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December 21, 2005

Battle for Truth

I think a generation or so from now, our era will be seen as a battle for the Truth--what it is and where it comes from. On one side are those who see Truth in a Platonic way: unchanging, authoritative, divine. On the other are those that see Truth as Aristotelian: empirical, logical, rational. A battle, if you will, between Jerusalem and Athens.

On one hand, the ethos of divine authority has carried us a long way, from the Egyptian pharaonic authority derived from their gods to our current President, who wears his religion on his sleeve and isn't afraid to use it to remain in power. For those who believe him, his authority is beyond question, for to doubt him is to doubt one's faith itself. That's the problem with believing the Truth intertwined with religion--even if the claims are absurd on the surface, the ethos invested in the leader cannot be easily questioned. 2+2=5 because I say so.

On the other hand, the logos of critical thought requires questioning and proof, building in a system of checks and balances and depending upon something we all share: our common sense. From this approach, we get laws, science, and logic. The authority comes from the consensus of critical inquiry and proof, not just because someone pronounces it true. Indeed, great thinkers are supplanted often, as in Newton and Einstein's theories being overtaken by quantum physics. 2+2=4 because we can agree it does.

Your perspective of Truth's origin colors your worldview. To a Platonic thinker, man's systems of education and thinking pale in comparison to righteous revelation. It's easy to dismiss scientific and legal complexities because, after all, you "know" the truth. What's to discuss?

To an Aristotelian thinker, the importance of reason can't be overstated. Our search for knowledge and meaning derives from the concept that what we can know is based in a natural world with predictable laws and structures. To assume anything more, especially when dealing with universalities, leaves the realm of common sense and ceases to be acceptable to all.

A Platonic thinker would say that killing is wrong because a deity says it's wrong. An Aristotelian thinker would say killing is wrong because, as a universal action, it infringes a person's inherent right to life and freewill. We can have a law that agrees with both worldviews, but what happens when the authority of the Platonic thinker changes? What happens when the mouthpieces of a god--politicians, preachers--say it's okay to kill? Can you question their authority? Does morality change according to situation? Or is it always wrong to kill?

Anyone who speaks from authority only cannot be trusted. Eventually, he will fall as the weakness of his argument, through common sense, withers under scrutiny.

Posted by tat at December 21, 2005 02:32 PM