My essay “Is ‘God’s not Dead’ a modern classic?” elicited some interesting replies. Perhaps the most interesting (certainly the most robust) came from Fraternite. The core of his response is what I call “Fraternite’s Thesis” (FT):
(FT): Objective facts are claims about the physical properties of objects; i.e. they are correspondently true independent of the human mind and are grounded in external actuality.
The implication of FT is that the qualitative assessments of films are not “physical properties of objects” and thus qualitative film assessments cannot constitute objective facts. Alas, FT seems to me to be flatly wrong, and I’m going to take this short article to explain why.
To begin with, there are many facts that are objective even though they are not about the physical properties of objects. Consider, for example, moral facts. Most people in western civil society recognize that what I call the “No Torture Principle” (NTP): “It is wrong to torture people for fun,” is an objective fact. Consequently, even if all human beings came to believe that torturing people for fun is okay, NTP would still be true. However, NTP is not a fact about the physical properties of objects. Consequently, the person who accepts FT must reject the objectivity of moral facts like NTP. But surely NTP is more strongly evidenced than FT, and thus we ought to reject FT and retain NTP.
I could provide many similar examples, but let simply note one more: facts about conscious experience. For example: “The quale of tasting cinnamon is different than the quale of smelling freshly baked bread.” This statement is about conscious states, not physical properties. To be sure, some philosophers of mind hope to develop a theory that can ultimately reduce qualia to physical brain states. But growing numbers of philosophers are recognizing the failure of those kinds of theories of mind. Moreover, even if one is, for example, an optimistic token identity theorist (one who believes that ultimately every quale reduces to a token brain event), one can still see the critical problem here, for FT entails that the objectivity of the claim that “The quale of tasting cinnamon is different than the quale of smelling freshly baked bread” depends on the success of a suitably reductionist theory of mind. But that is absurd. Whether that claim is objectively true or not is independent of whether a particular theory of mind is ultimately vindicated.
Finally, let’s take a closer look at FT itself. Remember that FT claims that to be objective, a fact must be a claim about the physical properties of objects. So what is FT about? It is not about the physical properties of objects. Instead, it is about objective facts. (Some of those objective facts may themselves be about the physical properties of objects. But that is quite irrelevant, for the fact remains that FT is about the facts, not the physical properties.) Consequently, if one accepts FT, then one must deny that FT is an objective fact. Instead, one is left affirming FT as true only relative to a particular set of minds (e.g. Fraternite’s) while the rest of us are free to reject it and get on with our day.