Epistemological relativists will refer to "different ways of knowing" and claim the equal validity of the knowledge obtained from radically different epistemologies.  I would like to point out that there is a distinction between truth and opinion.  People are entitled to their own opinions.  But in our discourse about reality, our claims are either true or false.  NOTE:  there is no true only from my standpoint or true only from your standpoint--we call this sort of thing "opinion" not truth.  I may think chocolate is a superior flavor of ice cream, but this is a matter of opinion.  I would not submit it as a fundamental truth.   I would not expect others to agree with my opinion.  But if I say that the earth is made of marshmallow, this is a statement about reality and the truth value of the statement can be determined to be false.  Or if I say that jumping off a 100 story building without a parachute or other protection to the concrete below will not result in the least injury because gravity is not real, again, this is a statement about reality and the truth value of the statement can be shown to be false.  The earth was once thought to be flat, but overwhelming evidence has shown that ships don't sail off the edge into the void--the earth is round.  Truth is not relative. You can believe that tigers are harmless herbivores, but the truth value of your belief will become apparent if you encounter a hungry tiger in the wild.
Postmodernist Relativism draws upon universal skepticism, which even Russell conceded can not be refuted, but then, Russell saw universal or radical skepticism as a "barren" philosophy. Of course nothing can be known with 100% certainty. We could all be the victims of Descartes' evil genie, but it's irrelevant--how would we ever know? Should we be paralyzed by uncertainty or abandon any notions of true and false because 100% certainty can never be attained? What we see is a representation of reality, as constructed from sensory data and interpreted by the brain. The brain's model of the world is an analogue to reality, and it is a sufficiently accurate approximation for us to know that some things work and some things don't. Postmodernists like Feyerabend have said that science is just another form of social discourse, and that since scientific theories are in principle subject to revision, "anything goes." What facile nonsense. Even a child understands that though there may be more than one way to swim, there are definitely wrong ways to swim, and the difference can mean life and death. From the viewpoint of radical skepticism and its permutations, relativism and postmodernism, the entire epistemological enterprise is meaningless. If all methodologies are simply forms of social discourse and if all truths are equally true, then the term "truth" ceases to have any useful meaning. Truth is however not whatever we wish it to be. Carl Sagan goes over this particular fallacy in some depth in "The Demon-haunted World." I would recommend his book as a treatise on critical thinking.

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Comment by Glen Rosenberg on July 8, 2012 at 3:57pm

Likewise Blackbeard.

Comment by Edward Teach on July 8, 2012 at 3:53pm

LMAO!!! Thanks for the exchange

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on July 8, 2012 at 3:44pm

Man in space or Blackbeard in orbit.

Beauty truth, truth beauty.

Only the shadow knows.

Comment by Edward Teach on July 8, 2012 at 3:27pm

You're right, in a practical sense, we are ultimately shooting for the same outcomes. And, I admit that litmuses such as harm, fairness, and empathy are the best tools we have for determining a mutual moral code. To define moral preferences as an objective truths rather than subjective norms opens up a wide range of  potential distasteful outcomes. However, I don't want to make the assumption that our preferences for "good" are anything but, as we can't know the ultimate outcome (survival or extinction). Even survival and extinction as litmuses for "good" is flawed, as our extinction might lead to a better world or a better dominant species than humans. It could be that survival of the human species will ultimately mean the extinction of most others. We can't know the big picture.

I despise George W Bush. I despise his policies as stupid and immoral. But, I can't know the BIG picture outcome of his actions. I have to admit that I think the Arab Spring phenomenon was at least partially influenced by the democratization of Iraq.

Ugh... good philosophical discussions seem to always lead me in circles!

To sum up... We do the best we can with what we know and let the chips fall where they may.

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on July 8, 2012 at 2:36pm

Okay Blackbeard, you've anticipated my thoughts regarding feral children. We do not learn of innate tendencies by raising animals in atypical ways. And even children who are abused have a higher incidence of borderline personality and a diminished capacity for empathy. (Birds raising children-that is surprising.)

Agreed, religion is wish fulfillment. Dont agree with analogy however, because the former is a chimera, a lie, the latter is possible. Does it really make a difference if we squabble over whether a balanced approach to morality, one which acknowledges the interests of the individual and of the group, is an objective good? Is there anything humans have constructed which is objectively good? Good by its nature calls for judgment. That does not obviate the role of rationalism in judging. It is superior to dicatated and archaic morality.

For my money throw a dart at the morality board and you will do better than our past. Will we excuse genocides because there is no objective way to condemn the murderers? Rationalism is a superior method of formulating morality. Faith based morality is repugnant to the interests of individual citizens.

Comment by Edward Teach on July 8, 2012 at 12:53pm

He he... Blackbeard works!

Comment by Edward Teach on July 8, 2012 at 12:45pm

This is not the site I was trying to find, but it is a pretty good study: http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1056&...

Comment by Edward Teach on July 8, 2012 at 12:36pm

I'll try to dig up the feral child stuff. I would imagine that an elephant or other animal raised without contact with others from its own species would behave in ways inconsistent with elephant morality. Feral children have three universal traits: the don't walk upright, they don't talk, and they don't demonstrate the ability to empathize. Empathetic lions. tigers, Spartans, and vikings would likely suffer for the trait. 

I think religion is wish fulfillment and the key error is a bias towards desired outcomes (eg, eternal life, seeing your departed loved ones, good people are ultimately rewarded and bad people punished). I think a similar error can occur when we inject our own wish fulfillment into theories of morality. Again, determining a moral code that we all agree to be preferable is great, but I think it is an error to add that our preference is an objective "good."

Comment by Glen Rosenberg on July 8, 2012 at 12:09pm

Unless you object I am going with Blackbeard.

There is a lesson in morality there. Are you a pirate, scofflaw and enemy of the state? Or are you a privateer authorized by the state with a letter of marque and reprisal?

If empathy is not innate why do elephants go back year after year to the site of their mates bones and brood? What survival value lies therein? Maybe there is survival value in fostering social cohesion.  And I seem to remember reading studies on young children who have an innate sense of fairness apart from and independent of their upbringing.

There is a dance and conflict that swirls between the self and others. But I believe that both characteristics are innate. If we are indeed evolved we must jettison the absolutes of political and religious morality. I see someone burning on a stake I dont need to intellectualize the issue of morality. I dont care about contemporary christian community standards. It is evil and we can do better.

Rationalism is the key. The idea that we must have an "objective" basis for morality is a residue of religion or religious memes. Who died and made god king? What if he is a little selfish, masochistic and promotes our suffering for his amusement? The proper study of man is man. Use our brains, loosen the chains.

Comment by Dogly on July 8, 2012 at 11:32am

I think "Truth" is too inexact a word to ever provide clarity.  Just gimme the facts.  People can have their own opinions, even their own truth, with a capital T, but facts is facts.  We can't have our own set of facts.

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