What Is Truth?: On the Need for an Old Paradigm

By: Richard Oxenberg

I. Introduction: What Is Truth?

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says to Pontius Pilate: “I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Pilate famously responds, “What is truth?”

This question has reverberated through the ages, not least because different religions and different cultures – as Pilate’s question suggests – have presented us with very different versions of what they have called “the truth.” Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, and others have fought violent battles to promulgate and defend their particular version of “the truth.”

These bloody ‘truth’ battles played a significant role in motivating the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It was the hope of the early scientists and their champions to find a reliable and verifiable method of distinguishing true from false, a method based on generally available evidence that would yield truths of universal validity – truths that all informed, intelligent, and rational people would be able to agree upon.

The sciences have been hugely successful in their endeavor. Our ability to predict and control events in our physical environment has advanced immeasurably due to the employment of modern scientific methodologies. There can be no question about this.

What might be questioned, however, is whether the sort of truths the modern sciences provide are the truths we fundamentally seek. Aristotle writes, in his Metaphysics: “The science which knows to what end each thing must be done is the most authoritative of the sciences, and more authoritative than any ancillary science; and this end is the good of that thing, and in general the supreme good in the whole of nature.” When Jesus speaks to Pilate of “the truth” he is not, of course, speaking of what we would think of as “scientific” truth, he is speaking of the truth concerning “the supreme good.” Indeed, it might be argued that the very success of the physical sciences has led to an obscured understanding of just what we seek when we seek “the truth.”

My contention in this essay is that we need a paradigm shift in our conception of ’truth’ – one that will return us to the philosophical insight that the highest truths are those concerning “the good.” Let us call this “philosophical truth.” The pursuit of philosophical truth employs different methods and procedures than are offered by the sciences, methods and procedures that must be, by the very nature of what they pursue, less rigorous and reliable than those of the hard sciences. Still, to recognize the importance of pursuing these higher-order truths is, I believe, an imperative of our time. We have increasingly become a culture that – as the saying goes – knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. We know, as never before in human history, how to do what we want. Our problem is that we don’t know what to want.

How do we begin to think meaningfully about truths pertaining to “the good”? First we must endeavor to locate the domain of value within our own experience. Let us, then, turn to a consideration of this.

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Faith vs. Reason?

By: Hendrik van der Breggen

For some people, the relationship between faith and reason is like oil and water—they don’t mix. On this view, religious beliefs cannot and should not be subject to rational evaluation.

I disagree with this view.

To defend my disagreement, I will look at some objections to the use of reason when it comes to matters having to do with God, then I will set out some replies.

Objections to the use of reason

Objection 1. At the core of a religious belief system are some fundamental assumptions about the world, and these cannot be tested by reason.

Objection 2. Rational inquiry is open ended: on an ongoing basis we need to consider newly turned up bits of relevant evidence, so a proof is never had, and so a reason-based decision about God must be put off indefinitely—hence reason is of no help.

Objection 3. When it comes to God, we must make a leap of faith. Faith involves risk and commitment, and faith is purely subjective—these are different from reason.

Objection 4. God is “wholly other” (utterly transcendent) and thus beyond the capacity of reason to grasp.

Objection 5. Using reason makes reason one’s God, placing reason above God—and thereby one commits idolatry.

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Cultural Anglicanism: A Pleasing Illusion

By: Glen Paul Hammond

The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything.G.K. Chesterton

Sonia Maria Pavel, in her recent article on Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, examines the way the 18th century Irish statesman, author, political theorist and philosopher, expressed concern for the dismantling of the old decent draperies of life by what he saw as the “new conquering empire of light and reason” (Pavel). Pavel’s article focuses on two dimensions of Burke’s argument: The first is his historical and anthropological account of both the origin and function of “pleasing illusions” within a culture, and the second is his justification for the intentional revival of those illusions, which he saw as necessary for the establishment of social cohesion. Pavel’s two-dimensional perspective is offered as a lens for the examination of political deception and what Burke saw as the instrumental value in having a politically beneficial fiction. In my view, however, this approach also serves to highlight a part of Burke’s argument that is most necessarily applicable for the maintenance of free societies today, and one that Pavel does not address in her article. Namely, that human beings are religious animals by their constitution and that, in the case of the West, without the Christian religion there would be a void left in the minds of people that would soon be filled by some other more pernicious superstition. Ultimately, this would undermine the existence of Western liberal democracy (Burke 75). Recently, this opinion has even been reasserted by the most unlikely of sources: the intellectual atheist, Richard Dawkins.

According to Pavel, Burke defended the necessity of prejudices, and the conventions that they generate, as a means to produce “a common moral heritage that engendered stability through feeling of familiarity and belonging.” She argues that such pleasing illusions “surrounding power” were “not designed as ways of deceiving people into obeying authority,” but rather evolved alongside a mechanism of mutual obligation that produced a societal system of functional requisites. Through an investment in the requisites of the community, a cultural ethos was produced that was gentler and more liberal than any system could be if the same behaviors were enacted through a set of laws, enforced by an authoritarian agency. Prejudices such as these, which evolved not through calculated planning for any particular end, but rather “emerge and develop historically,” provided individuals with a means to negotiate the world that, in their absence, would leave members of a society “alone and afraid” with nothing but what Burke called their “naked shivering nature” (Pavel).

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Bill Nelson Won’t Go Home

By: Caleb Mills

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and, after forty years in politics, you’d think that Senator Bill Nelson would be a case in point when it comes to that adage. But sometimes, for both people and their canine companions, mastering new tricks is actually a viable option. Still, for Florida’s lone Democrat to survive past November, it’s going take a little more than just jumping through hoops to succeed.

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Crooner Michael Bolton’s Introductory Press Conference as National Security Advisor

Don’t Feed The Animals, A Series of Satirical Musings by: Josh Lorenzo

April 16th, 2018, Washington D.C. – In an attempt to increase his numbers in national polls, President Trump has appointed singer Michael Bolton to be the new National Security Advisor, replacing former NSA advisor, John Bolton. John Bolton, you may recall, briefly replaced H.R. McMaster, who briefly replaced acting advisor Keith Kellogg (who had served for about a week), who replaced embattled advisor Michael Flynn, who briefly filled the role before he was forced to begrudgingly step down by President Trump.

In his introductory press conference, Mr. Bolton reassured a worried public that a powerful balladeer from the 1980s and 90s would be able to bring a sense of calm and professionalism to the position.

Jim Acosta, CNN:
Mr. Bolton, have you had a chance to speak with the outgoing advisor, the other Mr. Bolton?

Michael Bolton: 
Hello, DC! I told Mr. Bolton that I could hardly believe the news today.
Are you leaving John, leaving me blue?
Sadly, so sadly, I found out that it’s true.

Jim Acosta, CNN:
Why do you take long pauses to gaze into the cameras with sensual eyes and pouty lips? Is that a singer’s trick to get people to listen to you?

Michael Bolton: 
When the National Security Advisor loves a country, can’t keep his mind on nothing else
He’ll fight the whole world to keep the good thing he’s found.

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Historic Handshake between North and South Korea complicates Sino-American rivalry in Asia

By: David O. Monda

This week, witnessed the unprecedented diplomatic rapprochement between the presidents of North and South Korea. Political actors around the world witnessed these two leaders cross over the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at the 38th parallel and pledge to work towards a new Korea. These precedent setting events, have not been witnessed heretofore. This historic handshake between North and South Korea complicates Sino-American rivalry in Asia.

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Heidegger, Metaphysics, and Wheelbarrows: A Poetic Introduction to Heidegger’s Being and Time

By: Richard Oxenberg

so much depends
upon
a red wheel
barrow
glazed with rain
water
beside the white
chickensWilliam Carlos Williams

In order to appreciate Heidegger’s thought it is necessary to see it in relation to the Western metaphysical tradition from which it has emerged. This would be true, of course, for any thinker, but it is especially so for Heidegger, because Heidegger’s thinking represents a radical challenge to the tradition itself. Heidegger does to the traditional view of Being and the world what Marx is said to have done to Hegel’s dialectic: he stands it on its head. He stands it on its head – so he might contend – in order that we might finally see it right-side-up.

The problem with the traditional view, from Heidegger’s perspective, is not that it fails to illuminate the most abstract and remote issues, the Alpha and Omega of Being, but that it fails to properly grasp what is most obvious, what is everyday, what is right before our eyes; what is, perhaps, so close that it is uncomfortably close. And in this failure it has institutionalized an interpretation of life that is inauthentic and self-alienated. Perhaps the best way to see this is to examine something that is itself rather simple and everyday, first from the traditional and then from the Heideggarian standpoint.

The poem quoted above will serve this purpose well. It is, apparently, the expression of a simple moment of life; perhaps it is a worried sigh, a moment’s nervous reflection. It might have been uttered at the end of a long day’s work, or in preparation for a new one. It is almost too simple to say anything about. We are finished with it before we have begun. And yet it is precisely here, in the obvious, in the everyday, that Heidegger begins his revolutionary investigations.

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Cry Beloved Country: Matiba’s Legacy Creates Hope for a New Republic

By: David O. Monda

On 1st June 1932, the soils of Muranga County reverberated with the birth of Kenneth Njindo Matiba. Born was a Kenyan who would confront the authoritarian powers that had coopted the state since independence. Kenneth Matiba’s life was characterized by his defiance to the tyranny of the state and his desire for increasing democratic freedoms. While many mourn his demise, the reality of things is that Matiba was unable to bridge the divide of ethnic mobilization in the Kenyan political psyche. He was unable to beat the beast of negative ethnicity that scuppered his momentum in advancing the expansion of the democratic space through the introduction of multi-party democracy in the 1990’s.

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Racist Ideas, Justice, and Freedom: A Review and Reflection on Ibram Kendi’s ‘Stamped from the Beginning’

By: Jeremy Kingston Cynamon

We tend to think that hierarchical institutions like slavery emerge as the result of racist and hateful ideas. Ibram Kendi’s new book Stamped From the Beginning, offers an intriguing and far reaching historical challenge to that narrative. Kendi reverses the causal arrow and argues that rather than racist ideas causing discriminatory practices, racist ideas are more accurately understood as ex post justifications of those practices. In other words, hierarchical institutions emerge first – owing to self-interested economic, political, and social reasons –  and are then justified in theory by clergy, intellectuals, and other elites.[1] Perhaps Kendi’s most surprising claim is that racist ideas penetrate even the minds of liberal reformers, activists, and theorists, who are otherwise considered progressives. Here he cites W.E.B. Du Bois and Barack Obama amongst many others, ultimately suggesting that racist ideas infiltrate nearly every discourse and sphere of social life.

Kendi’s book is, as its subtitle suggests, an incisive and thoroughgoing study of the history of racist ideas in America. But it is more than that; Stamped From the Beginning is also rife with implications for political theory. It has much to say both about the ongoing discussion about distributive justice, and about how we conceptualize freedom. Its central argument, which points to the need to address deep structures of inequality, can be interpreted as particularly troublesome for liberal theories of distributive justice. This same argument also highlights some important limitations of the typical bifurcation of freedom into its positive and negative variants.[2]

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Pro-life Replies to Pro-choice Arguments

By: Hendrik van der Breggen

Below are some popular arguments for abortion choice followed by some pro-life replies. These pro-choice arguments are real (from a critic of one of my recent articles published here and here) and so are the replies (which I presented as responses).

I hope the interaction between this critic and me will encourage careful reasoning in Canada’s public discourse on abortion.

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