All posts by kielkopf1

About kielkopf1

I am Professor philosophy (emeritus) of the Ohio State University. I am blogging to promote a book on sexual moral philosophy and to develop further themes not fully developed in the book. I live in Columbus, Ohio with my wife Marge. My three sons: Charles P., Mark S. and Andrew J. live in Columbus. My daughter Judy lives in Rhode Island while my daughter Susan lives in Fresno, CA. My wife and I are daily Mass goers at our Catholic parish: Immaculate Conception. Marge is an active Lay Cistercian and I am very active in the works of the Society of St. Vincent dePaul.

Morality a Foundation of the Supernatural

If there is truth, beauty, goodness and holiness independent of human thought, then this objective truth, beauty, goodness and holiness are supernatural realities along with the human capacity to perceive them.

I am seeking the foundations of divine command morality. So, I focus on goodness. Since I am a professed moral realist holding that authoritative moral theory is correct, it is not surprising that I need the supernatural for the realm of reality in which divine commands are given and heard.

Discussion about belief in more than the natural should be divided into two parts. Part one is whether or not there is such a belief. Part two has two parts. Is such a belief to be interpreted as about something apart from it, viz., interpreted realistically? Or,is such a belief to be interpreted as a human invention.

Two famous arguments in moral theory show clearly that moral thought cannot be reduced to thought about the natural. Hume’s famous observation that “ought” cannot be derived from “is” show clearly that moral obligations are more than what is the case. To modify the opening remark of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, let us say that the natural contains only what is the case. G.E. Moore’s observation that attempts to define “Good” in terms of natural states of affairs is always question-begging – what he called the “Naturalistic Fallacy”- shows that belief that something good is not to be understood as belief in any natural condition.

Since humans do think morally, humans do think of the supernatural. Admittedly, it is not usual to classify morality as supernatural. Typically, the notion of supernatural carries the connotation of the action or force of something non-human as well as non-natural. However, a bit of reflection on moral thought soon, as I hope I have shown, leads to the ideas of a moral authority to whom all of our actions are transparent.

Here is a list of a few supernatural realities.
The moral obligations of a human being such as “Do not kill!”
The goodness of a natural human condition such as human knowledge
The moral agent causality of human beings, viz., free will – the ability to choose what is good and what ought to be done
The beauty of a landscape
The holiness of a site
The truth of a sentence

I wish that I could do more than claim that we have to take a stance on whether or not moral thought is purely a human invention or is given by a reality apart from it. One has to take a stance on whether or not to be a moral realistic. I can only add that unless one constantly keeps in mind philosophical motives for being an anti-realist the human default stance is realism about morality.

It is in this supernatural realm of the moral that we must specify how moral commands are given and received and how an order of morality is developed. The moral order will be complex because not only are there basic commands there are also many ad hoc rules because of violations of basic commands. These ad hoc rules can be eliminated by restitution and retribution.

Much takes place in moral reality. Humans with our physical, mental and social capabilities interact with the moral. There is no coherent account of how humans interact with the supernatural. But in the previous post it was pointed out that consistent talk is enough. We can talk consistently of the physical, mental and social interacting without any real hope for giving a coherent account of the interaction.

In a subsequent post, I hope to characterize how commands are given and received.

Physical Nature, The Natural and the Supernatural

This post is for clarifying my terminology. The label “terminology” does not carry any connotation of trivial or merely about language. Trying to be clear about what one means is really difficult but essential for philosophy or any other subject for that matter. In writing about evolution, I usually write from a perspective that the natural is physical nature. But this perspective needs to be expanded so that there is not the slightest suggestion that the mental and social are supernatural.

Physical nature is what is investigated by physics and the other sciences whose subject matter can coherently connected with the subject matter of physics. The social institution of science requires coherence for physical nature. Think of the principle of the uniformity of nature. If the laws and objects of other sciences such as chemistry, biology and psychology cannot be represented as laws and objects of physics it is assumed that amongst the fundamental physical laws there are laws for emergence. For instance, it would be assumed that cellular life arose from the objects of physics and chemistry. There is scientific research to vindicate this assumption. There is a coherent way of talking about emergence of life from the non-living. Laboratory production of a cell from molecules necessary for life is a scenario of biology being connected with physics and chemistry. As of this writing – Winter 2022 – there is no experimental evidence for any such way of talking. But a research program is all that is needed for coherence.

Assuming that the subject matter of biology is lawfully connected with that of physics and chemistry, the subject matter of the special biological field of origin of species, viz., evolutionary theory, is physical nature.

There are philosophical materialists who proclaim that the mental and a fortiori, the social are somehow reducible to physical nature. But the standard mind-body problems still stand in the way of a coherent account of such a reduction. Mind body problems also stand in the way of any interactionist accounts of the mind being coherently connected with the physical. Parallelism and epiphenomenalism are simply admissions that we have no coherent account of the physical, mental and social.

The mental and social are natural. Not only hominids but non-human animals now living had or have mental and social lives. Most of those who deny that there is any supernatural would not say that our mental and social dimensions make us more than natural. The broad sense of “nature” includes the physical, mental and social.

So, lack of a coherent way of talking of nature is no barrier against using the concept of “natural.” Similarly, lack of a coherent way of talking of the natural and supernatural should be no barrier against talking of the supernatural and the natural as constituting reality. I must add, though, that coherence between ways of talking, i.e., thinking, is not to be ignored. I submit that many of the classical philosophical problems are genuine intellectual anxieties about incoherence, e.g., how can we talk coherently about free will and causal regularity?

But what, if anything, is in the supernatural?

In my next post, I will argue that being morally bound -receiving a divine command is a sufficient condition for being supernatural.

Imperishability of the Human Soul

The human soul makes a human animal a supernatural being as well as a natural being.

That which makes a human animal supernatural is its moral capacity to know the good and freely choose it. Knowing the good is bipartite. First, there is knowing the basic natural human goods, Second, there is knowing that which the basic human goods are good for. The natural goods are also bipartite. First, there are those conditions which make for human flourishing. Second, there is being the kind of person who freely chooses these conditions for human flourishing. Since basic human goods are goals as well as natural conditions, knowledge of goods as good give humans purposes. Purposes are goods which are intentionally sought. Knowing what basic human goods are good for gives humans a purpose for living itself. But purposes are not part of nature when we think of nature from the perspective of evolutionary theory as we are doing here. So, our having purposes makes us supernatural beings as well as natural beings even if most of our goods are natural conditions.

This capacity for knowing the good is a moral capacity because we can freely choose to act against attainment of what is good. But the fundamental law of morality is “Choose what is good!” With knowledge of what is good and free will comes obligation. We could say that it is having obligations which places us in both the natural and supernatural.

It must be emphasized that exercise of the capacity to know and pursue the good depends upon physiological states of an individual human but this moral capacity is not any physiological state or capacity. It is an additional feature that enables physiological states and capacities to be used in intentionally knowing and choosing what is good. Individuals with severe cognitive capacities still have this moral capacity although unable to exercise it. Individuals receive this moral capacity – the human soul – when they began to be human, which is at conception.

This moral capacity is essential to the human species even if it did not arise by natural selection. This means that in a thought experiment in which humans from the period when humanity began, off-spring of these ancient humans due to mating with contemporary humans would have all of the basic moral concepts we have now. See Natural and Supernatural Origin.

The soul of an individual human is that individual’s capacity to know and pursue what is good.

Why claim that the soul of a human is imperishable? Why claim that the soul of a human does not cease to exist at biological death. Why claim that the soul of a human does not cease to exist when there is no body to form into a moral agent? I give a Kantian answer.

A human being is morally perfect if that person becomes the kind of person who freely chooses the natural goods. Amongst these natural goods is being morally perfect.

Consider, now, these brief syllogisms. The justification for (1) is given above when it was pointed out that our natural goods are obligatory goods. Premiss (2) is an alleged truth of logic.

Syllogism I

1. A person ought to be morally perfect.
2. What ought to be can be.
3. If a person’s capacity to be morally perfect ceased to be at biological death, that person cannot be morally perfect.
Hence: (4) A person’s capacity to be morally perfect cannot cease to be at biological death.

Syllogism II

5. If a person’s capacity to be morally perfect were never embodied after biological death, that person’s capacity to be morally perfect could never be exercised after biological death
6. If a person’s capacity to be morally perfect could never be exercised after biological death, that person cannot be morally perfect.
Hence: (7) If a person’s capacity to be morally perfect were never embodied after biological death, that person cannot be morally perfect.
Using (1) and (2) above, we can conclude:
8. A person’s capacity to be morally perfect – a person’s soul- is embodied some time after biological death.

Note that if a person attained moral perfection that person cannot cease to be. For what ought to be cannot cease to be. If what ought to be ceased to be something which ought to be could no longer be.

The Supernatural Origin of Humanity

The following philosophical account of the supernatural origin of humanity exhibits a supernatural account consistent with a naturalistic evolutionary account of the origin of humanity. Admittedly, it is influenced by my Catholicism and the Divine Command moral theory I have been working towards in blog posts the past few years. In addition to consistency with natural science, I hope that it is also a true account of the supernatural origin of humanity. Before turning to the question of truth, though, I need to ask myself what do I think is true about the natural and supernatural origin of humanity. My post on evolution outlines what I think is true about the natural origin of humanity. This post outlines what I think is true about the supernatural origin.

We are animals with a moral capacity. Full natural and supernatural humanity began when God gave us this moral capacity. I conjecture that this happen roughly fifty thousand years ago when homo sapiens-sapiens was a small population in sub-Saharan Africa. Our moral capacity is correlated with the biological conditions for being a species. But our moral capacity is not the condition for being a natural species. There are natural cognitive, anatomical and physiological features which distinguish homo sapiens-sapiens from other animals. Because it gives us free-will, the moral capacity is not amongst our natural features. With morality humans are supernatural beings as well as natural beings.

I am setting aside the issue of whether or not the moral capacity which gives the natural human species a supernatural dimension is a capacity unique to the human species.

Briefly, what is this moral capacity? It is the capacity to know what is the good for the exercise of our basic natural faculties plus the capacity to choose that good or some alternative inclination satisfaction in the exercise of a basic faculty. See Core Concepts of Authoritarian Morality and Reconsideration of Justifying a Moral Principle for details about my moral theory and references to my book justifying the good of male sexuality used in the example below.

For instance, the good of a male’s sexual capacity is in coitus with a woman to whom he has lifelong marital commitment. These goods constitute what would be a happy human life.

They are attractive to humans when we think carefully. Nonetheless, despite their attractiveness, these goods have to be commanded because with free will humans can choose to evade them. So, the basic human goods are obligatory goods.

We are as we are by choice. Why say by choice? We are good and evil but we do not have to be the way we are with respect to evil. We know the good but we do not always choose it. We cannot think of humans without this capacity for good and evil. Acquiring the capacity to choose contrary to a way we ought to choose is the beginning of humanity as we know it. As we know humanity it is not as it ought to be. Since ought implies can, humans can be as they ought. So, our soul is immortal as I will argue in a later post.

God created humanity when humans had the capacity to know the good and choose it. When humans chose to know the good but choose contrary to the good: humanity as we know it began. Whose choice? When and where was the choice made? Questions about choices of individuals thousands of years ago are not questions answerable by natural science. Reflection on the supernatural provides no further data on these questions. The choice was made by both men and women. Moving from consideration of definite individuals, I think of the man and the woman making that fateful choice.

If I wanted a presentation of these thoughts about our beginning as moral beings in story form, the Genesis story of the fall of Adam and Eve would be just what I wanted.

The Natural Evolutionary Origin Plus Supernatural Origin of Humanity

It is logically consistency to accept a complete naturalistic evolutionary origin of homo sapiens or homo sapiens-sapiens and still posit a supernatural origin of humanity. I follow some in using homo sapiens-sapiens to admit the prospect of human intelligence itself needing an evolutionary account. I write of a complete naturalistic origin to emphasize that the supernatural origin is not introduced to fill any gaps in the naturalistic evolutionary account. The supernatural should not be introduced to answer any question which could be answered naturalistically. From here on, I will write simply of evolutionary accounts and not use modifiers such as “naturalistic” or “by natural selection.”

What do I accept by granting that there is a complete evolutionary account of the origin of homo sapiens? I give the answer of a non-scientist who sooner or later faces the question “What do you accept or reject by accepting or rejecting an evolutionary explanation of humanity?”

There are two parts to my answer. The first sketches a model which finds a place for empirical evidence to support theories that species, some still existing, evolved by natural selection. The second part presents an imaginary scenario of what it means for the species we are now to be the same species as one existing thousands of years ago.

Perhaps a million or more years ago one particular breeding population in the genus homo, which I label A, flourished and grew. Some members of A would mate with members of other homo populations, which I label B, C, D. Genetic and environmental factors were not favorable for the flourishing and growth of B, C, D despite interbreeding with A. B, C, & D gradually became extinct.

Of course, my sketch is very “sketchy.” Over the thousands and thousands of years B, C & D have had successor populations which have bred, more or less successfully, with other populations, including successors of A. In the end though, all but the successors of A have become extinct.

Only A still exists in the sense that a path down from the present through a tree structure of branches ending before the present, leads from the present to A. The nodes at base of branches on the tree are species; not individuals. It is a branch which has not yet reached its tip.

The genuine hard scientific work lies in tracing such a pathway in the fossil and archaeological data. It is not always clear when they are on the pathway. For instance, do these tool-like rocks clearly indicate A’s? Most likely there can be no specification of a definite time for the origin of A’s. Individuals but not populations have definite origin times. But there can be a bracket of, perhaps, a few thousand years before which there were no A’s but within which A’s appeared. Perhaps, the beginning point of the bracket was fifty to forty thousand years ago.

It should be emphasized that the scientific program is not for explaining the origin of individual members of a species. If one accepts evolution, as I do, it is tempting to believe that there is a “family tree” tracing me back to a breeding pair of humans at a definite time before which there were no humans. But the scientific program is guided by a model of a “species tree.”

Also, it should be emphasized that evolutionary accounts face all of the mind-body problems of any scientific study of contemporary humans. The relation of human thought and feeling, collective as well as individual, to their physiological correlates in the nervous system of individuals, are unexplained in any study of humans.

There is a sexual or reproductive dimension to believing that a species long ago is the same species as ours. This is the requirement that, in general, individuals can reproduce fertile offspring if and only if they are of the same species. There is no way that such a test can be conducted with individuals thousands of years apart. So, I will indulge in a thought experiment.

Suppose somehow a male and female of ancient A had been frozen or preserved in some fashion so that they can now be revived and be sexually active here and now in the twenty first century. Let’s call them Ancient Man and Ancient Woman. They should be able to have offspring by mating with people of the twenty first century. Suppose Ancient Man mates with a contemporary woman Mary and she gives birth to a daughter Clara. Clara should grow up to have all of the cognitive abilities and technical skills of any other child of our century. This means, amongst many other things, that Clara could learn to speak English. Suppose further, Ancient Woman mates with a contemporary male Dick and Ancient Woman becomes pregnant and bears a son Tom. Just like Clara, Tom would be born with the ability to learn the cognitive and technical skills of the twenty first century. To be sure, there would be physical features which set Clara and Tom apart from typical twenty first century people. Almost certainly, they would have smaller body size. Over the centuries, natural selection changes many features of a species without leading to a new species. However, in this thought experiment the prediction is that if Clara and Tom breed with typical twenty first people and then the offspring of these children mate with typical twenty first people the physical differences will be significantly modified to match human features of our century.

The above is my attempt to specify what I admit when I claim to accept that the scientific community has the correct research program for giving a naturalistic explanation of the origin of the human species, indeed for the origin of any species.

The question of whether or not members of this species have been given a purpose or goal for their lives is not, and ought not be, even raised in the evolutionary account. So, it is consistent with this naturalistic account to claim that humans as beings with a purpose began when God specified that each man and woman has the goal of living to know, love and serve Him while living so that they can be happy with Him after biological death.

Of course, consistency is far from significant, let alone true. So, the further questions concern motivation and justification for supernatural claims.

No Truth Conditions for Claims About the Natural and the Supernatural

Most of the claims that I will make about the supernatural are also claims about the natural. For instance, Luke’s account of the Annunciation is about a young virgin and the angel Gabriel. Claims of a miracle are at least claims that something with a supernatural feature acted in the natural world. I will argue that a complete understanding of the origin of homo sapiens requires interpreting human beings as beings who are both natural and supernatural. Roughly: certain homo hominids with a supernatural soul were the original humans. In a way, the origin of humans is miraculous!

What is it like, though, for claims about such radically different kinds of things to be true? For two reasons, which I have elaborated on in previous posts, I will not answer this question.

First, the challenge to provide an analysis of how elements of reality can be combined to make truth conditions for a claim is a challenge to show that what is claimed to be is really possible, viz., a possible combination of realities. This challenge can be set aside because of an assumption that whatever is consistently describable is really possible.

Second, the challenge asks for an account of how reality makes a claim about reality true. It asks for the truth about truth. This is analytic philosophy which I am abandoning.

So, I set aside an impossible task which I am strongly tempted to begin. I would like to begin with an inventory of the basic individuals, properties, relations and atomic facts of the supernatural and then the natural. Then guided by some hopefully noncontroversial rules on combination of facts, construct combinations of atomic facts, i.e., molecular states of affairs, which correspond with claims about the natural and the supernatural. If the molecular state of affairs obtains, the claim is true; otherwise, false.

Of course, a further challenge is to develop an epistemology on how one can determine whether or not a mixed natural and supernatural state of affairs occurs. Theoretically, on this analytic approach, I am setting aside, the truth of claims about molecular facts can be determined once the truth of the claims about atomic facts has been determined. Still, there is the problem of how to determine truth of atomic supernatural claims. I suspect it would be ad hoc in the way indicated below.

So, I set aside the task of a philosophical analysis of how we can talk of the natural and supernatural. I simply start talking about the supernatural under the assumption that such talk can be intelligible. I use an ad hoc epistemology which means that each claim I make has to be discussed on its merits with intelligent people of good will and at least a mildly skeptical temperament.

Distinguishing the Supernatural From the Natural

In distinguishing the supernatural from the natural I am making truth claims. However, my truth claims are about our ways of thinking and speaking about what is real and unreal. They are not directly about the realities we might call the natural and supernatural. For instance, I am not talking directly about the truth of a claim such as “Her cure was miraculous.” I am talking about what I mean by saying her cure was miraculous. In short, I am talking about conceptual schemes as opposed to what the schemes are used to represent. Sometimes talking about thinking is called second order thinking as opposed to first order thinking which is saying of what is that it is a certain way.

These second order claims can be true or false. But their truth is not so directly dependent upon realities as that of first order thinking. Truth of second order claims is filtered through human consensus. Second order claims are offered to human thinking as proposals on the best ways to think directly about reality. In short, they are claims describing and correcting, if necessary, the fundamental human conceptual scheme, viz., the way of thinking to distinguish between the real and unreal. If in the opinion of those who think in this second order way about realities my characterizing this way of thinking aptly characterizes their way of distinguishing real from unreal, then there is support for my truth claims about the way of distinguishing real from unreal. Note that support for me would come not only from the consensus. Support comes from other’s agreement that these are appropriate ways of thinking about the reality with which they are acquainted. Reality is not ignored in the forming of the consensus.

It needs to be emphasized that agreement with my proposed conceptual scheme for distinguishing real from unreal need not be agreement on what I think is real and unreal. For instance, someone could agree with me that I have characterized a supernatural reality properly. Some might well agree that if there were supernatural realities, they would be as I have said they would be. However, they might go on to argue that their experience and efforts to explain how things happen and what there is show them that there are no supernatural realities. They would claim that the supernatural is an empty category. They might add that they can understand acquaintance with supernatural realities as natural mental occurrences. However, they should not proclaim that the notion of “supernatural” is meaningless or that it is impossible there be anything supernatural. I am working under the assumption that the only impossibility is logical impossibility; there cannot be anything whose description is logically inconsistent.

I, though, believe that there is a supernatural reality. But what is it? Here are some of my beginning speculations.

First: supernatural realities are dependent upon the Transcendent for their existence. Of course, then, the Transcendent is not a supernatural reality. Fundamental metaphysics is not an investigation of the supernatural. However, realities dependent upon the Transcendent which are clearly not any kind of natural reality would be supernatural realities.

At this point, I am using “natural” in the broad sense in which it is opposed to the supernatural. I am not here using “natural” in the narrow sense in which it designates the material or physical in naturalism as a philosophy.

The supernatural realities are those which are not any kind of natural realities. What, though, are the natural realities? I characterize the natural epistemically. Natural realities are those humans develop beliefs about with use of human empirical reason. Supernatural realities are those human beings develop beliefs about with faith. Faith is itself a supernatural reality. So, only with faith can one develop beliefs about faith! (This role I attribute to faith may require correction as I go forward.)

Human empirical reason is that which we use in developing beliefs about the physical, mathematical, social and moral.

So, a first outline of my conceptual scheme for distinguishing the real from the unreal is as follows. There is the supernatural and everything else is natural. The categories of the natural are the moral, mathematical, social, mental, physical and material.

Reality of the Supernatural

This brief post applies a post from May 2021, Truth of Spiritual Claims to my previous post of December 2021. Here, however, I write of supernatural reality instead of spiritual reality.

It is a fallacy to conclude from “Reality – what exists – is one” that “There is only one kind of existent in reality.” There are no rules of careful thinking which show that someone who thinks Luke’s account of the Annunciation is an assertion of what happened believes in a fiction. I think Luke’s account speaks of what was and how it was a couple of thousand years ago in Nazareth. To emphasize: I say “Luke’s account is true” to express my intention to endorse Luke’s account as a correct account of reality.

Of course, an angel speaking and a virginal conception are not normal or natural occurrences. So, careful critical thinking requires distinguishing then from the normal or natural. Depending upon a person’s intellectual standards and those of communities of people whose approval he wants, distinguishing these non-normal events from normal events requires careful distinctions which are probably of no interest to the vast majority of people.

A product of this careful thinking is to specify the distinction between what one asserts with religious faith from attempts to describe and explain what normally exists as a distinction between talking of supernatural instead of natural reality.

Careful critical thinking does not endorse presenting this distinction as between the real and unreal.

True as an Intention Marker

The intention of getting it right

“Getting it right” is a relational phrase because the phrase can, and unless context makes it clear, should be completed with a specification about what one intends to get it right. For instance, get it right about the theory of evolution, get it right about what Christians believe, get it right about the IRS rules on charitable giving, and get it right about what Alfred Tarksi and Donald Davidson wrote about truth. The list could grow very long. In am interested in two: getting it right about reality and getting it right in reasoning.

I cited Tarksi and Davidson in my sample list to provide an occasion to apologize for ignoring philosophical literature on truth. I am terrible at exegesis. To figure out why a philosopher wrote something on a topic I have to figure out why I would think what was written. To figure out what I think I need to develop my own theory of the topic. Because I assume the writer was trying to get it right about the topic, I assume the writer was trying to think as I do. The result is that I distort the writer as thinking my way. Of even more significance for dispensing with exegesis, I conclude that if I have to think the issue out for myself as a preliminary, why risk attributing to someone else errors of my own thinking.

As already indicated, the phrase designates an intentional activity. Usually, people simply speak without being clearly conscious of what they intend to accomplish by their speech acts. Of course, though, intending without an articulation of an intention is typical of intentional activity. Sometimes, though, the intention of speaking is indicated by a warning or emphasizing phrase.

For instance, phrase such as “once upon a time,” “according to what the Hindus belief” and “just possibly” indicate that the intention is not to tell truth. The phrases “true” indicates an intention to get it right about reality. Because “true” is an explicit indicator of an intention adding true to what we are saying adds nothing to what we say.
Thus:
To say “P is true” to say no more than P. Famously: “Snow is white” is true if and only if snow is white.

However, the word “true” is still very important for indicating the intention to say what is right about reality. As I have been arguing in several posts, the word “true” need not be interpreted as a designating a relational property of our sentence to reality.

I have shown that we can doubt our ability to think anything accurate about a reality apart from what we say. So why do I propose that there is an intention to get it right about reality? The list of topics about which we can want to get it right is immense. Usually when we want to get the truth, there are many topics in the context about which we need to get it right. To solve any problem involves solving many problems.

I grant that for a theoretical account of seeking to get it right we do not need to assume there is a reality beyond thinking and speaking. Theoretically, we can dispense with the unclear believe in such a reality – things in themselves. However, philosophy has existential interests as well as theoretical interests. Ockham’s razor need not be used in philosophy. A postulate – a faith – that there is something fundamental underlying all the other passing things about which we can get it right is legitimate provided that we do not accept any picture of its stucture as more than a heuristic for providing theories about it.

Mention of theories provides an occasion for calling attention to another fudamental intention for getting it right. We want our thinking to get it right in reasoning by being in accord with he best – the clearest and most convincing reasoning. For better or worse, mathematical reasoning has frequently set the ideal for reasoning at its best. In philosophy the aim is to think in accordance with reason at its best; it is not to get it right about reality apart from reasoning. I call attention to this intention for getting it right to find a place for philosophic reasoning; especially the kind of high level metaphysics which develops theories about the Transcendent. Claims about the foundation of reality beyond reality will not be claims about reality. We intend our metaphysical claims to be in accord with best reasoning.

Skepticism About the Fact Value Distinction

At the beginning of my philosophy training, I was taught the basis for the sharp distinction between fact and value. The philosophy classes convinced me of the correctness of the fact/value distinction which seemed to be a dogma in my University of Minnesota humanities course. From David Hume I learned that we cannot infer and “ought” from an “is.” Statements of fact do not logically entail a claim about what ought to be done. From G.E. Moore I discovered that “good” cannot be defined with any factual characterization. We can always ask of any X allegedly defining “good” “Is X good?” The word “good” should add something to whatever else describes X. This open question shows that our language does not permit reducing the value good to any set of facts.

In my previous post, I made a case that we should not take seriously pictures of how reality gives us truth. I traced taking such pictures seriously back to an assumption that structural features of our thinking gives a picture of the structure of reality. Taking the fact/value distinction as reflecting a fundamental feature of reality is unnecessarily projecting a structural feature of our thought on reality. It’s unnecessary because we can believe there is a reality making our thoughts correct or incorrect without having any account of how this comes about.

There is a bias accompanying this assumption of thought’s fact/value distinction mirroring reality. The first statement of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus forcibly expressed our “fact bias.” Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist. Reality is everything which is the case. There is the vast domain of facts with values being projected upon the facts by humans. We do not have to take this metaphysical picture seriously as showing some fundamental feature of reality. Indeed, if we choose to talk of structural features of thought being projected upon reality, we could talk of the fact/value dichotomy as being a projection.

What is the significance of setting aside the fact/value distinction as reflecting a fundamental feature of reality? For me it increases immensely the intellectual respectability of moral and religious thinking. Of course, even if moral and religious thinking with the intention of “getting it right” is in principle as capable of “getting it right” as scientific thinking, there can be greater danger of being stupidly and dangerously wrong in moral, and especially, religious thinking. Religious thinking is always in danger of leading us into superstition and fanatism.

Perhaps, on another occasion, I will argue that the fact/beauty distinction is not fundamental. Perhaps, what is true, what is good, what is beautiful are all equally fundamental in reality although I could never picture how this could be the case.

I close with four remarks on what I am not proposing.

First, I am not proposing setting aside the law of non-contradiction as fundamental. For what, though, is it fundamental? Inconsistent thinking can never “get it right.” This is not because we project consistency on reality as a fundamental feature. Consistency is fundamental to our operation of thinking to “get it right.” Inconsistency frustrates our intentions to think we have truth because we deny we have a truth when we have one.

Second, I am not sure that the law of excluded middle is fundamental to our thinking.

Third, I am not recommending any changes in how we speak except for not speaking as if the fact/value distinction is a fundamental truth about reality. I prefer to say that a moral law is valid rather than true.

Finally, I am not totally dismissing the fact picture of truth conditions. I believe that the picture of reality as a vast domain of facts may be a valuable heuristic for scientific thinking. At least for me this fuzzy picture of reality layed out as objects and processes in a vast domain of which natural science keeps giving us an ever more clear picture is a valuable heuristic for believing natural science “gets it right.”