True vs. "true"
Christopher Hitchens on Religion said...
god is not Great, Christopher Hitchens (Twelve Books, 2007), p4.
Thus the mildest criticism of religion is also the most radical and the most devastating one. Religion is man-made. Even the men who made it cannot agree on what their prophets or redeemers or gurus actually said or did. Still less can they hope to tell us the "meaning" of later discoveries and developments which were, when they began, either obstructed by their religion or denounced by them. And yet — the believers still claim to know! Not just to know, but to know everything. Not just to know that god exists, and that he created and supervised the whole enterprise, but also to know what "he" demands of us — from our diet to our observances to our sexual morality. In other words, in a vast and complicated discussion where we know more and more about less and less, yet can still hope for some enlightenment as we proceed, one faction — itself composed of warring factions — has the sheer arrogance to tell us that we already have all the essential information we need. Such stupidity, combined with such pride, should be enough on its own to exclude "belief" from the debate. The person who is certain, and who claims divine warrant for his certainty, belongs now to the infancy of our species. It may be a long farewell, but it has begun and, like all farewells, should not be protracted.
Kwame Anthony Appiah (W.W. Norton & Company: Feb 17, 2007), 224 pages.
AAppiah, a Princeton philosophy professor, articulates a precise yet flexible ethical manifesto for a world characterized by heretofore unthinkable interconnection but riven by escalating fractiousness. Drawing on his Ghanaian roots and on examples from philosophy and literature, he attempts to steer a course between the extremes of liberal universalism, with its tendency to impose our values on others, and cultural relativism, with its implicit conviction that gulfs in understanding cannot be bridged. Cosmopolitanism, in Appiah’s formulation, balances our “obligations to others” with the "value not just of human life but of particular human lives" — what he calls “universality plus difference.” Appiah remains skeptical of simple maxims for ethical behavior — like the Golden Rule, whose failings as a moral precept he swiftly demonstrates — and argues that cosmopolitanism is the name not "of the solution but of the challenge." ~ The New Yorker
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
Who's afraid of Postmodernism? (Baker Academic : 2006), p69-70.
What characterizes the postmodern condition, then, is not a rejection of grand stories in terms of scope or in the sense of epic claims, but rather an unveling of the fact that all knowledge is rooted in some narrative or myth... The result, however... is what Lyotard describes as a "problem of legitimation"... since what we thought were universal criteria have been unveiled as just one game among many. If we consider, for instance, the reality of deep moral diversity and competing visions of the good, postmodern society is at a loss to adjudicate the competing claims. There can be no appeal to a higher court that would transcend a historical context or a language game, no neutral observer or "God's-eye view" that can legitimate or justify one paradigm or moral language game above another. If all moral claims are conditioned by paradigms of historical commitment, then they cannot transcend those conditions; thus every moral claim operates within a "logic" that is conditioned by the paradigm. In other words, every language game has its own set of rules. As a result, criteria that determine what constitutes evidence or proof must be game relative: they will function as rules only for those who share the same paradigm or participate in the same language game. The incommensurability of language games means that there is a plurality of logics that precludes any demonstrative appeal to a common reason. Recognition of the incommensurability of langauge games and the plurality of competing myths means that there is no consensus, no sensus communis. Many — especially Christians — lament this state of affairs... But is the problem as bad as we think? ... In the face of this problem, we must not lose sight of the fact that what constitutes the postmodern condition is precisely a plurality of language games — a condition in which no one story can claim either universal auto-legitimation (because of the plurality of "the people") nor appeal to a phantom universal reason (because reason is just one myth among others, which is itself rooted in a narrative). And this plurality is based on the fact that each game is grounded in different narratives or myths (i.e. founding beliefs).
Michael P. Lynch (The MIT Press: August 2005), 216 pages.
Why does truth matter, when politicians so easily sidestep it and intellectuals scorn it as irrelevant? Why be concerned over an abstract idea like truth when something that isn't true — for example, a report of Iraq's attempting to buy materials for nuclear weapons—gets the desired result — the invasion of Iraq? In this engaging and spirited book, Michael Lynch argues that truth does matter, in both our personal and political lives. Lynch explains that the growing cynicism over truth stems in large part from our confusion over what truth is. "We need to think our way past our confusion and shed our cynicism about the value of truth," he writes. "Otherwise, we will be unable to act with integrity, to live authentically, and to speak truth to power." True to Life defends four simple claims: that truth is objective; that it is good to believe what is true; that truth is a goal worthy of inquiry; and that truth can be worth caring about for its own sake—not just because it gets us other things we want. In defense of these "truisms about truth," Lynch diagnoses the sources of our cynicism and argues that many contemporary theories of truth cannot adequately account for its value. He explains why we should care about truth, arguing that truth and its pursuit are part of living a happy life, important in our personal relationships and for our political values. ~ Product Description (Gold Award Winner for Philosophy in the 2004 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards)
"Host", in the Atlantic Monthly (April 2005), p. 54.
It is worth considering the strange media landscape in which political talk radio is a salient. Never before have there been so many different national news sources — different now in terms of both medium and ideology. Major newspapers from anywhere are available online; there are the broadcast networks plus public TV, cable's CNN, Fox News, CNBC, et al., print and Web magazines, Internet bulletin boards, The Daily Show, e-mail newsletters, blogs. All this is well known; it's part of the Media Environment we live in. But there are prices and ironies here. One is that the increasing control of U.S. mass media by a mere handful of corporations has — rather counterintuitively — created a situation of extreme fragmentation, a kaleidoscope of information options. Another is that the ever increasing number of ideological news outlets creates precisely the kind of relativism that cultural conservatives decry, a kind of epistemic free-for-all in which "the truth" is wholly a matter of perspective and agenda. In some respects all this variety is probably good, productive of difference and dialogue and so on. But it can also be confusing and stressful for the average citizen. Short of signing on to a particular mass ideology and patronizing only those partisan news sources that ratify what you want to believe, it is increasingly hard to determine which sources to pay attention to and how exactly to distinguish real information from spin.
"The Big Questions", in The National Review, (December 02, 2004)
I also detest the tendency of Americans, Westerners, or "Moderns" to boast of how they've customized their religious views to fit their lifestyles. "I don't believe in organized religion, but I'm a very spiritual person." Yuck. It simply strikes me as intellectually offensive to pretend that the engineer of it all goes out of his way to let individual people order off-menu their religious preferences in just such a way so as pretty much everything they do is exactly how God wants it. And, even if that were the case, even if God customizes the heavens, space, and time so as to make every personal indulgence divinely inspired, the trend of people being their own priests is not one I celebrate. I'd hate to sound like I'm lending my voice to that chorus — I'm not. Indeed, my belief that religion is important depends on it being a social institution. If everyone has his own church, each designating himself a personal messiah, we've slipped out of the realm of faith and, ultimately, into the arena of the Ãºbermensch where whoever has the religion which condones the most barbarity, wins.
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
Brennan Manning on God said...
The Ragamuffin Gospel (Questar Publishers, 1993).
Over the years I've seen Christians shaping God in their own image — in each case a dreadfully small God. Some Roman Catholics still believe only they will gaze on heaven's green pastures... There is the God who has a special affection for capitalist America, regards the workaholic, and the God who loves only the poor and the underprivileged. There is a God who marches with victorious armies, and the God who loves only the meek who turns the other cheek. Some like the elder brother in Luke, sulk and pout when the Father rocks and rolls, serves surf-and-turf for a prodigal son, who has spent his last cent on whores. Some, tragically, refuse to believe that God can or will forgive them: "My sin is too great".
The Soul of Science (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), p. 154-5.
Throughout the academic world, non-Euclidean geometry was invoked to support a positivistic, anti-metaphysical temper of thought. A culture was assumed to be analogous to a geometry. Both were built on a few postulates chosen from an indefinite number of possibilities; both consisted of internally consistent, interrelated wholes; and both were immune to judgements about their truth or falsity in any ultimate sense. Just as different geometries could all be logically valid, it was argued, so any number of different cultural and ethical systems could all be logically valid. Thus non-Euclideanism became a metaphor for the rejection of all traditional deductive systems — particularly the moral and religious tradition of Christianity. This is not to say that non-Euclideanism is intrinsically anti-Christian or anti-religious. Yet it was invoked as a symbol to deny that Christianity has any claim to a superior or exclusive truth.
Charles Landesman and Roblin Meeks, eds. (Wiley-Blackwell: Oct 29, 2002), 376 pages.
Philosophical Skepticism provides a selection of texts drawn from the skeptical tradition of Western philosophy as well as texts written by opponents of skepticism. Taken together with the historical introduction by Landesman and Meeks, these texts clearly illustrate the profound influence that skeptical stances have had on the nature of philosophical inquiry. 1) Draws a selection of texts from the skeptical tradition of Western philosophy as well as texts written by opponents of skepticism. 2) Spans centuries of skeptical and anti-skeptical arguments, from Socrates to Rorty. 3) Includes essays by Plato, Cicero, Diogenes Laertius, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Kierkegaard, Russell, Quine, Nagel, and many others.
Richard Dawkins on Truth said...
"Hall of Mirrors", in Forbes ASAP, October 2, 2000.
A little learning is a dangerous thing. This has never struck me as a particularly profound or wise remark, but it comes into its own when that little learning is in philosophy. A scientist who has the temerity to utter the t-word — true — is likely to encounter philosophical heckling that goes something like this: "There is no absolute truth. You are committing an act of personal faith when you claim that the scientific method, including mathematics and logic, is the privileged road to truth. Other cultures might believe that truth is to be found in a rabbit's entrails or the ravings of a prophet atop a pole. It is only your personal faith in science that leads you to favor your brand of truth." That strand of half-baked philosophy goes by the name of cultural relativism.
Michael Shermer (Holt Paperbacks, Revised & Enlarged Edition: Sep 1, 2002), 384 pages.
In this age of supposed scientific enlightenment, many people still believe in mind reading, past-life regression theory, New Age hokum, and alien abduction. A no-holds-barred assault on popular superstitions and prejudices, with more than 80,000 copies in print, Why People Believe Weird Things debunks these nonsensical claims and explores the very human reasons people find otherworldly phenomena, conspiracy theories, and cults so appealing. In an entirely new chapter, "Why Smart People Believe in Weird Things," Michael Shermer takes on science luminaries like physicist Frank Tippler and others, who hide their spiritual beliefs behind the trappings of science. Shermer, science historian and true crusader, also reveals the more dangerous side of such illogical thinking, including Holocaust denial, the recovered-memory movement, the satanic ritual abuse scare, and other modern crazes. Why People Believe Strange Things is an eye-opening resource for the most gullible among us and those who want to protect them. ~ Book Description
Moreland & Craig, eds., Naturalism: A Critical Appraisal (Routledge: 2002), p. 38.
The "Midas touch" picture of consciousness, as I call it — is the view that to take something as our 'object' automatically transforms it in some essential way (possibly even making it 'mental'). How, exactly, consciousness — or for that matter language, or culture — being what it is, could make a tree or block of ice what it is, or turn something that was not already a tree or block of ice into one, is truly hard to say. We actually know how trees etc. come about, and they are not made by consciousness. One can also safely say that the story about how consciousness supposedly does its transforming and productive work has never been satisfactorily told. The second interpretation plays off of the saying that one cannot escape consciousness — cannot, as it is often said, "step outside of one's mind." Certainly, to be conscious of anything one must be conscious. But it does not follow from this that one cannot compare a thought to what it is about and whether it "matches up" or not. Only confusion could make one think it does — a confusion probably based upon the "Midas touch" picture of consciousness. [Editor's note: Midas, in Greek mythology, had the ability to turn everything he touched into gold.]
Moreland & Craig, eds., Naturalism: A Critical Appraisal (Routledge: 2002), p. 37.
The anti-correspondence, representationalist theories which now fill up the recent philosophical past are far from coming together in an adequate account of the mind-world relation or lack thereof. It is not as if there were now available some solid insight grounding an alternative to the type of accessible correspondence described above. In fact there is no generally acceptable alternative to correspondence. There is a series of successively discredited theories from Locke to Hume, to Kant to Hegel (or Fichte) to positivism and phenomenalism in their various forms; and then "language" (the "new way of words") is substituted for way of "ideas" or "experience," and the old battles fought over gain. This time about how words tie to the world, and the outcome being a lingo-centric predicament instead of a ego-centric predicament. One cannot easily suppose that there is a philosophically credible alternative to the correspondence theory of truth. We do not have "something better" on hand.
Ravi Zacharias (Thomas Nelson : February 2002), 208 pages.
In a world with so many religions—why Jesus? In his most important work to date, apologetics scholar and popular speaker Ravi Zacharias shows how the blueprint for life and death itself is found in a true understanding of Jesus. With a simple yet penetrating style, Zacharias uses rich illustrations to celebrate the power of Jesus Christ to transform lives.Jesus Among Other Gods contrasts the truth of Jesus with founders of Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, strengthening believers and compelling them to share their faith with our post-modern world.
Cited in Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (David R. Godine: 2001), p. 14.
His thinking is a prism. It must be seen not from side alone but from all sides, then from underneath and overhead. So seen, as one moves around it, the prism is full of changing lights and colours. To have seen it from one side only is not to have seen it. ... There are no whole truths. All truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.
Michael Huemer (Rowman & Littlefield: Jul 17, 2001), 232 pages.
Since Descartes, one of the central questions of Western philosophy has been that of how we know that the objects we seem to perceive are real. Philosophical skeptics claim that we know no such thing. Representationalists claim that we can gain such knowledge only by inference, by showing that the hypothesis of a real world is the best explanation for the kind of sensations and mental images we experience. Both accept the doctrine of a 'veil of perception': that perception can only give us direct awareness of images or representations of objects, not the external objects themselves. In contrast, Huemer develops a theory of perceptual awareness in which perception gives us direct awareness of real objects, not mental representations, and we have non-inferential knowledge of the properties of these objects. Further, Huemer confronts the four main arguments for philosophical skepticism, showing that they are powerless against this kind of theory of perceptual knowledge.