Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Moral Obligation?

Do you have a moral obligation to pursue truth.

If so, how? If not, why not?

28 comments:

joseph said...

What is true for you may not be true for me but it may be true for both of us. If absolute truth exists how could we ever know what it is? All we have is opinion. Since truth can only be relative it is not a moral obligation but goes along with mere existence because whatever I believe is true for me. In this sense everyone has truth so there is nothing to persue. Therefore we have no moral obligation to persue truth. Do you see how easy that is. If everyone would take this view of truth rather than the absolutist view of truth there would be peace in the world.Peace!

Miss Steinberg said...
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Miss Steinberg said...

In response to Joseph's comment, what bearing does Truth's being a person have on the discussion? Maybe it's just the same: Truth may be a person, but I can't know him. Or her. Relativism is just agnosticism in this light.

Another comment I've recently heard is, "But I'm content where I am. Why do I need to change?" At least this line of thought acknowledges that there is such thing as truth, and Truth is knowable (this was coming from a Christian). But it also says, we can be content knowing some of it, and call that some good.

Most believers, at any rate, would agree that we need to seek God always. We can never know Him sufficiently. But the idea of seeking Truth has gotten disconnected from the idea of seeking God. Truth is a proposition, not a person.

And speaking of persons, having to seek truth in community is just so messy. We love Christ the truth, and say that he is a person: and was made man. But truth in the mouth of the person next to me is a little too bitter.

This is a bit rambling. But somehow failure to seek truth is related to lack of love, either for Christ the incarnate truth, or for the person in Christ's image right across the table from me.

And, alas, now that I've written it I'm responsible to live it. Don't read this, Father Foos. I may have to keep pursuing it. :)

mr_bartel said...

In regards to Joseph's original comment:

Are you willing to take your view of truth to the other extreme? You assume that a world without absolute truth would be better somehow (of course this presupposes that there is some standard of good and bad, but without absolute truth no such standard can be justified), but you are not considering the case where truth for me includes murdering those who disagree with my viewpoint. In other words you are overly-optimistic about human nature. Without absolute truth there is no basis for condemning evil, and a world where evil is not condemned, is a very brutal world. Sounds somewhat like the good old U.S.A. when victims are blamed and the perpetrators are "understood."

"But wait a minute," you say. "Why don't we just get together and vote on rules so that we can all be happy?"

Sounds nice, but again this misses the original point. In fact this is exactly what happened in Nazi Germany. Hitler's Nazis became entrenched so that they was able to vote in laws that further established themselves and trampled on the rights of those on the outside. Without absolutes there was no accountability to safeguard the existence of the minority.

This is what is currently happening, in fact, to those who hold an absolute view of truth. We are labeled as "narrow-minded" or "fill-in-the-blank-o-phobic" and then written-off of the cultural scene. Well if truth really were relative, then our view is as valid as the most politically correct liberal analyst's. The truth is that moral relativism is simply tyranny - the view with the most votes wins, and there is no check on the power of the majority. Nietzsche is alive and well in the home of the free and the land of the brave. Well I guess we have to be very careful with what we mean by those terms - one man's bravery is another man's savagery.

joseph said...

First, absolute truth may exist in some form but we can never know if we have it or not because each of us are thinkers within a cultural context of language and cultural habits. .All we can do is try and create truth as Nietzsche has said, "Truth is the subjective creations of human knowing in formative social contexts who subscribe their outlook to nature, God, law, or some other presumed authority. But they forget that they themselves are the creators of their own model of the world. The alleged truth of a worldview is merely an established convention-the product of linguistic customs and habits". You may call me a postmodern but do not believe that postmoderns deny absolute truth. Veith in his book Postmodern Times is wrong on this by the way. Postmoderns just do not believe absolute truth can be known because ideas are confined to a cultures language and habits. Truth is relative in the sense that truth is confined to cultural contexts.

Miss Steinberg said...

So then, truth exists, but we can't know it. How is that practically different from "truth doesn't exist"?

And furthermore, forgive me for being simplistic, but doesn't a postmodern view of truth invalidate its own claims? If truth is just a construction, a "subjective creation" as Nietzsche said, why should I listen to a blessed thing postmodernists say? (That is, rationally or logically speaking. I may like what they say for other reasons). Their claims are just constructed truth like anything else.

Perhaps there is an argument from utility, that we need these constructed truths to get along through life. But as Mr. Bartel pointed out, postmodernism isn't really a very "useful" idea at all, in terms of avoiding human suffering, and I won't cite all the instances of totalitarianism and oppression again.

I guess my last post was too cunning to be understood. I was just musing on the difference between truth as an abstract idea and truth as the person of Christ, who said He was the Truth. Refusal to seek truth, then, is a refusal to seek Christ, often because we like the mental and abstract Christ in our own minds well enough already, or we simply don't like the Christ we see in our sisters and brothers, presenting us with truth. And so we quit pursuing Truth.

joseph said...

I was hoping to get Fr. Foos out of his office but he is probably too busy drinking a cup of coffee to deal with a postmodern. Well, I am not postmodern I just thought I would play devils advocate in order to see what Fr. Foos would say. I will take this opportunity to say that I think we have to learn to take a different approach than we have with the postmoderns. I think that many of our Christian arguments are very sound and good but we need to work on our rheteric. This is one of the reasons why classical schools like St. Andrews teach rheteric. The lack of rheteric among Christians can be contributed in part to the many Christians who have not had the opportunity to learn good rhetoric skills. So often our arguments are good but our rhetoric is poor, to say the least, and we loose the argument or even the argument is never communicated. We should not be reactionary to the postmodern. I think there are actually some good things going on in postmodern culture. There are some very bad things too. There are two books put out by Intervarsity Press I would like to recommend to the faculty and student body at St. Andrews. One is titled "Engaging Unbelief" by Curtis Chang who tries to bring the wisdom of Augustine and Aquinas into the postmodern world. The other is "Why Good Arguments Often Fail" by James Sire. I also recommend James Sire's book "Naming the Elephant" as probably the best book on worldviews in print. I hope no one is offended that was not my intent. I pray that God will continue to bless the work of St. Andrews faculty and students.

JP

joseph said...

Miss Steinberg,
Your arguments are good arguments but the tone that I sense when I read your response is one that would put me on the defensive. My tone is often that way too when talking to someone I strongly disagree with so do not take this as a cut. I just believe that we have to work on our tone and rhetoric with the postmodern or anyone we disagree with. I know that Christianity has the best arguments but what I need to work on, as well as most Christians, is our tone toward the world. This is where I believe rhetoric comes in to play. I also am wondering if most postmoderns would even know what you are talking about when you say that truth is personal because truth is Christ. I know what you are talking about because I grew up Christian but what about those who know nothing about Jesus Christ? I am meeting a growing number of people who know nothing about Christianity.

Miss Steinberg said...

Thanks, Mr. Joseph,
I agree that our tone needs to be conciliatory, and I'm not always the best at that. However, I do need to say I had some info as to who you really were... not really the frightful postmodernist...

Enjoyable discussion. Thank you for the constructive comments.

Eve and Snow White said...
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Anonymous said...

I agree with Serena. You cannot argue with a post-modern (ist?) by quoting scripture. They simply deny that the bible can prove truth, since the bible claims to be truth, and no such thing as truth exists. Another point I agree on is that in order to refute post-modernism, you must attack postmodernism itself. Postmodernism doesnt search for answers to life's questions, but denys there are any. This cannot work because one of the greatest callings of man is to seek knowledge and truth in the physical world. If we deny truth exists, why the heck are we here? We have no purpose, if truth doesnt exist. And if post modernism says we cannot know truth, how do they know this? Wouldnt saying that truth cannot be known be a truth about truth?
I hope this is somewhat intellegent and useful, as I really am not entirely sure how this all fits together. If anyone can answer these questions, or sees I am completly off, comments are very welcomed.
~Bekah~

Eve and Snow White said...

Just a thought. Why should we even consider postmodernism a philosophy. As Serena pointed out, it fails to explain the world or impart wisdom, so why do we see wisdom in this? Why do we believe this provides justification for our thoughts? Is it just becuase its something people want to put their hat on so they can belive something and not be thought a fool? However, the whole purpose of the postmodernist is to try and show the rest of the world that there is nothing for people to hang their hats on. So then what does it become? Simply a reason for people to stop thinking and ignor what God has called us to do.

In regards to actually trying to defeat a postmodernists argument, I believe we need to look to St. Paul and his advice to Titus. St. Paul spends much of his letter to Titus on instructing him how to deal with the false teachers. If we come to a Postmodernist and we are trying to tell them about christianity and that they are wrong, nothing will be produced except frustration between the two parties. We need to wait untill the postmodernist comes to us, only then is he ready to hear what we have to say.

fruitcake said...

If the whole goal of a postmodernist is to "try and show the rest of the worldthat there is nothing for them to hang their hats on", then what do they use to hang their proverbial hats on? I disagree with the previous comment: "we need to wait until the postmodernist comes to us, only then is he ready to hear what we have to say." Are we supposed to tolerate them until they actually think outside their boxes and try to test other points of view?
-Sarah

Eve and Snow White said...

I feel so schmart. Everyone (okay not everyone...) agreed with me with me. And just a note for Elena: since we're using the same account, let's sign our posts so people don't think we have some sort of weird split personality. :D

Another thought: I think that perhaps we cannot assume in discussions with postmodernists that man's highest calling is to pursue truth. While we may believe this to be true, and it might very well BE true, it sort of leads you into circular reasoning. Like so: Man's greatest calling is to pursue truth, postmodernism fails to impart truth because it denies it's existance, therefore postmodernism must be false. It assumes what it sets out to prove, which is bad logic. We could, however, argue that postmodernity is not a real philosophy if we define philosophy as knowledge which imparts wisdom and useful knowledge about the world. It has absolutally no practical value and has no relation to the way people actually think/live their lives.

A thought on Mr. Joseph's bit: "You may call me a postmodern but do not believe that postmoderns deny absolute truth. Veith in his book Postmodern Times is wrong on this by the way. Postmoderns just do not believe absolute truth can be known because ideas are confined to a cultures language and habits. Truth is relative in the sense that truth is confined to cultural contexts." It seems to me postmodernists live by a double standard. On one hand, truth is most definatly relative, but on the other hand they dare not deny objective truth and say only that it cannot be known. Both of which cannot be true. However, I could be misunderstanding this. He could be saying that absolute truth cannot be true, therefore we must make up our own 'truths', that may or may not accord to absolute truth (which cannot be known, in order to live our lives. In other words, the relative truth they speak of is only, shall we say, practical 'truth' (which isn't really truth, but I must use this word until I find a better one) which we MUST construct in order to live our lives. In this kind, postmodernity is actually a weird breed of skepticism.

I'm probably completely wrong, please humor me anyways. :D
-Serena

Eve and Snow White said...

This is an edited version of my first comment. I made a very severe error in my first one:

Hullo ladies and gentlemen. I thought I'd be the first student to pop in and add my enlightening words of, er, wisdom and... insight. Exhibition A in the thought display is that when debating with postmodernists we should not use religion to support our arguments. Of course, as Christians, the basis of our philosophy is the existence of God,and we should be honest about this. But this isn't what I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is, for example, using the Bible to support your argument. This might seem rather obvious, but I think it happens embarassingly often. Saying "The Bible says" or appealing to theology when talking to a post-modernist a) will not get you anywhere and b) will make you look ignorant. Which leads me to Exhibition B. Instead of trying to prove how our philosophy is true, I think we need to show why postmodernism cannot be. Here are several possible arguments for this: Postmodernity is such that people cannot base their everyday lives off of it; and postmodernity cannot be called a real theory of epistemology because it fails to explain the world to us or impart wisdom. I don't have time or understanding right now to fully explain these arguments, so I'll leave it to that.
Forgive my ramblings. I hope what I've written is intelligible. :D
-Serena

G.I. said...

I also agree with Serena. I've debated with quite a few "postmodernists" (they wouldn't call themselves so because they don't even know what postmodernism means) and just quoting the Bible only scores a point for them. As soon as you quote the Bible all they have to do is say "hah.... I don't subscribe to your religion" and blow off the comment with a wisk of their hand.

Through my career at St. Andrew's, I have been able to avoid the error of being a relativist. Many of the people I debate with are, but I am proud of my absolutist view. I truly am thankful for what I learn at St. Andrew's.

cherios said...

Mr. Joseph said, " If absolutist truth exists, how could we ever know what it is? All we have is opinion." This, to an extent makes perfect sense. "Truth is relative in the sense that truth is confined to cultural contexts." As Americans we think totally different than the 1st century palestinian, or even differently than the Arab in Saudi Arabia. We all have different opinions due to differences in cultural and religious upbringing.

In The Blue Cross Flambeau argues with Fr. Brown that reason, justice, and truth are the standards we make for them, that they are subject to the culture and beliefs of the people, and that somewhere else there could be a different truth, that somewhere in that infinite universe someone's truth is another man's falsehood. Fr. Brown replies back that one ought not to fancy that all the frantic astronomy of making stars diamonds and moons saphires would make the smallest difference to reason and justice of conduct. "On plains of opal, under cliffs cut out of pearl, you would still find a notice-board, 'Thou shalt not steal.'"

Underlining every culture, every religion is the conscience, the natural law that binds every human. As Christians, and absolutists, we tend to believe that postmodernists deny truth, but as Mr. Joseph stated earlier, postmodernism doesn't deny truth, it says I can't figure them out, so why try? Truth is a useless cause for them.

Elena stated earlier that postmodernists want to take away the place where we can ahng our hats, that is our standard from which everything else is based. Well, Sarah, to answer your question, I would say that they don't hang their hats, they wear them. Their standard is themself. For if truth is merely an opinion, than my opinion is what matters the most, and thus that is where all my beliefs come from.

Though much truth and ideas are consturcted from opinion, it is not all that we have. There is still the underlying natural law that screams justice, reason, and truth. I believe the problem with postmodernists is that they have not learned the language. We need to teach them. And though a child may not always come to the parent with questions, it is still the parent's duty to answer them, be it subtly or insubtly. As absolutists, it is our duty to adress the postmodernists. They want answers...they just dont know how to ask the questions.

Andrew said...

But what if they do not know how to ask the right questions? Then how do we approach them? And if they do not want answers and are fine and dandy with how their life is and how they are doing in the world, then who are we to keep bugging them about it? After the first couple attempts we should not chase after him. We all have different dreams that we want to fulfil, his or hers may not be to discover the truth.

If we cannot figure a certian truth out, we should not spend all of our time trying to figure it out. We should move on to the next big mystery to solve, and wait until the after life when we will have the answers.

If the whole world were to all of the sudden want to pursue truth, then the people would quit their jobs and go find a higher calling in life. So there would be no more smaller businesses that our country runs off of, such as farmers, coal miners; a dangerous job that not a whole lot of people want to do but we need it to servive, and many other things.

Eve and Snow White said...

Andrew: I do not think that to pursue truth we need to sit on the top of totem polls and make three leaf clovers with our tounges. Truth is infinitly practical, it isn't just some stupid, pointless, ethereal thing somewhere out there in the wild blue yonder. Truth is what corresponds to reality. Need we spend years in thought to figure out whether the sun is hot or water is wet? Of course not. Naturally, there are some branches of truth which do require much training and thought to treat properly. However, we don't all need to start from point A to find truth. We can accept the truths that other people have spent careful time discovering. We are not all called to be professional philosophers, but we are all called to be thinking, rational beings and to pursue what is true, good, and beautiful - to pursue God.

-Serena
P.S. Forgive my heinous typos. :D They keep sneaking in.

joseph said...

Wow! Some very good thoughts about postmodernism. Fr. Foos, I am very impressed. You can give some very good arguments to a postmodern and even catch him in a contradiction but his response is going to be that it is according to your cultural upbringing and your use of language that makes it a contradiction. Even the logic you use is a construct of western culture according to the postmodern. Absolutes is not a question for the postmodernist becase everything is tied to cultural contexts. This is called contextualism. Everything must be understood in a certain context. This is not neccesarily a bad thing in the sense that modernity believed that we approach the world or truth with absolute neutrality while the postmodern understands that there is a web of presuppositions or contexts to consider. This is closer to the Catholic Christian understanding of the need for Tradition in the Christian life. The Holy Trinity does not merely give us Holy Scripture but also the context of Holy Scripture in the Spirit inspired Tradition found in the Church so we can properly understand and live Holy Scripture in our daily lives. We do not interpret Holy Scripture with neutrality. We have various lens we use to see Holy Scripture leading to the many bible churches and denominations. The difference in interpretation is not Scripture but the lens we use. God has given us the lens through the passing down of the Spirit inspired Tradition in the Church. In this sense the postmodern gives us the opportunity to talk about context (Christian Tradition) in ways we could not in modernity. Maybe the best way to talk to a postmodern is not by talking about absolute truth but talking about context. In this way we become a postmodern to the postmodern without compromising Christian truth.

Anonymous said...

Andy: If we went about our lives giving up once we couldnt figure something out and just waiting until the answers are "handed out" in heaven then all of those people that you talked about, like the farmer, coal miner etc wouldn't even be there. Life isn't a cake walk were faced with challenges. The farmer didn't just wait until he was in heaven to know that a certain crop rotation would benefit the community or that by grafting two different stems another type of food or flower would be discovered. Thus, if the farmer didn't pursue truth and knowledge then there still may not be those small buisnesses you were speaking of.We are called to pursue these things like serena pointed out.
Okay my question I guess is, Since the postmodernist believes everything is tied to our cultural contexts how can he then say that what we say or write or anything cannot be known to anyone including the one who wrote or spoke the words. Wouldn't this be denying everything because you would never truly be able to know anything no matter what context its in? One cannot always deny everything, you would go mad therefore I think the postmodernist is not always a postmodernist he must accept some things and this is when he should be confronted not that what he says matters because he cannot even truly know what it is he is saying.
Just some thoughts, I hope you all can make some sort of sense of it...and now nobody can say im the only one who didnt comment :) ~Mandy

Andrew said...

Discoveries do not always lead to good things though. People have also spent careful time discovering weapons of destruction such as, the A-Bomb, F-16's, Panzers, guns, and all of those killing machines. Hitler started the plans for making nuclear weapons, but so far has not benefited anyone but us Americans. After we stole his plans, we used them, which killed thousands of people. And if no one had invented nuclear weapons, we would not be in Iraq, losing people that have friends and family back home that care about them. This doesnt seem to be true, good, and beautiful. But instead, creates evil, and destruction. It doesnt pursue God, but gets us farther from Him.

Anonymous said...

Ok, so people make mistakes. What's new? Just because persuing for truth led to some not so good truths, that doesnt make truth and its pursuit a bad thing. Does the end justify the means? No...unless your a pragmatist. Remember how at the beginning of one of the books we read last year, i think, started out talking about how the philosopher, the author of the book, met another philosopher sweeping hospital parking lots. Not the most great job, is it? But he was still a man who wanted to pursue truth. Andrew, your right to say that it isnt true good and beautiful, but are the reactions in an A-bomb or nuclear weapons ugly, bad, and false? Or is it rather what sinful man does with them? It could very well pursue God, for it shows that there are nuclear happenings,a bigger picture than what we first thought. God created those reactions, didnt he? Thus to find them would be to know a bit more about the creator.

Andrew said...

But what if a man's life depended on making this nuclear weapon? Hitler would threaten scientists to do his work in inventing this weapon for him, then kills him after he is no longer needed. Is that man sinful for creating this weapon? No, because this man had to fend for his life to survive. But who knows, maybe he had a sinful life otherwords, but that we dont know. If he did not cooperate, then he would suffer the consequences. Just as that man sweeping the parking lot wrote on, The Consequences Of Ideas. So it is not our moral obligation to pursue truth, but a chioce, because if we are, it can leads to destruction, or the loss of your life. So if you value it, then exploring the truth in some areas or working for the wrong people may not be the best, but if you dig yourself too deep in it, then you wont be able to climb back out.

Anonymous said...

Christian martyrs lives were put on the line for their truth, were they to back down and just reject all that they believed in because someone told them to? I want to ask you one question: are you trying to pursue truth, or are you just being contradictory and argumentative? If the latter, than prepare for a really long discussion....if the former...well, it might be different....though not likely....your topic's kinda interesting.But i have to write a paper...so i'll get back to you on that.

Andrew said...

In a way yes, but in another way, no... I dont feel I have to, so I dont try my hardest, which is part of my curse of being lazy. But if there is something to be solved, then I usually like to try and solve it, if I get frustrated, then most of the time I will give up. By the way, just curios, who is this? :D

Anonymous said...

sorry..its me, cherios..

cherios said...

Oh, and andrew...never give up, never surrender, for diligence produces ascertiveness, and ascertiveness character, and character high standards, and with high standards, you will never fail, for you will ever be trying to accomplish them, and if not succeeding, you pick yourself up and try again, try again....[ok, so I'm rambling] point being: dont give up...its depressing.