True vs. "true"
Francis J. Beckwith, Gregory Koukl (Baker Books: Sep 1, 1998)
When you keep in mind the purpose of this book — a practical guide to arm Moral Objectivists against three types of Moral Relativism (cultural/descriptive, socially prescriptive, and individual/ethical relativism) — it does a pretty good job. Not everyone does Philosophy, yet who doesn't encounter relativist arguments in almost every facet of life. Dealing mainly with Moral Relativism (only touching on Epistemological and Ontological Relativism), Beckwith and Koukl's book helps to make sense of what's really at issue, using concrete examples and crisp refutations. ~ Arthur Williamson
Paul Copan (Bethany House: Jun 1, 1998), 192 pages.
The world is intolerant of Christian beliefs. You've probably heard many of the anti-Christian comebacks and conversation-enders that refute the relevance and validity of Christianity, including: "Who are you to impose your morality on others?" "What right do you have to convert others to your views?" "It doesn't matter what you believe — as long as you're sincere." "You can't trust the Gospels — they're unreliable." These comments don't have to be conversation stoppers. Paul Copan offers you clear, concise, and thoughtful answers to these critical remarks in this revised and expanded edition of "True for You, But Not for Me." He shows you how with "patience, practice, prayer, and God's grace," you can gently respond in ways that move into more meaningful conversations with those who object to your faith.
Louis Pojman on Multiculturalism said...
A Critique of Moral Relativism, in Ethical Theory (Wadsworth, 1998), 39.
Eskimos allow their elderly to die by starvation, whereas we believe that this is morally wrong. The Spartans of ancient Greece and the Dobu of New Guinea believe(d) that stealing is morally right, but we believe it is wrong. A tribe in East Africa once threw deformed infants to the hippopotamuses, but we abhor infanticide. Ruth Benedict describes a tribe in Melanesia that views cooperation and kindness as vices, whereas we see them as virtues. Sexual practices vary over time and place. Some cultures accept cannibalism, while the very idea revolts us. Cultural relativism is well documented, and "custom is the king o'er all." There may or may not be moral principles held in common by every society, but if there are any, they seem to be few, at best. Certainly, it would be very difficult to derive any single "true" morality by observing various societies' moral standards.
"A Critique of Moral Relativism", in Ethical Theory (Wadsworth, 1998), 41.
If there were only one person on earth, there would be no occasion for morality because there wouldn't be any interpersonal conflicts to resolve or others whose suffering he or she would have a duty to ameliorate. Subjectivism implicitly assumes something of this solipsism, an atomism in which isolated individuals make up separate universes. Subjectivism treats individuals like billiard balls on a societal pool table where they meet only in radical collision, each aimed at his or her own goal and striving to do in the others before they themselves are done in. This atomistic view of personality is belied by the facts that we develop in which we share a common language, common institution, and similar rituals and habits, and that we often feel one another's joys and sorrow. As John Donne wrote, "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent."
Thomas Nagel on Skepticism said...
The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 115-6.
Suppose you become convinced that all your choices, decisions, and conclusions were determined by rationally arbitrary features of your psychological makeup or by external manipulation, and then tried to ask yourself what, in the light of this information, you should do or believe. There would really be no way to answer the question. Because the arbitrary causal control of which you had become convinced would apply to whatever you said or decided. You could not simultaneously believe this about yourself and try to make a free, rational choice. Not only that, but if the very belief in the causal system of control was itself a product of what you thought to be reasoning, then it too would lose its status as a belief freely arrived at, and your attitude toward it would have to change. ¶ Doubt about your own rationality is unstable; it leaves you really with nothing to think. So although the hypothesis of nonrational control seems a contingent possibility, it is no more possible to entertain it with regard to yourself than it is to consider the possibility that you are not thinking. I have never known how to respond to this conundrum.
The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 81.
We begin from the idea that there is some way the world is, and this, I believe, is an idea to which there is no intelligible alternative and which cannot be subordinated to or derived from anything else... [E]ven a subjectivist cannot escape from or rise above this idea. Even if he wishes to offer an analysis of it in subjective or community-relative terms, his proposal has to be understood as an account of how the world is and therefore as inconsistent with alternative accounts, with which it can be compared for plausibility.
Thomas Nagel on Reason said...
The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 3-4.
Reason, if there is such a thing, can serve as a court of appeal not only against the received opinions and habits of our community but also against the peculiarities of our personal perspective. It is something each individual can find with himself, but at the same time it has universal authority. Reason provides, mysteriously, a way of distancing oneself from common opinion and received practices that is not a mere elevation of individuality... not a determination to express one's idiosyncratic self rather than go along with everyone else. Whoever appeals to reason purports to discover a source of authority within himself that is not merely personal or societal, but universal... and that should also persuade others who are willing to listen to it.
The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 4.
How is it possible that creatures like ourselves, supplied with the contingent capacities of a biological species whose very existence appears to be radically accidental, should have access to universally valid methods of objective thought? It is because this question seems unanswerable that sophisticated forms of subjectivism keep appearing in the philosophical literature...
Thomas Nagel on Subjectivism said...
The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 6.
The worst of it is that subjectivism is not just an inconsequential intellectual flourish or badge of theoretical chic. It is used to deflect argument, or to belittle the pretensions of the arguments of others. Claims that something is without relativistic qualification true or false, right or wrong, good or bad, risk being derided as expressions of a parochial perspective or form of life, not as a preliminary to showing that they are mistaken whereas something else is right, but as a way of showing that nothing is right and that instead we are all expressing our personal or cultural point of view. The actual result has been a growth in the already extreme intellectual laziness of contemporary culture and the collapse of serious argument throughout the lower reaches of the humanities and social sciences, together with a refusal to take seriously, as anything other than first-person avowals, the objective arguments of others.
The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 6,15.
Many forms of relativism and subjectivism collapse into either self-contradiction or vacuity — self-contradiction because they end up claiming that nothing is the case, or vacuity because they boil down to the assertion that anything we say or believe is something we say or believe. I think that all general and most restricted forms of subjectivism that do not fail in either of these ways are pretty clearly false. It is usually a good strategy to ask whether a general claim about truth or meaning applies to itself. Many theories, like logical positivism, can be eliminated immediately by this test. The familiar point that relativism is self-refuting remains valid in spite of its familiarity: We cannot criticize some of our own claims of reason without employing reason at some other point to formulate and support those criticisms.
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
Carl Sagan (Ballantine Books: Feb 25, 1997), 480 pages.
Eminent Cornell astronomer and bestselling author Sagan debunks the paranormal and the unexplained in a study that will reassure hardcore skeptics but may leave others unsatisfied. To him, purported UFO encounters and alien abductions are products of gullibility, hallucination, misidentification, hoax and therapists' pressure; some alleged encounters, he suggests, may screen memories of sexual abuse. He labels as hoaxes the crop circles, complex pictograms that appear in southern England's wheat and barley fields, and he dismisses as a natural formation the Sphinx-like humanoid face incised on a mesa on Mars, first photographed by a Viking orbiter spacecraft in 1976 and considered by some scientists to be the engineered artifact of an alien civilization. In a passionate plea for scientific literacy, Sagan deftly debunks the myth of Atlantis, Filipino psychic surgeons and mediums such as J.Z. Knight, who claims to be in touch with a 35,000-year-old entity called Ramtha. He also brands as superstition ghosts, angels, fairies, demons, astrology, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and religious apparitions. ~ Publishers Weekly
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
"Is Jesus the Only Way?" in Jesus Under Fire, eds. Michael J. Wilkins and JP Moreland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 199.
Thus, we find members of the human community resisting God's attempts to establish lines of communication with himself. Some, in fact, are scandalized by the prospects of a precise diagnosis of the human condition with a specific remedy. This very tendency is symptomatic of human alienation from God. But while the propensity to dictate to God the conditions of divine-human relations is pervasive, it is hardly rational. The religious pluralist's insistence that God cannot have arranged for our salvation in the exclusivist way of Christianity presupposes a greater knowledge of God than the radical religious pluralists are in a position to have on their own assumptions.
The Brothers K (Bantam Books: July 1996), p. 56.
Beside a Scientist, Marion is also a Pacifist and an Atheist. This means she is basically against most things, such as War, Sports, and God. Don't get me wrong here. She is a fine woman in her way. Just a bit too serious and cynical, we feel... This weird outlook must of started up because her two brothers or maybe three were either all three or both killed during WW1, which Marion calls The Great War, in spite of WW2 being Greater. It also probably never helped when both her parents died shortly thereafter of a combination of broken hearts and the Spanish Inflewenza.
The Brothers K (Bantam Books: July 1996), p. 43.
All Ellen G. White knew, Pete said, was how to hornswoggle religious people — who are the most hornswogglable people on earth — whereas a good bookie knows how to hornswoggle gamblers, who are nothing but a bunch of hornswogglers themselves. Find yourself a prophet with the gifts of a good bookie, Pete says, like Krishna in the Bog of Vod Geeta, and maybe you got something.
"Is Jesus the Only Way?" in Jesus Under Fire, eds. Michael J. Wilkins and JP Moreland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), p178.
[Speaking rhetorically] The mere suggestion that Jesus might be the only way to achieve authentic religious fulfillment smacks of bigoted narrowness and rigid exclusiveness. While these are qualities that we have come to expect from obtuse religious zealots, they surely are unworthy of the general run of humanity, if not of God himself — if he should happen to exist. And the idea that humans can acquire specific religious knowledge that hold the key to the entire human condition is, well, pretentious at the least. The attitude is simply incompatible with enlightened awareness of our cognitive limitations.
Homosexuality and the Natural Law (Claremont, CA: The Claremont Institute of the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy, 1990), 3-4.
Then I learned that all moral judgments are "value judgments," that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either "right" or "wrong." I even read somewhere that the Chief justice of the United States had written that the American Constitution expressed nothing more than collective value judgments. Believe it or not, I figured out for myself what apparently the Chief Justice couldn't figure out for himself: that if the rationality of one value judgment was zero, multiplying it by millions would not make it one whit more rational. Nor is there any "reason" to obey the law for anyone, like myself, who has the boldness and daring — the strength of character — to throw off its shackles. I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable "value judgment" that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these "others"? Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a hog's life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as "moral" or "good" and others a "immoral" or "bad"? In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self.
Normative Ethics (Westview Press: 1998), p. 9.
Of course, the study of the moral beliefs of different cultures can be helpful in a number of ways. It can open our eyes to the fact that different groups have disagreed about moral questions — even on some of the matters that seem most self-evident to us. If nothing else, this may deepen our desire to discover to what extent our own moral views can be defended. And it may leave us more open to the possibility of deciding that it is actually some of our own moral views that are mistaken and in need of revision. Furthermore, the study of the moral beliefs of other groups can help us discover arguments for or against some position — arguments that we might otherwise have overlooked but that are worthy of careful consideration. And, of course, the study of the moral beliefs of other groups can be interesting in its own right.