The truth is out there
The Case for Civility: And Why Our Future Depends On It (HarperCollins: 2008), p. 20.
By the very nature of the problem, no one stands outside the issues and speaks with complete detachment, objectivity, and neutrality. Certainly I do not. None of us speaks from nowhere; that would be impossible. None of us speaks from everywhere; that would be incoherent. All of us speak from somewhere — which is our freedom and responsibility as well as our fate.
Kelly James Clark in Realism/Anti-Realism, William Alston, ed. (Cornell University Press: 2002).
In this paper, I defend the importance of narrative to moral philosophy, in particular to moral realism. Moral realism, for the purposes of this essay, is the claim that there are moral truths independent of human beliefs, attitudes, desires and feelings.i Contemporary philosophers typically focus on discursive arguments and exclude narrative. But narrative is considerably more powerful than argument in effecting belief-change. I shall argue that through such belief-change one can attain to moral truth.ii This account is opposed to that of fellow narrativalist, Richard Rorty, who denies moral realism. Since I believe the clash between realists and anti-realists resolves into a clash of intuitions, I don't propose to offer a convincing argument in favor of moral realism. Instead, like Rorty I will draw a word-picture, which stands in stark contrast to the word-picture that he draws about stories; it is my hope that the reader will find my word-picture more compelling than Rorty's word-picture. In the final section I will offer some considerations in favor of moral realism.
"The Value of Historical Theology", in Sundoulos, Fall Issue, 2009 (Talbot: 2009), p. 7.
Leopold Von Ranke's famous maxim that the historian's task is to "tell it like it was" may be ridiculed by those who doubt the possibility or even the desirability of objective history, but I believe Von Ranke was fundamentally correct. In the case of intellectual history, this involves understanding a thinker on his or her own terms, in his or her own context. It is coming to grips with a document's meaning and penetrating what underlies the arguments being advanced. It is no about rehabilitating or castigating those long dead, but about grasping objectively what is being said and why. ¶ While objectivity is the historian's goal, this does not mean that the historian is void of personal commitments, or that he or she must remain neutral as to the truth or falsity of the positions under consideration. The point is simply that history qua history is not about passing such judgments but is merely about getting the story straight, however the chips may fall. It is only after the position has been understood on its own terms and without bias that the historian may turn to evaluation and employ the fruits of his or her discovery in polemical or other theological application. But at that point we've moved beyond the historical task simpliciter and into something else — something wonderfully valuable and necessary, perhaps, but something different nonetheless.
Paul Boghossian (Oxford University Press: Dec 7, 2007), 148 pages.
The idea that science is just one more way of knowing the world and that there are other, radically different, yet equally valid ways, has taken deep root in academia. In Fear of Knowledge, Paul Boghossian tears these relativist theories of knowledge to shreds. He argues forcefully for the intuitive, common-sense view — that the world exists independent of human opinion and that there is a way to arrive at beliefs about the world that are objectively reasonable to anyone capable of appreciating the relevant evidence, regardless of their social or cultural perspective. This short, lucid, witty book shows that philosophy provides rock-solid support for common sense against the relativists; it is provocative reading throughout the discipline and beyond. ~ Product Description
Harry G. Frankfurt (Knopf: October 2006), 112 pages.
Having outlined a theory of bullshit and falsehood, Harry G. Frankfurt turns to what lies beyond them: the truth, a concept not as obvious as some might expect. Our culture's devotion to bullshit may seem much stronger than our apparently halfhearted attachment to truth. Some people (professional thinkers) won't even acknowledge "true" and "false" as meaningful categories, and even those who claim to love truth cause the rest of us to wonder whether they, too, aren't simply full of it. Practically speaking, many of us deploy the truth only when absolutely necessary, often finding alternatives to be more saleable, and yet somehow civilization seems to be muddling along. But where are we headed? Is our fast and easy way with the facts actually crippling us? Or is it "all good"? Really, what's the use of truth, anyway? With the same leavening wit and commonsense wisdom that animates his pathbreaking work On Bullshit, Frankfurt encourages us to take another look at the truth: there may be something there that is perhaps too plain to notice but for which we have a mostly unacknowledged yet deep-seated passion. His book will have sentient beings across America asking, "The truth—why didn't I think of that?" ~ Product Description
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Ignatius Press: Oct 31, 2004), 284 pages.
Is truth knowable? If we know the truth, must we hide it in the name of tolerance? Cardinal Ratzinger engages the problem of truth, tolerance, religion and culture in the modern world. Describing the vast array of world religions, Ratzinger embraces the difficult challenge of meeting diverse understandings of spiritual truth while defending the Catholic teaching of salvation through Jesus Christ. "But what if it is true?" is the question that he poses to cultures that decry the Christian position on man's redemption. Upholding the notion of religious truth while asserting the right of religious freedom, Cardinal Ratzinger outlines the timeless teaching of the Magisterium in language that resonates with our embattled culture. A work of extreme sensitivity, understanding, and spiritual maturity, this book is an invaluable asset to those who struggle to hear the voice of truth in the modern religious world. ~ Product Description
William P. Alston (Cornell University Press: April 1997), 296 pages.
One of the most important Anglo-American philosophers of our time here joins the current philosophical debate about the nature of truth with a work likely to claim a place at the very center of the contemporary philosophical literature on the subject. William P. Alston formulates and defends a realist conception of truth, which he calls alethic realism (from "aletheia," Greek for "truth"). This idea holds that the truth value of a statement (belief or proposition) depends on whether what the statement is about is as the statement says it is. Although this concept may seem quite obvious, Alston says, many thinkers hold views incompatible with it — and much of his book is devoted to a powerful critique of those views. Michael Dummett and Hilary Putnam are two of the prominent and widely influential contemporary philosophers whose anti-realist ideas he attacks. Alston discusses different realist accounts of truth, examining what they do and do not imply. He distinguishes his version, which he characterizes as "minimalist," from various "deflationary" accounts, all of which deny that asserting the truth of a proposition attributes a property of truth to it. He also examines alethic realism in relation to a variety of metaphysical realisms. Finally, Alston argues for the importance — theoretical and practical — of assessing the truth value of statements, beliefs, and propositions. ~ Product Description
Michael Devitt (Princeton University Press: December 1996), 340 pages.
In this provocative and wide-ranging book, Michael Devitt argues for a thoroughgoing realism about the common-sense and scientific physical world, and for a correspondence notion of truth. Furthermore, he argues that, contrary to received opinion, the metaphysical question of realism is distinct from, and prior to, any semantic question about truth. The book makes incisive responses to Putnam, Dummett, van Fraassen, and other major anti-realists. The new afterword includes an extensive discussion of the metaphysics of nonfactualism, and new thoughts on the need for truth and on the determination of reference. ~ Product Description
Realism and Reason (Cambridge University Press: 1985), p. 246.
Why should we expend our mental energy in convincing ourselves that we aren't thinkers, that our thoughts aren't really about anything, noumenal or phenomenal, that there is no sense in which any thought is right or wrong (including the thought that no thought is right or wrong) beyond being the verdict of the moment, and so on? This is a self-refuting enterprise if there ever was one! Let us recognize that one of our fundamental self-conceptualizations ... is that we are thinkers, and that as thinkers we are committed to there being some kind of truth, some kind of correctness which is substantial.... That means that there is no eliminating the normative.
"Letter from a Birmingham Jail", (April 16, 1963).
You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."
Dr. Trevor on the Certain Mind said...
John Owen, Evenings with the Skeptics: Free Discussion on Free thinkers, Vol. II: Christian Skepticism (Longmans, Green & Co: 1881), p. 32.
But in double-truth as in most other forms of mental eccentricity we must take some notice of 'the personal equation,' by which I mean the special differences and idiosyncrasies that exist between one man and another in respect of intellectual conformation. There are intellects, e.g. so intensely, I might say morbidly, synthetic, that they insist on acquiring demonstrated certitude at whatever cost. This type of mind must needs set itself to evolve unity from multiplicity, harmony from dissonance, light from a juxtaposition of shadows, without considering how far its self-imposed task is feasible or how far it is in agreement with the constitution of the universe. In the determination to acquire undoubted conviction, no labour is spared and no expense regarded. Subordinate convictions are ruthlessly thrust aside, objections are ignored, disingenuous methods resorted to, in order to obtain and definitively pronounce on certitude... [Dr. Newman's] processes are irregular, inconsistent, self-contradictory, of impossible application to any other subject than that of mystical dogmatism. His conclusions, on the other hand, are brilliantly clear, vivid, unmistakable. His mental evolution stands forth like a mountain whose summit is lit up by a warm glow of sunshine, while the sides and base are enshrouded in darkness. Minds of this class appear to me dominated by a sort of religious or spiritual ambition which is just as selfish, audacious, unscrupulous, and unpitying as any other kind of ambition. A man who overturns all reasoning processes, who makes a chaos of human methods, who stultifies the lessons of history for the purpose of boasting a light which to his neighbours is only a deceptive ignis fatuus, is not unlike Napoleon, who forced his way through cruelty and bloodshed to attain a crown. Such men forget that the infallibility, the unity, and harmony they have achieved so recklessly suggest to the more cautious spectator division and dissonance. They forget that their shield has two sides, and if certainty is emblazoned on one, doubt is conspicuously legible on the other, and that the real Skepticism of their methods, the profound distrust of human reason which marks them, is only dimly veiled by the vaunted infallibility of their conclusions.