DiaBlogue: Hard Truths vs. Hard Liqour

In his post, Vodka Is Not A Belief System (a claim refuted by the renowned philosopher W.C. Fields 🙂 Alan describes his reaction to my invocation of my radical centrist manifesto:

I thought he was talking about having to start with some kind of epistemological framework. But if I understand his last post, he has treated the contents of his manifesto as the beliefs that precede his knowledge. While the manifesto touches on truth, belief and knowledge, it does not really match my expectations for the kind of belief that is required for knowledge.

and further:

One reason I find these steps confusing is he seems to be starting with a few abstract things that he assumes to be true and arriving at something far more wide-ranging that he also considers true.

In particular, I get the sense he is specifically concerned about whether the Bible is Honest and Reliable. Even though he does try To Be Absolutly Clear about what he agrees and disagrees with, I suspect we’re still talking past each other.

[Read More] for my best guess about what Alan’s looking for, and how I propose to provide it.

Alan is right that my manifesto is not quite the same as an “epistemological framework.” To be precise, it is more a creedal statement designed to constrain the space of valid ethical, epistemological, ontological, and anthropological belief systems. But aren’t you glad I didn’t call it that at first? 🙂

What I really want to do is work with Alan to develop a common epistemology — a shared understanding of what we each can (and should) know based on what we agree is true. Not only will this help us meaningfully answer various questions of interest to him (e.g., “Can we know if the Bible is true?), but it should illuminate which ontologist are compatible with that belief system (e.g., “Must atheists be nihilists?”). Hopefully it will help us both become more robust about whether we think we know what we think. Right now, I fear we’re still arguing verbs, which makes agreement about nouns practically impossible.

To start with, I think we need a set of axiomatic “first principles” we agree on as being true. Intriguingly, Alan has said that he consider my manifesto “nice”, and that if people believed those things “the world would be a better place than it is today.” However, he has stopped short of saying that he considers those statements “true.” Was that a deliberate withholding, or a mere oversight?

Specifically, there are two principles that I would like to us to mutually affirm as true.

1. Truth exists

The first of these is whether there even is such a thing as “transcendent” truth. By transcendent I don’t mean to imply supernatural (we’ll get to that later), but merely that truth exists in an of itself, as opposed to merely existing in reaction to human need or utility. In other words, we as human beings are not free to define truth however we want, but there is a real truth against which our efforts must be measured.

2. Belief in Truth is Good.

The second principle is that there is an imperative to believe truth, especially what I would call a “hard truth.” That is, even when a particular truth is inconvenient, or belief in it could well lead to physical, psychological, or perhaps even spiritual distress, there is no justification for choosing to believe a falsehood rather than a truth .

This is perhaps stronger than the first principle, but I consider it just as important. The opposite of belief in “hard truth” is what we might the “hard liquour” principle (i.e., Vodka as a belief system :-): some truths are too unpleasant to be believed, and thus we are justified in taking whatever steps we need to avoid facing them. Or at least, there is no sanction against such behavior, or imperative for one person to call another to face the truth.

In short, I am asserting that it is virtuous to pursue truth (no matter the cost), and vicious to suppress truth (no matter how convenient). That may not mean we should always tell the truth to others (there’s often wiggle-room for self-preservation :-), but that we should at least be honest with ourselves.

I suspect that Alan agrees with the sentiment, but may object to my use of “virtue” and “vice.” Yet, I have no idea how to state that principle without the use of value-laden terms. Perhaps he can rephrase me for a change?