Philosophy Question for the Fall of '97
Q: How do you determine right from wrong? Truth from falsity?
Do you read it in books? If so, is it the law and science books? Religious books such as the Bible, Koran, Talmud, and other sacred (to some people) writings? Or from listening to some authority figure such as your parents, teachers, government officials or religious leaders? Do you do a poll and see what the majority think is the truth or moral this week/year/decade? How do you know those sources are correct? Didn't you have to make a determination about their correctness? And if you verified 80, 90, or 99% of some source as being correct, do you think that makes everything from that source correct? Couldn't it just a well be the trick of someone evil to give you information that is almost correct, except in some critical item?
If you don't know how to determine right from wrong or truth from falsity, how can you justify voting? Or rearing children? Or even giving your opinion on something. It seems this is a very critical question. Yet, when I ask this question (the short version) of people face to face, they tell me, "Yeah, I know right from wrong." But when pressured just a little bit, they fall apart. They are completely at a loss to describe a sure-fire method of determining, what seems to me, something that is incredibly important.
A: Other than to say they read it, no one sent me email answering this question. The answer seems very clear to me. George Smith in his book Atheism -- the Case Against God said it most succiently:
... we may indicate three minimum requirements that must be fulfilled before any belief can claim the status of knowledge: (a) a belief must be base on evidence; (b) a belief must be internally consistent (i.e. not self-contradictory); (c) a belief cannot contradict previously validated knowledge with which it is to be integrated. If a belief fails to meet any or all of these criteria, it cannot properly be designated as knowledge.
Question your sources and your authorities on these criteria. These three criteria will never fail you. There may be new data which becomes available and invalidates previous conclusions, but that doesn't mean that until that new data was available the answer you had was the best approximation to the truth that was available at the time. And you can't do any better than that.
Last modified: January 8, 1998
Email: Joe Huffman