The Objective Reality of Language

We live in a universe of discourse – a flowing ever-adjusting transfer of information. If you want to see the world the way that George Herbert Mead and the other American Pragmatists saw it you have to understand that. Reality (or at least a great deal of it) is an affair of language because it is language that ultimately defines what counts as real.

The concept of ‘objective reality’ is usually associated with science and thought of in terms of that which can be experienced, measured and predicted. The American Pragmatists saw it differently – they felt that ultimately objective truth was social. Things are real because other people in society accept them as real and respond to them as real. Let’s imagine a scenario to illustrate the point. A flying saucer from outer space lands in your backyard. You see it, walk up to it and smell the burnt grass where it has landed. You have never seen anything like it before and probably the next thing you do is get someone else to come and experience it with you.

The instinct to confirm objective reality with another person is very deep. When we experience something we are unsure of, we automatically want to verify our experience with someone we trust.

What if you called a friend to come to see the flying saucer and they claim to see nothing. You might get another friend, then another, and another? How many friends would it take before you would come to believe that the ‘objective reality’ is that there is nothing in your yard and that that there is something wrong with you? We would trust the common perspective of reality over our own.

Objective reality, according to the Pragmatists, is held in the common view of society. That is where we go to find out what is real and true.

We live in a universe of discourse – the discourse that happens between members of society and the discourse we have with ourselves in the form of thought. When we want to check the validity of our internal discussion we ask people outside of ourselves to find out what is real.

When we talk about objective reality we usually mean that which is real beyond our own ideas about it being real. It means that it is not only real inside (subjective reality) but also outside. Where then does objective reality exist then? If you are an idealist you believe that it exists in some non-material realm of thought. If you are a relativist you don’t believe it exists at all. And if you are a Pragmatist you believe that it exists in the universe if discourse of the society in which you are embedded.