DiaBlogue: (EEE-I) Absolutely – Not?

Since Alan raised several different but important points in his response to ‘take deux’ of my “Epistemology of Empirical Essentialism“, I’m going to tackle them in three parts.

To start with, though he concedes EEE Is Not a Shoe Size, he does find my first assertion:

I. Belief in truth is absolutely good

a little too “broad”:

Regarding “absolutely good”, I agree that we’ve agreed that belief in truth is not contingently good, and that “absolute” can mean “inherently or “non-contingently”, but I would have preferred either of those two alternatives to “absolutely”, since “absolute” can also be taken to mean something like “ultimate”. I am concerned that the word “absolute” will lead to later confusion.

[Read more] for my response.

One of my many apothegms is that “progress comes from recognizing finer distinctions and deeper connections.” Thus, I am grateful that we’ve gotten to the point where we have sufficient large-scale brush agreement to start zeroing in on the specifics where we actually differ.

To start with, I do think Alan makes a very important distinction, and for purposes of epistemology I think it is fine to instead use:

I-a. Belief in truth is inherently good

However, I just want to make sure we’re clear about what we’re giving up in so doing. In particular, I don’t think this statement fully supports my original definition of Hard Truths:

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.

The result is what I might instead call Solid Truth. By downgrading truth from ‘absolute’ to ‘inherent’, we leave open at least the theoretical possibility that there may be other ‘inherent’ goods which could on occasion supersede, or at least conflict with, Truth. For example, I might say that “Health” is “inherently good”, but that doesn’t necessarily justify any and all measures to promote health.

Put another way, we can no longer use “Belief in Truth” as an inviolate ‘greatest good’, i.e., the basis of a full-blown normative ethics. We can certainly come up with “corollary goods” that are supportive of Truth’s “inherent good”, but we must (for now, at least) remain agnostic about whether they are “always” good. That doesn’t mean they are not, or can not be, completely good — we just don’t know they are, so we can’t rely on that.

All that said, I actually think this is a good change to make to ensure that this epistemology truly reflects our shared beliefs. However, I just want to make sure my understanding of the significance of the change is consistent with his.