question for all non-theists

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jmac2112
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question for all non-theists

Post #1

Post by jmac2112 »

I'm looking for definitions or accounts of "truth" from anyone who holds the view that nothing exists beyond the natural world, or that at any rate we cannot know whether anything exists beyond the natural world. I'd appreciate it if you could distinguish between "theoretical/factual" truth (A is B) and moral truth (i.e. matters of good/bad, right/wrong, what "should" be done).

Thanks!

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Post #2

Post by Autodidact »

A true statement is one that matches reality. I guess you can use this definition with regard to moral statements as well, although I don't know if it's a very helpful analysis of them.

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Post #3

Post by McCulloch »

If you do not ask me, then I know what truth is. But as soon as you ask me to explain, that knowledge is lost.

According to Jonathan Dolhenty, there are three epistemological primary truths that must be accepted in the investigation of knowledge and truth. They are:
  1. the fact of our existence
  2. the principle of non-contradiction
  3. the ability of the mind to know truth.
They cannot be validated with positive proof, as they are an inherent in every analysis. As a demonstration of their a priori nature, a person objecting to these essential truths cannot set a standard of proof without implicitly accepting the premises.

A true conclusion is the result of a valid argument applied to true premises. The definition is thus somewhat recursive, in that any premise to one argument may be the conclusion of another. Determining the truth of a premise is evidence based. For many things, the evidence is not absolutely conclusive, so we must estimate a degree of certainty to attribute to the truth value of any premise. There are three possible types of objective evidence:
  1. direct evidence of the senses
  2. the evidence of rational thought
  3. the evidence of expert testimony
There are weaknesses to each of these three. The confidence that one has with regard to the truth of any premise is improved with more corroboration of disparate sources of evidence.

I fail to see any reason to distinguish between moral truth and factual truth. What should be can be evaluated on the same basis as what is. For example, the premise that human suffering can be reduced in societies which worship God can be tested as well as the speed of light is uniform.

Epistemology, the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge, can be quite a rabbit hole. However, I recognize that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises through a continuing process of observation, evaluation and revision without reference to unproven revelations from the various deities.
Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.
First Epistle to the Church of the Thessalonians
The truth will make you free.
Gospel of John

jmac2112
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Post #4

Post by jmac2112 »

McCulloch,

Thanks for your speedy and thoughtful reply! I would like to clarify my question about moral reasoning. You wrote:

"I fail to see any reason to distinguish between moral truth and factual truth. What should be can be evaluated on the same basis as what is. For example, the premise that human suffering can be reduced in societies which worship God can be tested as well as the speed of light is uniform. "

Your example has to do with a statement of fact that can be emperically verified.
The sort of reasoning that I'm talking about would ask the question "Why should human suffering be reduced?" That seems like an obtuse question, similar to someone asking for proof that 1+1=2. But what first principle(s) would you posit that is (are) implicit in all such reasoning?

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Re: question for all non-theists

Post #5

Post by Goat »

jmac2112 wrote:I'm looking for definitions or accounts of "truth" from anyone who holds the view that nothing exists beyond the natural world, or that at any rate we cannot know whether anything exists beyond the natural world. I'd appreciate it if you could distinguish between "theoretical/factual" truth (A is B) and moral truth (i.e. matters of good/bad, right/wrong, what "should" be done).

Thanks!
WHen someone talks about 'moral truth', I back away, keep my hand on my wallet, and my back against the wall, cause they aren't trustworthy.

Morality is an opinion.. I have a specific opinion about it, based on my culture, and my personal prejudices.
Factual truth can be tested and independently verified.
“What do you think science is? There is nothing magical about science. It is simply a systematic way for carefully and thoroughly observing nature and using consistent logic to evaluate results. So which part of that exactly do you disagree with? Do you disagree with being thorough? Using careful observation? Being systematic? Or using consistent logic?�

Steven Novella

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Post #6

Post by ThatGirlAgain »

McCulloch wrote:I fail to see any reason to distinguish between moral truth and factual truth. What should be can be evaluated on the same basis as what is. For example, the premise that human suffering can be reduced in societies which worship God can be tested as well as the speed of light is uniform.
There is broad agreement on what is meant by the speed of light and how to measure it. There are theoretical underpinnings with excellent predictive power that state that the speed of light should be uniform. Many measurements of the speed of light give the same value within experimental error. (Do you know about the marshmallow method? O:) )

In contrast, human suffering is multi-faceted. There is no broad agreement on exactly what it means or how to measure it. Or even who counts as ‘human’ for that matter. Similarly, how much a society worships God is difficult to even define much less measure. We all know about the lying about church attendance syndrome.

In addition, those who measure the speed of light rarely have a reason to slant their results. And if there were any doubt about that, double blind set ups would be easy to arrange. Not so with the purported benefits of worshipping God. There is too much opportunity and temptation for confirmation bias and other forms of subjectivity, and even outright cheating. Truth needs to be reliable and repeatable and not subject to human desires about what they want to be true. 'Moral' truths are too often self-serving conclusions in search of evidence, any evidence.
Dogmatism and skepticism are both, in a sense, absolute philosophies; one is certain of knowing, the other of not knowing. What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or ignorance.
- Bertrand Russell

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Post #7

Post by McCulloch »

jmac2112 wrote:McCulloch,
The sort of reasoning that I'm talking about would ask the question "Why should human suffering be reduced?" That seems like an obtuse question, similar to someone asking for proof that 1+1=2. But what first principle(s) would you posit that is (are) implicit in all such reasoning?
Premise 1: I, a human, do not like to suffer.
Premise 2: Humans are a social species. Our success as a species is dependent on our ability to work together.
Premise 3: In order to successfully improve the probability that I will suffer least, I must live in a human society which minimizes human suffering.
Conclusion: It is in my best interest to promote those attributes of human society which reduce human suffering.
Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.
First Epistle to the Church of the Thessalonians
The truth will make you free.
Gospel of John

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Post #8

Post by McCulloch »

McCulloch wrote: I fail to see any reason to distinguish between moral truth and factual truth. What should be can be evaluated on the same basis as what is. For example, the premise that human suffering can be reduced in societies which worship God can be tested as well as the speed of light is uniform.
ThatGirlAgain wrote: [...]'Moral' truths are too often self-serving conclusions in search of evidence, any evidence.
I totally agree. Amassing and assessing the evidence in the case of moral truths is several degrees of magnitude more difficult than in physics. Therefore, one should attribute a much lower degree of certainty to moral claims that to claims of physics. The principles of determining the truth are identical, the variables are different.
Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.
First Epistle to the Church of the Thessalonians
The truth will make you free.
Gospel of John

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Post #9

Post by Autodidact »

McCulloch wrote:If you do not ask me, then I know what truth is. But as soon as you ask me to explain, that knowledge is lost.

According to Jonathan Dolhenty, there are three epistemological primary truths that must be accepted in the investigation of knowledge and truth. They are:
  1. the fact of our existence
  2. the principle of non-contradiction
  3. the ability of the mind to know truth.
They cannot be validated with positive proof, as they are an inherent in every analysis. As a demonstration of their a priori nature, a person objecting to these essential truths cannot set a standard of proof without implicitly accepting the premises.

A true conclusion is the result of a valid argument applied to true premises. The definition is thus somewhat recursive, in that any premise to one argument may be the conclusion of another. Determining the truth of a premise is evidence based. For many things, the evidence is not absolutely conclusive, so we must estimate a degree of certainty to attribute to the truth value of any premise. There are three possible types of objective evidence:
  1. direct evidence of the senses
  2. the evidence of rational thought
  3. the evidence of expert testimony
There are weaknesses to each of these three. The confidence that one has with regard to the truth of any premise is improved with more corroboration of disparate sources of evidence.

I fail to see any reason to distinguish between moral truth and factual truth. What should be can be evaluated on the same basis as what is. For example, the premise that human suffering can be reduced in societies which worship God can be tested as well as the speed of light is uniform.

Epistemology, the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge, can be quite a rabbit hole. However, I recognize that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises through a continuing process of observation, evaluation and revision without reference to unproven revelations from the various deities.
Unfortunately, I do not think there is general agreement that the proper goal of morality is to reduce human suffering; quite the contrary. Many religionists believe the goal of morality is to follow God's rules, and moral arguments are arguments about what those rules are.

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Post #10

Post by jmac2112 »

McCulloch wrote:
jmac2112 wrote:McCulloch,
The sort of reasoning that I'm talking about would ask the question "Why should human suffering be reduced?" That seems like an obtuse question, similar to someone asking for proof that 1+1=2. But what first principle(s) would you posit that is (are) implicit in all such reasoning?
Premise 1: I, a human, do not like to suffer.
Premise 2: Humans are a social species. Our success as a species is dependent on our ability to work together.
Premise 3: In order to successfully improve the probability that I will suffer least, I must live in a human society which minimizes human suffering.
Conclusion: It is in my best interest to promote those attributes of human society which reduce human suffering.
I guess what I'm saying is this: In any chain of questions involving terms like "why" or "what good is", do you arrive at a point where you simply can't give another reason? A point where questioning becomes meaningless, no matter how much you may wish to humor your interlocutor?

For instance, I could still reasonably (though perhaps callously) push you further on your statements above:

1) Why don't you like to suffer?
2) To the question "Why should we work together?" you would reply "Because our success as a species is dependant on it." But I could then ask "What good is the success of our species? Why should we care about that?" (This question is actually posed by some extreme environmentalists).
3) Similarly to #1, I could ask "Why is it in your best interest not to suffer?"

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