Characteristic Marks of Truth

According to the Unit Text (11/224) there are three "characteristic marks of truth"-

  1. Different investigators in pursuit of truth concerning a given subject matter assume, and indeed must assume, that insofar as they remain on the track of truth they are converging towards a single result.
  2. Any result obtained remains stable over time.
  3. When an attempt to uncover the truth fails, we assume that at some point an error has been made, which when corrected would enable us to get back on the track of truth.

Non-Moral Judgements

Consider first some typical examples of non-moral judgements.   Does the Earth revolve around the Sun, or the Sun around the Earth?   Does the neutrino have a mass?   How old is the Universe?   Why is the sky blue?   Is Man a primate, an evolved mammal?   What is the speed of the Earth through the ether? These are all universally recognized as non-moral judgements -- scientific questions about the facts.   Whenever anyone inquires into the truth of any non-moral judgement, the assumption is that the question has but a single answer.  

When physicists were in disagreement about whether a neutrino had mass or was a zero-mass particle, no one doubted that it was either or.   No one suggested that it might perhaps have been both.   And once such questions are resolved (the neutrino has mass), then no one doubts that the neutrino always has had mass, and always will have mass.   No one suggests that perhaps the neutrino changes from a zero-mass particle to a particle with mass, and back.   And during the time of the dispute, when the astrophysical theories about what goes on inside the Sun hung in the balance, no one doubted that the question could be resolved if one we were smart enough (and well enough funded) to design and build the right experiments.   When all of the experiments appeared to show that the Sun was producing one-third of the neutrino's that the theories predicted, everyone assumed that either the theories were wrong or the data was wrong (incomplete).   No one suggested that both could have been right, even though they were incompatible.   And no one suggested that the answer was beyond reach for some principled (as opposed to creative or financial) reason.

The way in which we approach non-moral judgements is indicative of a firm belief that each such question does have an answer, one and only one determinate answer, the same answer for each and every investigator regardless of where and when it is asked, and that answer is the same one answer independent of what we may think about the question -   even if we do not know what that answer is, or disagree about what the answer is.   Non-moral truth is "out there", determinate, and mind-independent.   Non-moral truth depends on the facts of reality.   Non-moral truth is a correspondence relation between the facts of the matter and the meaning of the words used to express the truth.

Moral Judgements -- "Common/Folk" Ethics

Consider some typical examples of some judgments that are generally considered to be non-moral.   Should I drop some spare change in the cup of a panhandler?   To what extent should the needs and wants of a starving child in the Sudan participate in my moral deliberations?   Should a woman have a choice, or should abortion be illegal?   Is it morally justifiable for some members of a society to employ force to expropriate the assets of other members of the society in order to fulfill the needs and desires yet other members of that society?   What sorts of things can be morally justifiable for a group yet not morally justifiable for any one individual?   These are all commonly (but not universally) recognized as moral judgements -- ethical questions about the right thing to do.  

Whenever anyone inquires into the truth of any such moral judgement, the common "folk"assumption is that the question has many answers.   The common assumption is that morality and ethics are matters of subjective opinion.   As such, it is normally expected that there will be differences of opinion on any of these moral questions.   Each inquirer brings to the judgement their own individual past history of experiences and lessons learned -- and their own individual religious and moral beliefs.   Each will therefore reach a personal and subjective judgement on the issue.   Further, because each individual's personal opinion is a product of their life experiences, it is expected that an individual can change their opinion as their life experiences evolve over time.   The moral decisions of a brash and personally immortal teenager, flush with the surety of youth and a limited exposure to being wrong, are expected to be different from those of a wise and learned senior, old enough to have experienced more of life's surprises and hence more familiar with consequences and the probability of being wrong.

From the perspective of a "common"or "folk"theory of ethics, the way in which we approach moral judgements is indicative of an assumed belief that each such question has an answer unique to each individual, the answer is dependent on those things that go into forming our preferences, the answer for any individual can change over time and circumstance, and that answer just is what we may think about the question.   The "common"or "folk"attitude is that moral truth is "in here", subjective, and mind-dependent -- even if as individuals, we may be absolutely convinced that our answer is the only correct one.   The "common"theory of moral truth is therefore quite different from non-moral truth.

Moral Judgements -- Ethics of Dialogue

What the ethics of dialogue brings to the table does not much change the nature of moral truth as seen from the "common"or "folk"perspective.   The ethics of dialogue demands that instead of my own personal opinion determining the answer, the answer is determined by a process of dialogue reaching a mutually acceptable opinion.   Instead of the answer to any moral judgement depending only upon the opinion of a single individual, according to the ethics of dialogue, the answer depends on a mutually acceptable opinion for all of the individuals influenced by the judgement.

Admittedly, the resulting moral judgements are no longer "subjective"in the sense in which that descriptor was applied to the judgments of "common"ethics.   Yet they are not really "objective"in the sense in which that descriptor was applied to non-moral judgements.   The moral judgements reached according to the principles of the Ethics of Dialogue are still mind-dependent.

From within the Ethics of Dialogue, it is still possible for separate inquirers to reach different moral judgements.   It is still possible for someone outside the "circle of influence"that reached (by means of proper moral dialogue) a particular moral judgement, to reach a different answer to the same moral question.   A moral dialogue between you and the panhandler might result in a moral judgement that you should give him part of the change in your pocket.   I, sitting on the bench nearby and watching the transaction, can reach the judgement that you should not have given the panhandler anything.   In other words a judgement reached according to the Ethics of Dialogue is not "objective"in the sense of being independent of those who made the judgement.  

Moral judgements within the Ethics of Dialogue are also not stable over time.   Because peoples'opinions, needs, and desires change over time, any particular moral judgement when revisited must be "re-dialogued".   And the new moral dialogue can easily reach a different judgement than last time.   On one day, you and the panhandler reach a judgement that results in you giving him some of your change.   On the next day, you and the same panhandler might reach a judgement that results in you not giving the panhandler anything.

One of the serious difficulties with moral judgements by the Ethics of Dialogue, is that any morally justifiable judgement requires the mutual consent of all influenced parties.   In other words, it takes the willingness of all influenced parties to compromise their interests in order to reach a commonly acceptable judgement.   If any one of the parties involved refuses to compromise their own interests to a sufficient extent, then no moral judgement is possible.   There is no answer to some moral questions.   And the cause is not necessarily an error on anyone's part.   It might just be the consequence of an inability to find an answer that is mutually acceptable to all concerned -- at least one party finds that the best available approximation to an answer is simply too expensive, despite every honest intention to find a solution.  

"To what extent should the needs and wants of a starving child in the Sudan participate in my moral deliberations?"The Ethics of Dialogue would demand that any morally justifiable judgement involved be the consequence of a dialogue between (at least) me and the starving child.   Even if such a dialogue is held "in principle"or "by surrogate"rather than under the impracticalities of "in practice", it is hard to see how the child in question is going to accept any answer that would result in me not giving anything.   Yet there are enough starving children in the Sudan alone that giving anything at all to each of them would bankrupt me and destitute my family.   I must therefore fall back on what the text calls an "existential choice".   I must judge the right thing to do independently of the Ethics of Dialogue.   If I must do that in the very many cases where the Ethics of Dialogue fails to deliver a morally justifiable judgement, what use is the Ethics of Dialogue?

So despite the claims of the Ethics of Dialogue theory of moral judgements, moral judgements from this basis are not really "objective"in the relevant sense, and share many more of the features of the "subjective"moral judgement made according to "common"ethics than they share with non-moral judgements.   The Ethics of Dialogue theory of moral truth is very much like the "common"theory of moral truth, and is therefore also quite different from non-moral truth.

Moral Judgements -- Evolutionary Ethics

Unlike the "common"theory of ethics and the Ethics of Dialogue theory of ethics, what the theory of Evolutionary Ethics brings to the table is a truly "objective"theory of moral truth.   According to the theory of Evolutionary Ethics, the answer to any moral question is a mind-independent determinate product of the facts of the matter.   According to the theory of Evolutionary Ethics, the answer to any moral question is "the best interests of one's genetic legacy, when considered over the long run".

From within Evolutionary Ethics, it is not possible for separate inquirers to reach different correct moral judgements.   Even though my own moral judgements are made on the basis of my own wants and needs and my current circumstances, those wants and needs and circumstances are facts of the matter that are available (in principle if not always in practice) to anyone who might want to "redo"my moral judgements.   It is therefore possible for some independent investigator to examine the circumstances of my judgement and determine whether my judgement was in fact the best one.   A moral judgement by you to give the panhandler part of the change in your pocket can be "re-examined"by me, sitting on the bench nearby and watching the transaction.   If I reach the judgement that you should not have given the panhandler anything, then I am claiming that your moral judgement was in fact the wrong answer.   In other words a judgement reached according to Evolutionary Ethics is "objective"in the sense of being independent of those who made the judgement.   This is the same sense in which non-moral judgements are described as "objective".

Moral judgements within Evolutionary Ethics are also stable over time.   One has to be a little careful about this claim however.   Moral judgements from within Evolutionary Ethics are very sensitive to circumstances -- the needs and wants of the judger at the time, the ability of the judger to forecast consequences, and environmental circumstances of that moment.   Given the obvious fact that all of these factors change over time, it is only possible to "redo"any particular moral judgement if one reconsiders the circumstances of that initial moment.   One can "reconsider"a moral question at another time and take into consideration whatever has changed since then.   But one cannot "redo"the original judgement unless one considers only the circumstances and environmental knowledge that existed then.   Hence, like with the Ethics of Dialogue, on one day I may reach a judgement that results in me giving the panhandler some of your change, while on the next day, because my circumstances have changed, I might reach a judgement that results in not giving the panhandler anything.   But on the third day, I can go back and revisit the judgement I made on the first day, and reconsider whether )(given the circumstances, and the knowledge I had at that time) that judgement was the correct one.

One of the strengths of Evolutionary Ethics is that there are no unresolvable moral dilemmas (in principle at least).   When an effort to find an acceptable moral judgement fails, it is assumed that an error has been made, or some information is missing.   With sufficient information, a suitable moral judgement can always be reached.

When Evolutionary Ethicists are in disagreement about whether women ought to have a choice or abortion ought to be illegal, no one doubts that it is either or.   No one suggests that it might perhaps be both.   And once such questions are resolved, then no one will doubt that the answer always was the right one, and always will be the right one (given those circumstances).   And during the current dispute, no one doubts that the question can be resolved if one we are smart enough to obtain and consider the right data.   And no one suggests that the answer is beyond reach for some principled (as opposed to creative or informational) reason.

So according to Evolutionary Ethics moral judgements are indeed "objective"in the relevant sense, and share all of the features of the "objective"non-moral judgements.   The Evolutionary Ethics theory of moral truth is exactly the same as the theory of non-moral truth.

The way in which Evolutionary Ethics approaches moral judgements is indicative of a firm belief that each such question does have an answer, one and only one determinate answer, the same answer for each and every investigator regardless of where and when it is asked, and that answer is the same one answer independent of what we may think about the question - even if we do not know what that answer is, or disagree about what that answer is.   Truth (both moral and non-moral) is "out there", determinate, and mind-independent.   Truth (both moral and non-moral) depends on the facts of reality.   Truth (both moral and non-moral) is a correspondence relation between the facts of the matter and the meaning of the words used to express the truth.

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