Monthly Archives: June 2021

Moral Commands are Not Truth Claims

I have radically altered my stance on what can exist to accommodate the possibility of religious truth claims being true. I have switched from holding that reality, what is immanent, is built up from some basic existents. This philosophical atomism is properly called “logical atomism.” The basic simple existents would be given in experience, but the only structural principles would be those of logic. In some terminology, I had held the stance that all relations are external. Now I hold that some relations are internal.

Now that I examine my past beliefs while announcing a radical change, I have to admit that except while philosophizing I did not accept logical atomism. I accepted physical causality as a basic existent. Physical causality is that vast complex which is the subject matter of physics and chemistry. However, I always adopted my philosophical outlook when I thought about the possibility of religious truth. This atomistic ontology ruled out any religious claims from being true. Indeed, it rules out claims about the mental being true. I now hold that any logically consistent truth claim is possibly true and that I cannot specify anything about the order and connection of truth conditions for truth claims apart from our ways of representing them.

However, this change in ontology does not provide all that is needed to represent moral laws as divine commands. There needs to be amongst what exists more than conditions for making truth claims true. There are also conditions which make a moral command a correct command. It is helpful to cite the tautology “Correct moral commands are commands” as a reminder that there is commanding in reality.

For instance, a moral obligation to keep promises is more than the truth that promises ought to be kept. The obligation is even more than having “God commands that promises be kept” be a true claim. Why do these facts bring it about that we are guilty if we do not keep a promise. More is required form these facts than from other kinds of facts. We not only need to believe them to be true. They require that we sense a requirement to respond in a certain way.

The truth conditions for, say, “Promises ought to be kept” is a command “Keep promises!” The command is prior to the fact of the command being given. It is the command that constitutes the truth conditions. The command itself is not a truth claim. Primarily, the command is the giving an obligation which we can obey or disobey. Secondarily, the command provides conditions for a truth by which we can be judged. These truth constitute a moral order. But the foundation for the moral order is the commanding and human awareness of the commands.

On this foundation, I will build an account of a Divine Command morality.

We Cannot Know that We Know

We Cannot Know that We Know

Before I move on to my main goal which is to present and support as a philosophical truth that moral laws are Divine Commands, it is appropriate to confess my skepticism. It is a healthy skepticism conceding only that we cannot know that we know.

From my realistic stance, I have to confess that I cannot compare the representation of a truth claim with the truth conditions it allegedly represents. As I have so frequently proclaimed: Truth conditions apart from our representing cannot be represented. Hence, truth conditions apart from our representations cannot be compared with our representations to determine how well, or poorly, they are represented.

This holds for even Descartes’ “I exist.” I know, of course, that I exist. I cannot, though, reflect upon my thinking that I exist in order to compare my thinking with what makes my thinking of my existence a true thought. Of course, our knowledge that we exist is of great importance for supporting realism. By knowing that we exist, we know that we are amongst the existents of which we want to have knowledge. We can have contact with existents because we are some of them!

This claim about not knowing that we know is both individual and general. As a claim about the individual who I am, it says that I do not know that I know. As a general claim it is a claim that none of us know that humans have knowledge.

This is a healthy skepticism because there is no denial that humans can have knowledge but it leaves open the prospect of correcting all knowledge claims.

Also I think this skepticism is healthy because it allows setting aside efforts to define “knowledge” exactly. I can accept that knowledge is justified true belief plus meeting some fourth condition to accommodate examples dreamt up by epistemologists. If we cannot know that we know, we do not have to worry about knowing exactly what knowledge is. We are not required to have a complete concept of knowledge if we do not make a claim about having knowledge.

There Are Philosophic Truths

Philosophical Truths

I have worked in philosophy for over sixty years and implicitly never regarded philosophical claims as genuinely true, if true at all.

I started graduate study of philosophy in 1958 at the University of Minnesota. Logical positivism was the dominant philosophy. Herbert Feigl an Austrian refugee who had been a member of the Vienna Circle directed its Philosophy of Science Center. I had written an undergraduate honors thesis on Hume and the self. I was very upset with Humean skepticism; especially with philosophy’s apparent inability to say what made me who I am. I did not follow Hume’s recommendation to stop gloomy philosophical reflections and just go about the business of living. Perhaps, I hoped that I could find some solid results in deeper study of philosophy. I received a Ph. D. in Philosophy and Mathematics in 1962. At the end of graduate study, I could not answer the question: What philosophical truths did you learn in graduate study and Ph.D. research? I cannot say that I taught students any philosophical truths during forty years of teaching. What I wrote for journals was mostly criticism of what others had written. I published many truths about logic in a book on entailment systems. But those were mathematical truths.

I owe much to my instructors and the texts of classical philosophy for teaching me how to philosophize. However, I could not figure out how this disciplined thinking could lead to discovery of any truth. Early in graduate study, I read Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. In the Tractatus, I met the only forthright philosophical truth claims I ever encountered. The Tractatus gave a bold statement of the metaphysics of logical positivism. I now reject a crucial truth claim of that metaphysics, viz., logical atomism. Atomism led to Naturalism. By implicitly hold atomism all of these years, I implicitly accepted the metaphysics that in fact there was and could be nothing but what provided truth conditions for the truth claims of natural sciences.

I sketch a diagnose why I gave up hope of there being genuine philosophical truth claims. Next, I point how I have now revived a belief that there can be genuine philosophical truth claims. I base my sketch on correcting the metaphysics of the Tractatuss.

A genuine truth claim is one that represents what exists as having certain features. If what exists has those features it is true. If what exists does not have those features it is false. The features attributed to what exists do not provide a picture of what exists. We cannot even think of what exists apart from features we attribute to it; let alone imagine it. Realism is holding that there are genuine truth claims. For positivism a genuine truth claim was cognitively meaningful.

Logical positivism, especially as expressed in the Tractatus, and the criticism of it have left a long legacy.

Here are core assumptions of logical positivism and results of he criticism of it which the Tractatus incorporated into positivism.
1. Realism: There are genuine truth claims
2. Atomism: Truth conditions are constituted by some basic elements whose existence or non-existence is independent of anything else.
3. The only necessity is logical necessity
4. A claim that realism and atomism are true is not a genuine truth claim. This comes from positivism’s self criticism.

I think Wittgenstein himself gave up realism because he came to think that there were non-logical necessities such as “No surface is uniformly red and green.” Non-logical necessities threatened atomism because there, then, might be connections which threaten the independence of the basic elements. He probably thought that there could not be truth conditions without independent existents.

I reject atomism because it is a claim about what truth conditions are like apart from our representation of them. Also atomism clashes with a thesis that the only necessity is logical necessity. It rules out the logical possibility of the interconnection of every existent. I accept realism as a philosophical truth claim. If nothing exists to make claims true, realism is false; otherwise it is true. Of course I cannot stand back an look at exists apart from my representing to verify that the claim of realism is true. So, I am content to class it as an ASSUMPTION OF A TRUTH.

The dismissal of atomism is a tremendous philosophical assumption. Atomism brings with it naturalism. For if anyone can think of elements whose order and connection provide truth conditions for natural physical science, those elements do not even provide truth conditions for claims about the mental; let alone religion.

It must be emphasized that setting aside atomism is not a accepting monism. i.e. what exists is a unity. There is no claim about what exists as a thing or things in themselves.

So, I close this post by finally proclaiming a philosophical truth. That philosophical truth is what I offered in my previous post. There is a vast diversity of genuine truth claims.