True vs. "true"
Michael P. Lynch, ed. (MIT Press: April 2001), 820 pages.
What is truth?" has long been the philosophical question par excellence. The Nature of Truth collects in one volume the twentieth century's most influential philosophical work on the subject. The coverage strikes a balance between classic works and the leading edge of current philosophical research. The essays center around two questions: Does truth have an underlying nature? And if so, what sort of nature does it have? Thus the book discusses both traditional and deflationary theories of truth, as well as phenomenological, postmodern, and pluralist approaches to the problem. The essays are organized by theory. Each of the seven sections opens with a detailed introduction that not only discusses the essays in that section but relates them to other relevant essays in the book. Eleven of the essays are previously unpublished or substantially revised. The book also includes suggestions for further reading. Contributors include Linda Martín Alcoff, William P. Alston, J. L. Austin, Brand Blanshard, Marian David, Donald Davidson, Michael Devitt, Michael Dummett, Hartry Field, Michel Foucault, Dorothy Grover, Anil Gupta, Martin Heidegger, Terence Horgan, Jennifer Hornsby, Paul Horwich, William James, Michael P. Lynch, Charles Sanders Pierce, Hilary Putnam, W. V. O. Quine, F. P. Ramsey, Richard Rorty, Bertrand Russell, Scott Soames, Ernest Sosa, P. F. Strawson, Alfred Tarski, Ralph C. Walker, Crispin Wright. ~ Product Description
CS Lewis (Harper SanFrancisco: Mar 2001)
C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man purports to be a book specifically about public education, but its central concerns are broadly political, religious, and philosophical. In the best of the book's three essays, "Men Without Chests," Lewis trains his laser-sharp wit on a mid- century English high school text, considering the ramifications of teaching British students to believe in idle relativism, and to reject "the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kinds of things we are." Lewis calls this doctrine the "Tao," and he spends much of the book explaining why society needs a sense of objective values. The Abolition of Man speaks with astonishing freshness to contemporary debates about morality. ~ Amazon.com
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Alexander Fraser (New York: Dover, 1959), p. 31.
Men, extending their inquiries beyond their capacities, and letting their thought wander into those depths where they can find no sure footing, it is no wonder that they raise questions and multiply disputes, which, never coming to any clear resolution, are proper only to continue and increase their doubts, and to confirm them at last in perfect skepticism. Whereas were the capacities of our understandings well considered, the extent of our knowledge once discovered, and the horizon found which sets the bounds between the enlightened and dark parts of things; between what is and what is not comprehensible by us, men would perhaps with less scruple acquiesce in the avowed ignorance of the one, and employ their thoughts and discourse with more advantage and satisfaction in the other.
First Things 107 (November 2000): 69-88.
Admittedly, it is not so attractive when the apparent modesty disguises a self-denigration that is almost tantamount to self-hatred, as is sometimes evident in current forms of "multiculturalism." Among Christians committed to ecumenism there is a type that is aptly described as an ecumaniac. An ecumaniac is defined as someone who loves every church but his own. So it is that multiculturalists are forever discovering superiorities in other cultures, oblivious to the fact that, in the larger human story, Western culture is singular in its eagerness to praise and learn from other cultures. One is never more distinctively Western than when criticizing what is distinctively Western. The same holds for being American. In our multiculturalism we display our superiority by demonstrating our ability to see through what others — mistakenly, we say — admire in our culture. So maybe this new and self-denigrating way of telling the American story is not so modest after all.
The October 2000 issue of Forbes ASAP is a remarkable, voluminous anthology pondering the question: What is true? An impressive crowd of cognoscenti discuss the status of truth in the digital age in each of their respective specialties: business, culture, faith, science, history, and people. A tone of jaded skepticism pervades, except of course in the science column. On culture, Pico Lyer's (sic), "Do You Copy?" and, Ian Frazier's, "Th-Th-That's Not All Folks," both commend the facsimile over the original, the fabrication over the real. In contrast, Stephen Jay Gould's, "Only Human," offers a wistful tribute to the authentic artifact en route to a biological definition of the human essence. Richard Dawkins', "Hall of Mirrors," is a stirring apologetic for science being the oracle of truth. For faith, Reynolds Price discloses a gentle and wisehearted Christian confession written to his godson. And, Michael Korda offers an amusing, if derisive, look at the Bible from the perspective of a publisher. This special issue features fine, fascinating writing across the board and is highly recommended. Finally, Zogby's, What is "True"? Poll includes several enlightening revelations.
Richard Dawkins on Science said...
"Hall of Mirrors", in Forbes ASAP, October 2, 2000.
Is it just our Western scientific bias to be impressed by accurate prediction, to be impressed by the power to sling rockets around Jupiter to reach Saturn, or intercept and repair the Hubble telescope, to be impressed by logic itself? Well, let's concede the point and think sociologically, even democratically. Suppose we agree, temporarily, to treat scientific truth as just one truth among many, and lay it alongside all the rival contenders: Trobriand truth, Kikuyu truth, Maori truth, Inuit truth, Navajo truth, Yanomamo truth, !Kung San truth, feminist truth, Islamic truth, Hindu truth. The list is endless — and thereby hangs a revealing observation. In theory, people could switch allegiance from any one "truth" to any other if they decided it had greater merit. On what basis might they do so? Why would one change from, say, Kikuyu truth to Navajo truth? Such merit-driven switches are rare — with one crucially important exception: switches to scientific truth from any of the others. Scientific truth is the only member of this endless list that evidentially convinces converts of its superiority. People are loyal to other belief systems because they were brought up that way, and they have never known anything better. When people are lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to vote with their feet, doctors prosper and shamans decline. Even those who do not, or cannot, avail themselves of a scientific education choose to benefit from technology made possible by the scientific education of others.
"Hall of Mirrors", in Forbes ASAP, October 2, 2000.
How should scientists respond to the allegation that our "faith" in logic and scientific truth is just that — faith — not "privileged" over alternative truths? An obvious response is that science gets results. As I once wrote, "Show me a cultural relativist at 30,000 feet, and I'll show you a hypocrite... If you are flying to an international congress of anthropologists or literary critics, the reason you will probably get there — the reason you don't plummet into a ploughed field — is that a lot of Western scientifically trained engineers have got their sums right." Science supports its claim to truth by its spectacular ability to make matter and energy jump through hoops, and to predict what will happen and when.
Richard Dawkins on Truth said...
"Hall of Mirrors", in Forbes ASAP, October 2, 2000.
It is simply true that the sun is hotter than the earth, true that the desk on which I am writing is made of wood. These are not hypotheses awaiting falsification, not temporary approximations of an ever elusive truth, not local truths that might be denied in another culture. They are just plain true. It is forever true that DNA is a double helix, true that if you and a chimpanzee (or an octopus or a kangaroo) trace your ancestors back far enough, you will eventually hit a shared ancestor.
Paul K. Moser and Thomas L. Carson, eds. (Oxford University Press: August 2000), pages.
Are all moral truths relative or do certain moral truths hold for all cultures and people? In Moral Relativism: A Reader, this and related questions are addressed by twenty-one contemporary moral philosophers and thinkers. This engaging and nontechnical anthology, the only up-to-date collection devoted solely to the topic of moral relativism, is accessible to a wide range of readers including undergraduate students from various disciplines. The selections are organized under six main topics: (1) General Issues; (2) Relativism and Moral Diversity; (3) On the Coherence of Moral Relativism; (4) Defense and Criticism; (5) Relativism, Realism, and Rationality; and (6) Case Study on Relativism. Contributors include Ruth Benedict, Richard Brandt, Thomas L. Carson, Philippa Foot, Gordon Graham, Gilbert Harman, Loretta M. Kopelman, David Lyons, J. L. Mackie, Michele Moody-Adams, Paul K. Moser, Thomas Nagel, Martha Nussbaum, Karl Popper, Betsy Postow, James Rachels, W. D. Ross, T. M. Scanlon, William Graham Sumner, and Carl Wellman. The volume concludes with a case study on female circumcision/genital mutilation that vividly brings into focus the practical aspects and implications of moral relativism. An ideal primary text for courses in moral relativism, Moral Relativism: A Reader can also be used as a supplementary text for introductory courses in ethics and for courses in various disciplines — anthropology, sociology, theology, political science, and cultural studies — that discuss relativism. The volume's pedagogical and research value is enhanced by a topical bibliography on moral relativism and a substantial general introduction that includes explanatory summaries of the twenty selections.
Kim Walker on Loss of Faith said...
"Atheism in the Third Millenium", The Secular Web
It's a familiar story now. Young Christian was born into a God-fearing household. He learned to read from an illustrated children's Bible (one of those with the sex and nastiness carefully bowdlerised). He went to a Christian school. He joined a Christian group in college. He got into an argument with an atheist and found his knowledge of the Bible wanting. He set out to study the Bible in greater depth, so he could answer the atheist's objections all the better. He found the Bible hopelessly flawed and suffered a crisis of faith. He went to his church so his faith might be restored, but found no convincing answers for his questions. He left the church, convinced that there was something wrong with him, which made him unable to believe and left him eternally damned. He discovered that there was life after religion, and that it wasn't all bad, and that there are more things in heaven and earth than his priest ever told him about. Now he calls himself an atheist.
Clipped by Nathan Jacobson
Jeffrey Jay Lowder, founder of the Internet Infidels, offers a welcome clarification of the term 'feethinker,' in his article, "Is 'Freethinker' Synonymous with 'Nontheist?'" He ultimately agrees with Bertrand Russell that what defines a freethinker is not the content of his beliefs, but because "after careful thought, he finds a balance of evidence in their favor." In principle, then, Lowder concedes that a theist could be a freethinker. His unremarkable conclusion is noteworthy because it demurs from the pervasive opinion of many skeptics that the defining characteristic of religious people is their unthinking credulity. Consider, by way of contrast, the Freedom from Religion Foundation's 'nontract' (sic), "What Is A Freethinker?" Still, Lowder rejects the possibility that an Evangelical Christian could be a freethinker. Considering Lowder's familiarity with the recent flowering of excellent Christian scholarship, especially in philosophy, his denial of Christian "free thinking" is, in the end, a bit puzzling.
Warranted Christian Belief, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 62.
[T]here is something wholly self-defeating, so it seems to me, in [John] Hick's posture. If we take [his] position, then we can't say, for example, that Christianity is right and Buddhism wrong; as Christians, we don't disagree with the Buddhists; and we take this stance in an effort to avoid self-exultation and imperialism. But we do something from the point of view of intellectual imperialism and self-exaltation that is much worse: we now declare that everyone is mistaken here, everyone except for ourselves and a few other enlightened souls. We and our graduate students know the truth; everyone else is sadly mistaken. Isn't this to exalt ourselves at the expense of nearly everyone else? Those who think there really is such a person as God are benighted, unsophisticated, unaware of the real truth of the matter, which is that there isn't any such person (even if thinking there is can lead to practical fruits). We see Christians as deeply mistaken; of course we pay the same compliment to the practitioners of the other great religions; we are equal-opportunity animadverters. We benevolently regard the rest of humanity as misguided; no doubt their hearts are in the right place; still, they are sadly mistaken about what they take to be most important and precious. I find it hard to see how this attitude is a manifestation of tolerance or intellectual humility: it looks more like patronizing condescension.
Warranted Christian Belief, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 61.
[I]s this posture in fact possible for a human being: can a person accept it, and accept it authentically, without bad faith or doublethink? I am to remain a Christian, to take part in Christian worship, to accept the splendid and powerful doctrines of traditional Christianity. However, I am also to take it that these doctrines are only mythologically true: they are literally false, although accepting them (i.e., accepting them as true, as literally true) puts or tends to put one into the right relation with the Real. And how can I possibly accept them, adopt that attitude toward them, if I think they are only mythologically true — that is, really false? I could, indeed, believe that they are mythologically true; believing that, however, doesn't move one toward the right kind of life; it is only believing the teachings themselves that allegedly has that salutary effect. Once I am sufficiently enlightened, once I see that those doctrines are not true, I can no longer take the stance with respect to them that leads to the hoped-for practical result. I am left, instead, in the position of a sad and disillusioned Gnostic. I no longer hold Christian belief; I recognize, as I think, that it is in fact false. I also see, of course, that those who do accept it as true are mistaken, deluded; but at any rate they are in the fortunate position of enjoying the comfort and strength and consolation these false beliefs bring; they are also being moved closer to the right kind of life.
An Interpretation of Religion, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), pp. 241- 42.
Kant distinguished between noumenon and phenomenon, or between a Ding an sich and that thing as it appears to human consciousness... In this strand of Kant's thought — not the only strand, but the one which I am seeking to press into service in the epistemology of religion — the noumenal world exists independently of our perception of it and the phenomenal world is that same world as it appears to our human consciousness... I want to say that the noumenal Real is experienced and thought by different human mentalities, forming and formed by different religious traditions, as the range of gods and absolutes which the phenomenology of religion reports.
Paul C. Vitz (Spence: October 15, 1999), 200 pages.
Starting with Freud's "projection theory" of religion-that belief in God is merely a product of man's desire for security. Vitz argues that psychoanalysis actually provides a more satisfying explanation for atheism. Disappointment in one's earthly father, whether through death, absence, or mistreatment, frequently leads to a rejection of God. A biographical survey of influential atheists of the past four centuries shows that this "defective father hypothesis" provides a consistent explanation of the "intense atheism" of these thinkers. A survey of the leading intellectual defenders of Christianity over the same period confirms the hypothesis, finding few defective fathers. Professor Vitz concludes with an intriguing comparison of male and female atheists and a consideration of other psychological factors that can contribute to atheism. Professor Vitz does not argue that atheism is psychologically determined. Each man, whatever his experiences, ultimately chooses to accept God or reject him. Yet the cavalier attribution of religious faith to irrational, psychological needs is so prevalent that an exposition of the psychological factors predisposing one to atheism is necessary. ~ Book Description
Simon Blackburn and Keith Simmons, eds. (Oxford University Press: October 1999), 416 pages.
This volume is designed to set out some of the central issues in the theory of truth. It draws together, for the first time, the debates between philosophers who favor 'robust' or 'substantive' theories of truth, and those other, 'deflationist' or minimalists, who deny that such theories can be given. The editors provide a substantial introduction, in which they look at how the debates relate to further issues, such as the Liar paradox and formal truth theories. This volume contains classic readings by authors such as William James, Bertrand Russell, Gottlob Frege, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Alfred Tarski, Quine, Peter Strawson, J.L. Austin, Paul Horwich, Michael Dummett, Donald Davidson, Anil Gupta and Richard Rorty to name a few. I think it is fair to say that most, if not all significant theories of truth advanced in the 20th century are covered in this volume. ~ Product Description
Peter Kreeft (Ignatius Press: October 1, 1999)
The only boring aspect of this book is its title, which doesn't do justice to apologist Kreeft's intelligent, engaging dialogue between two fictional friends during a week of relaxation at Martha's Vineyard. Kreeft, philosophy professor at Boston College and author of more than 25 books, describes the absolutist character 'Isa as a Muslim fundamentalist from Palestine who teaches philosophy at the American University in Beirut. His interviewer and sparring partner is Libby Rawls, an African-American, liberal feminist journalist. Using a classic debate format, with impressive fairness to the opposite side, Kreeft defines relativism and its importance. Tracing relativism's evolution and history in Western philosophy, Kreeft notes that relativism is a fairly modern perspective, originating within the last few hundred years. He outlines the philosophical distinctions between it and absolutism with clarity and an integrity that will delight both the layperson and the professional philosopher. For Kreeft, relativism has eroded a collective and individual sense of accountability and contributed to social decay, yet he can see the other side, especially with regard to cross-cultural differences. Although the purpose of the book is to uphold absolutism, Kreeft outlines the relativist perspective in an approachable, respectful manner. By giving counterarguments a fighting chance, this becomes a book that may actually persuade people, not just preach to the absolutist choir. ~ Publishers Weekly
Dallas Willard published in Christian Ethics Today (April 1999)
Dallas Willard offers a fresh appeal for the benificence and salience of truth, arguing that it has largely fallen into disrepute because of misunderstanding. The meaning of truth, Willard suggests, is both simple and obvious: "An idea or statement or belief is true if what it is about is as it is presented." Among its benefits, truth is what helps us deal with reality and it serves as the basis for tolerance. Willard goes on to suggest that Jesus Christ is the ultimate exemplar of a truthful life and he can serve as the basis for the redemption of truth in our culture.
Keith DeRose and Ted A. Warfield, eds. (Oxford University Press: Jan 28, 1999), 320 pages.
Recently, new life has been breathed into the ancient philosophical topic of skepticism. The subject of some of the best and most provocative work in contemporary philosophy, skepticism has been addressed not only by top epistemologists but also by several of the world's finest philosophers who are most known for their work in other areas of the discipline. Skepticism: A Contemporary Reader brings together the most important recent contributions to the discussion of skepticism. Covering major approaches to the skeptical problem, it features essays by Anthony Brueckner, Keith DeRose, Fred Dretske, Graeme Forbes, Christopher Hill, David Lewis, Thomas Nagel, Robert Nozick, Hilary Putnam, Ernest Sosa, Gail Stine, Barry Stroud, Peter Unger, and Ted Warfield. The book opens with a thorough introduction that outlines the skeptical problem, explains the dominant responses to skepticism, and discusses the strengths, weaknesses, and unresolved issues of each response, providing undergraduate students and nonphilosophers with the background and context necessary to understand the essays. Skepticism: A Contemporary Reader serves as an ideal text for courses in epistemology and skepticism and will also appeal to professional philosophers and interested general readers.
Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio by John Paul II, (14 September 1998).
This has given rise to different forms of agnosticism and relativism which have led philosophical research to lose its way in the shifting sands of widespread scepticism. Recent times have seen the rise to prominence of various doctrines which tend to devalue even the truths which had been judged certain. A legitimate plurality of positions has yielded to an undifferentiated pluralism, based upon the assumption that all positions are equally valid, which is one of today's most widespread symptoms of the lack of confidence in truth. Even certain conceptions of life coming from the East betray this lack of confidence, denying truth its exclusive character and assuming that truth reveals itself equally in different doctrines, even if they contradict one another. On this understanding, everything is reduced to opinion; and there is a sense of being adrift. While, on the one hand, philosophical thinking has succeeded in coming closer to the reality of human life and its forms of expression, it has also tended to pursue issues — existential, hermeneutical or linguistic — which ignore the radical question of the truth about personal existence, about being and about God. Hence we see among the men and women of our time, and not just in some philosophers, attitudes of widespread distrust of the human being's great capacity for knowledge. With a false modesty, people rest content with partial and provisional truths, no longer seeking to ask radical questions about the meaning and ultimate foundation of human, personal and social existence. In short, the hope that philosophy might be able to provide definitive answers to these questions has dwindled.