If civil rights and liberties matter to you, then moral realism matters to you. If moral realism is not true, civil rights and liberties do not truly exist and social justice is a myth (as is the meaning of life and any real purpose you might have been hoping for). If there are no real rights, then you have no real argument against anyone who infringes on your rights—they are infringing on nothing; your indignation is a delusion. So let’s take some time to really examine this question: Is moral truth discovered, is it created, or is there no discoverable moral truth? In other words: Do we discover our rights, do we create them, or are there no discoverable rights? The last two say there are no “real” rights. The first one is moral realism.
The three options can’t all be right, because they contradict each other. Created rights contradict discovered rights, and they both contradict rights which don’t exist. So, really we have two contradictory options: we make up the rights we’re all asserting and protecting, or we discover them. If rights are discovered, it means they are true even if we never discover them—it means that the Civil Rights Movement was right (granted it “really” was), even when we didn’t know it was right. There are some (anti-realists) who say that, if something is true without being discovered—how can we say it is true, since we haven’t discovered it? How can we say the Civil Rights Movement was right even when we didn’t know it was right? Anti-realists would say we make up the rightness of the Civil Rights Movement. That is their idea of truth—but, if that is true, there really is no ‘knowable’ truth at all (but, if so, then we can not know if it is true that there really is no knowable truth…and we can not know if it is true that we can not know if it is true that there really is no knowable truth…and…you get the idea). Something must’ve gone wrong with their thinking somewhere, right? Right.
If we find out that something is true, then it must have been true before we found out it was true, or else our finding out it was true “made” it true by going back in time and making something true that wasn’t true until we found out it was true. Something cannot be both “not true yet” and “true” at the same time, even if that time is in the past. If I make the past real with my knowledge-what made my knowledge happen? If we find out it is true, then it is always true, even before we find out. So there are truths that are true without our knowing it, and we can come to find out about that truth. But how can we be certain we are right that it is actually true? People thought they were right about things before the Civil Rights Movement came along and showed them they were wrong. How do we know we’re not still wrong about some things we think are true? How do we ever know we’re right? Answer: Certainty is reserved for the omniscient—the rest of us must have faith in the strongest evidence (disagree?). In other words, only God can be certain, while the rest of us must have faith in the evidence. Granted, there may be evidence to which we do not have access, which would influence a different conclusion. A true conclusion is true despite whatever evidence we have available to us–its truth and our knowing it are two very different things. But the fact remains that truth is not created, and that we must have faith in the strongest evidence. Do we have evidence that there is moral truth, evidence that our rights are real and not made up, evidence that our indignation is not delusion? Stay tuned for part 2, where we will examine that evidence.
(To be continued…)
- To see how realism is essentialism and anti-realism is voluntarism, examine this work in progress.
- The realist position in this article could be referred to as critical realism, and is gleaned from Christopher Norris’ “Epistemology”. View book discussion.
- That we cannot prove anything, but that we can have faith in the evidence, is taken from the Intermission of Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God”
- “If morality is relative, why isn’t social justice as well?” is a question influencing this series and is taken from Tim Keller’s first chapter in “The Reason for God”
- Check out “The Reason for God” book discussion.
This post also appeared on Examiner.com.