A thing I’ve noticed about many of the online debates lately is that people who make truth claims are often derided on the basis of their supposed affiliation with a school of thought: “you’re saying that because you’re a liberal, or a conservative or a vegan or lived at this particular point in history” …or whatever.

This approach has been called historicism, which posits that any truth claim must be judged in the context (for instance, the culture or a particular time in history) it was made in. 

Is this wise? The actual truth of the statement is not discussed; its validity is judged on the basis of what group or time the speaker belongs to, and the veracity of a particular claim is accepted or dismissed without rigorous examination.

Another less than beneficial result is that it tends to stereotype people in the discussions and promotes prejudging of motive. If what I say brands me a conservative then there is a tendency to assume all the other supposed evils of that view are are part of me as well. This discourages productive debate, steering the discussion away from issues and tending towards personal attacks. It promotes the sort of fractured discourse we see in modern politics.

This came up in a discussion I was having the other day. We were discussing the origin of moral truth and a pretty forthright statement made in a video I had reposted. The speaker’s statements were impugned on the basis that “he assumed the supremacy of the Judeo-Christian worldview” and were dismissed (if I understood my friend correctly) accordingly. The speaker was derided as narrow, bigoted, and hopelessly behind the times.

Of course the speaker assumed that supremacy. So do I: I could hardly call myself a Christian if I didn’t believe it was actually true. But Historicism assumes all truth claims are equal (by all being merely products of a particular view), a logical impossibility if there is such a thing as actual truth. It fits hand in glove with postmodern thought, and I think it’s quite useless if someone is trying to judge between truth claims.

And we must judge, for even the historicist is making a truth claim. A person with an intellectually rigorous outlook can’t sit on the fence; that many do reflects an uncritical acceptance of a prevailing (and I would suggest dishonest) intellectual climate.

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