
I’m going to do two things in this speech. Firstly, I’m going to question the two assumptions that came in the top half and ultimately knock them out of the debate. Secondly, I’m going to talk about who gets to control the objective of narrative and subjective truths on that side and why it is better on ours.
Theme 1: Engaging with CO
First, I want to deal with the idea of science that comes out of closing opposition. So Closing Opposition says that you can’t stop discussing science because you need to constantly question physics so you don’t come to the complacency of bad scientific facts. 2 responses to this:
Firstly, It’s generally unclear as to why discussion on science would stop on our side of the house. The fact that you acknowledge there is objective truth does not mean that everyone and especially scientists is going to immediately assume that they already have it. The discussion still continues because you are still looking for good evidence insofar as you are still looking for that objective truth that you now acknowledge exists. The difference is in terms of who gets to contribute to that discussion. On our side, some people can provide material evidence that is, the scientists who are doing the research along with other experts. On their side, it’s like their neighbor Joe who thinks that climate change numbers aren’t real. On our side, you just have better contributions towards science. Because of this, we are still able to evolve more theories once we have more evidence that sheds light on what we are currently accepting, it’s unclear as to why it stops on our side.
Secondly, note that when we do need to make specific policy decisions here and now, the skepticism and the unwillingness to accept the best approximation of what is damaging right now happens on their side and is probably not a good thing. Maybe they are correct epistemologically, but when it comes down to the fact that we need to do the tangible decision-making, it’s probably correct that we can sometimes accept that we don’t have the objective truth right now. Yet, it’s the closest we can get to, so let’s do policies according to it. Given that, I think when it comes to where science gets better we take this argument.
Theme 2: Engaging with Top Half
Let’s then talk about the weird assumptions that happen in the top half. The First bizarre assumption that both OG and OO make is that the counterfactual we are forced to stand by is that there is objective truth in weirdly every area whether that be everyday life or politics. I would note that this is probably not true, for instance when it comes to things like politics or political ideologies where you have to know moral decisions and specific moral trade-offs. You probably won’t be using the objective truth idea because you can acknowledge that there’s inherent subjectivity in it. Or in the case of individual life, you’re going to be making massive amounts of moral trade-offs because you probably know you just can’t identify the correct objective life. Because of that, we think that like half of the weird clashes that came in Top Half are probably irrelevant. We think that you’re probably going to be applying the standard of seeking the objective truth in areas where it is possible.
The second and more important assumption made by OO is the idea that when you have the narrative that no objective truth exists people are automatically going to go and constantly introspect. I think what Jacklin adds here is crucial. She said that in a world where you have the narrative that no objective truth exists, people still need to pick an interpretation of reality that they stick to. They will need to make decisions, they will need to operate in the world, and to do that they need to pick something that they consider to be the truth. Some subjective truths will inherently become dominant. This is something that people will do because it’s something that’s just more comfortable. This means that on both sides there will be a dominant truth on our side. We can say it’s objective on that side, it’s like the most dominant subjective one. The difference is then: Firstly, what is the metric that people are going to be using when they choose which narratives they are subscribing to? Secondly, Who gets to control what the dominant narrative on either side is?
What OG says is that now you can ignore the fascists who are spitting mean things. I think the missing link here is what the closing opposition correctly points out. Because it is unclear as to why it isn’t the fascist who would have control over the objective truth. OG does never explain which objective truth people would believe in. This is what Jacklin asks.
Who then controls the narrative? OO says that the narrative objective truth means that actors in power are going to go and push a narrative. The problem is that they don’t engage with the counterfactual; This problem occurs on their side and it is significantly worse. This is because, when people have to pick an interpretation of truth on their side – they need something consistent to stick to. The way they do it is significantly less rigorous. Given that the burden is much lower, on what counts as something you can reasonably subscribe to as true, you deserve to do something comfortable, meaning that you are probably going to be choosing the interpretation that you consider to be intuitive.
Now, know that the people in power they want to talk about along with the people who have power within society are probably in a significantly better position to influence what is considered to be intuitive. This is because firstly, you probably have some sort of control and ability to set some kind of majoritarian narratives. For example, The racist prejudices which circulate across society and influence what people consider to be intuitive are something that people in power have much more control over. Or the fact that you have much more control over media allows you to create preconceptions that make people choose the kind of specific subjective truth they end up subscribing to. When CO says that minorities get a voice because they can now express their subjective truth, they don’t realize that this is non-comparative because they’re still going to be crowded out by the fact that the people in power will have much higher chance to push their subjective truth.
POI: So even if religion is subjective from a 3rd party perspective people within these institutions believe that it is objective and are more likely going to engage in introspection where multiple conceptions of the truth can be correct. This then opens up all of our principled impacts by not instrumentalizing people.
Response: But I don’t think this is comparative because on your side you will still default into that dominant position insofar as there’s going to be something that you’ll be comfortable in. I’m generally unclear as to why a religious person who is comfortable in that belief will suddenly start introspecting.
What then changes? Know that the Burden of Proof then becomes significantly harder and higher on our side of the house. Once you acknowledge that there is objective truth this incentivizes people to look into it because this is how you get the more inherent skepticism and more inherent introspection. You can’t settle on picking a subjective truth and then saying, ‘Let’s Agree to Disagree’ when you are questioned. The way you can present and prove that something is objective truth is because you will have to present some kind of evidence. This means that the ones who are most likely to succeed in providing the most credible evidence are probably those who have the most expertise. It’s not going to be the random politician, rather it is much more likely to be the scientist. It’s much more likely to be the person who’s going to be providing good information to the world. On their side, this gets significantly worse.
For all those reasons, CG.
Opposition Whip: Hamza Chaudhary
Until 1936, the word idiot which people subjectively use for me a lot was a scientific term. In the united states until 1988, homosexuality was a disorder on the scientific DSM psychometric criteria. What I’m trying to prove here is that science often isn’t as objective as OG and CG pretend for it to be.
But what happens when science is questioned? And who questioned eugenics? The first people to question eugenics weren’t necessarily scientists, the first person to question eugenics was W.E.B. Dubois, one of the most famous critical race theorists of all time. What we need to do, is not look at people wearing maga hats, but we need to look at sociologists of Marxist, Feminist, and Post-Modern leanings who have systematically criticized the overreach of science and its pretense of objectivity because when science is objective and objectively wrong, that is when it hurts all of us.
The first thing I want to do is deal with OO and try to weigh this up without looking like I’m rebutting them. Then I’m going to talk about OG, and finally, I’m going to talk about CG. Let’s talk about opening opposition first.
Theme 1: Dealing with OO
The first obvious thing OO missed in this debate was: What will the objective truth be?
You can’t just say there will be an objective theory of truth like Ron threw out a bunch of theories but never grounded it in terms of what the objective truth actually will be. You have to be like there’s a thing that exists which becomes objective. We said look, we’re going to be good here by taking you at your best. We’re not going to say it’s religion, nationalism, or ethnicity but rather, it’s science.
That’s the framing that OO missed.
But secondly, what they don’t realize is that the gap in their speeches which the POI pointed out is just simply that there’s a difference between believing that things are subjective and acting on it. And I here, strangely agree with Lucy because they never proved why that perspective manifests into action. That’s the gap that we fill on CO, where we show you that it leads to more activism against the overreach of science and its pretense of objectivity.
Thirdly, their arguments about how power structures make up truth and then they put it on people and that’s terrible. Look, for my mom making biryani back home in Pakistan, she’s not like Boris Johnson implemented truth and that truth led to making a slightly less spicy biryani. That’s not how coercion and truth work. But the one thing that does work is truth and its relationship with culture within power structures. Think about the very common intuition. “You can have whatever you want if you work hard for it.” This is a common social truth inspired by Europeans and sort of kept by most people. What happens in our world though is that we say this truth is very alienating because you know when you can’t do whatever you want and be whoever you want to be. When you’re running from a civil war in Syria and trying to get on a boat across the Mediterranean to Greece. So the problem here isn’t as OO says in terms of coercion, truth, and power structures. It is the fact that the most pervasive cultural truths are divine by power structures that come from positions of privilege. These truths are alienating and never make people feel the exact thing that they want to feel in terms of getting over the problem that they face. In a world of subjective truths, where you know that each person’s journey is their journey is the point at which we provide aid and comfort to the worst off among us.
Finally epistemic humility, this was their argument that talked about how when you know everything is subjective, you will sort of check your impulses and be like Dude you’re also right and Dude I’m also right, It’s so cool Dude. There’s a big problem with this, it’s completely symmetric because you can have any other reasons to be arrogant. For instance, how good-looking you are, how intelligent you are, and which country you come from. So, there are like 50 different reasons why you will still think someone else is stupider than you are, which has nothing to do with the belief that you espouse. But rather, with the individual that the other person is. Unfortunately, real life is more ad hominem than debate pretends for it to be.
Theme 2: Dealing with OG
Let’s deal with OG very quickly. First point, universities exist and then they invite holocaust deniers. I think OO and I said the same thing, if Holocaust deniers say that the holocaust not happening was a fact, that’s a problem. But I’ll go further than that and say, is it horrible for you to be in university and not have critical education. The worst place in the world, where you should be allowed to believe that there’s objective truth is probably university. Because the university is where you’re supposed to challenge yourself and be engaged with new ideas and systems of critical thinking as opposed to thinking that there’s an objective truth. The liberal kool-aid that we’ve all drunk, including myself so this is a meta-meta comment.
The second thing that they talked about was religion and again I’m going to tackle this in a slightly different way from OO because religion to some extent and I know I used this argument in three different finals on religion but it worked all three times so I’m going to use it a 4th time. Religion is a spatial object. What does that mean? That means that the person I am in the mosque is very different from the person I am in the science lab. My aunt is a gynecologist in Pakistan and she’s a pretty good gynecologist but she still believes that Prophet Muhammad split the moon in 2. And how can she believe that and also believe in biology is beyond me. But the answer there is that we espouse different roots in different spaces that answer our religious questions, because even if you have subjectivity in religion that’s significantly undermined by the fact that subjectivity is constrained within a certain space where you need that subjectivity. That takes OG out of this debate.
POI: Narratives don’t exist in isolation. We give you trances where this narrative is the tipping point for change. On your side, scientists have many incentives to act the same on both sides. If anything, they work harder on our side because they are always seeking the objective truth. You are never satisfied with a subjective truth like you are on your side of the house. Tipping points is the reason we get the mechanism.
Answer: The response to that is very simple right, the answer is that knowing that there is no objective truth is what leads to you aspiring toward finding a space that isn’t subjective but inter-subjective. What that means is that you don’t become lazy and complacent. All you say is can I find a thing that works for most people and not all people? Ana already gave mechs to deal with this so I don’t know what to do about that.
Theme #3: Dealing with CG
Finally, I’m going to clash our extension with CG. CG said science is great we shouldn’t
question science too much. Two responses here, First you’re straw manning that we said that there is no discussion within science. There is a discussion within science, but it’s not enough. I’m thankful that I’m speaking after them so I can correct the fact that this is a comparative and marginal debate. often there isn’t foundational criticism of science which leads to my second response. There are institutional incentives to keep science in as many universities as possible. When Hugh Everett said that Quantum Mechanics is the future of physics which it became he was fired. When biological geneticists talked about how eugenics is an imperfect science, and idiocy isn’t a proper scientific term, they were fired.
Charles Darwin was an outcast in his days. So the entire point is that science tends to be as monolithic paradigmatically as possible which means that there’s less criticism. On our side, we get criticism not just within science but outside science from marginalized communities and people who have ideas of class, gender, race, and elsewhere.
Panel, this debate is about science becoming the objective truth, but the overreach of science is the end of all of us. I am so proud to oppose.