What's the "truth context" of societal philosophies?

Such as political philosophies (and ideas of ideal societies etc.) put forward by:

  • Hobbes
  • Locke
  • ...

And "practiced" by people.

By truth context I mean a context of concepts, measures etc. that allow understanding of truth and accuracy. So if we were given a statement that expresses something and relies on some of these philosophies + maybe something else (the measures etc.), then we would be able to infer the "truthfulness" of such statement.

So what is this context?

What are the measures?

Some problems in defining a truth context of a societal philosophy:

  • They express "out-subject experiences", normative statements (what ought), possibly a priori. A societal idea is a "subjective-led perception", yet its realization would depend on whether others adapt to it.

  • If the philosophy is not of "fundamental type", meaning that it contains very objective notions (subjective-intersubjective sense: https://noncontradictingpolitics.blogspot.com/2019/09/criticism-of-value-judgements.html, then what does the adaptation depend on? Mere social constructionism?

  • What is the point of social constructionist societal phenomena? Do they include motives, biases, ...

  • Are they relative to subjective bias? I.e. different people may hold different justified belief.

  • ...

  • This question is a little hard to follow. Can you flesh it out some more? Apr 29, 2020 at 17:30
  • 1
    I agree with Ted. For instance, by "truth context" do you mean to ask whether they ascribe to, say, pragmatism, the correspondence theory, the coherence theory, the disquotational theory, etc. of truth? And what exactly is a "societal philosophy?"
    – gonzo
    Apr 29, 2020 at 17:46
  • There was no social constructionism at the time of Hobbes and Locke. They followed some classical ideas about the "nature of men".
    – Conifold
    Apr 30, 2020 at 19:46
  • @gonzo The question is few fold: 1) what measures are needed to measure truthfulness of societal philosophy, 2) what are the problems related to that measure?, 3) are all measures necessary can one deviate from them? Bonus: can one devise a scientific method for inferring, when a societal belief/philosophy is true?
    – mavavilj
    May 1, 2020 at 6:15
  • I now have an inkling of what you are asking. You still need to define what exactly you mean by a societal philosophy. And what you mean by true/truthfulness. For instance, do you mean something that works (pragmatic truth) how you define truth. If you can pin those down, I'm pretty sure that @Conifold will have the first pass of has an answer for you. The answer will be necessarily long and complex. For instance, have a look at critical theory's proposal; plato.stanford.edu/entries/critical-theory.
    – gonzo
    May 1, 2020 at 15:38

1 Answer 1


This isn't so much an answer, as an exploration of the question that will not fit in comments. Take that as you will...

My intuition is that this question is asking about the empirical justifications of social philosophy. The repeated phrase 'truth context' seems to point at some way of measuring some objective aspect of humanity by which we can evaluate whether this social philosophy or that social philosophy is 'more true'. The question reminds me of some of the material I've read in sociobiology, psychology, and neurobiology, that try — currently without a lot of success — to establish a material basis for human behavior in the physical construction of brains, genes, or neural nets. But I don't think the question appreciates the depth of the ontological/epistemological problem.

If we start at the basics, it seems fairly clear that (say) a lump of iron has a 'truth context'. Iron has properties that (as best we can tell) are invariant. We know with a great deal of accuracy how iron will behave when exposed to heat, pressure, shear force, when alloyed with other elements, and the like; iron rarely surprises us. This is good evidence that iron has a 'truth context': an objective, empirically testable existence. Of course, philosophers will argue that we don't really have access to that objective existence, but only a mediated reflection of it through our sense and cognitive processes. But that doesn't deny the existence of an ontological reality for iron. It merely complicates our quest for understanding iron.

But now let's say we take that lump of iron and make a hammer. That raises a new question: does the hammer have an ontological existence in the same purported way that its constituent iron does? Or if we want to turn that question around, it's clear that we don't need to shape that iron into a hammer to drive a nail. We could drive a nail with the original unshaped lump of iron, or with a rock, or a coconut, or the heel of our boot. Are all of these things, then, ipso facto hammers? The point is that a 'hammer' isn't an a priori object in the same way that a 'lump of iron' is. A 'hammer' combines an a priori material object with a functional intention; a 'hammer' is an a priori material object that has been shaped and manipulated to fulfill a human purpose. But a human purpose has no 'truth context' in the narrow empirical sense. Outside of the human cognitive sphere a hammer is merely an oddly shaped lump of iron, meaningless and impotent. In this sense, a hammer is socially constructed in a way that its constituent iron is not, because the concept 'hammer' depends on human intention.

Social theories are tools on an even more abstract level. When someone writes social theory they are trying to create something with a functional intention, that fulfills a human purpose for the entire community of human beings. Don't be misled into thinking there is anything novel about this. The human world is chock full of functional intentions — of people trying to relate to each other in purposive ways — some good, some neutral, some downright evil. Slavery was based in social theories that held white Europeans as a different, superior order of mankind, one with an intrinsic right to use and exploit other races at their whim. Different social theories came along and disputed that; these social theories ended institutional slavery, though the supremacist attitude persists even to this day. Neither of these theoretical camps is 'truer' than the other; both are empirically measurable in the sense that both camps have been put in practice in various times and places. The evaluative moment between them is not empirical, it's moral.

Social theory rests on the idea that we are all moral agents — that we can choose to act this way or that way according to our conscience — and then tries to construct tools which will guide us as a community into forms that will better fulfill our collective purposes and intentions. In that sense it's just like a hammer: we can talk about the 'base material' of humanity (e.g., the 'state of nature' arguments of Hobbes and Locke, or more modern forays into psychology or sociobiology), but in the end the 'base material' isn't as important as what we construct from it: the cultures and societies that we form out of that material to serve our purposes and intentions.

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