Thank you to EditorASC (a.k.a. Bob39) who, like Socrates the Gadfly, has persistently countered my thinking over the past six months with this question: “What is ‘moral’ truth, and what is ‘immoral’ truth?” Thank you as well to Kim Caton Isenhower for helping bring to light that the statement, “It is a matter of opinion whether or not babies should be tortured,” is a moral truth claim.
First–truth is what corresponds to reality—truth is the way things are. To understand a critical realist perspective of truth, read Part 1 of the series “Moral realism and our rights and liberties”. Basically, there are three possible positions on truth: 1) we make truth up, 2) we discover truth, or 3) there is no discoverable truth. Since it is a contradiction to say it is true that there is no discoverable truth, the third option (at least skepticism, at most nihilism) is false. Since truth by definition is not ‘made up’—the first option (anti-realism, voluntarism) is false. That leaves the second option (realism, essentialism). EditorASC agrees with the second option, but argues that morality is about values, about how we feel things ought to be, not about the way things are (reality). The quickest answer to that is that the fulfilled ought (God), granted He exists, is part of the way things are (reality). But let’s slow down and take it one step at a time.
Morality means standards and ends (the ‘how’ and ‘why’), of social character or conduct. Morality may be created by the individual or cultural will, and/or perceived to be discovered in evolving human nature, or in an eternal social essence. While it may be true that a given morality exists in reality, its standards may or may not be “truth”. Moral truth (or true morality) is those standards, ends, of social character or conduct which are true (corresponding to reality, which, as we just discussed, must necessarily include the fulfilled ought, or the ought is mere concept). A morality that exists in reality, without being true to the unchanging aspect of reality which is the fulfilled ought (God)—is a created morality. EditorASC maintains all morality is created, that there is no fulfilled ought to which moral truth corresponds, and that truth is about what “is”—not about how we feel things “ought” to be (and so he argues there is no ‘moral’ truth). If he is right—if there is no “real” fulfilled ought—then all morality, including our rights, is created and there is no moral truth (real fulfilled ought).
However, if you were to include all descriptive statements about morality to be moral truth statements, then “It is true that there is no ‘moral’ truth” would in fact be a contradiction. For example (provided by Kim Caton Isenhower), the statement “It is a matter of opinion whether or not we should torture babies” is a truth statement about morality—it is a moral truth statement. If it in fact corresponds to reality, then it constitutes moral truth. If it does not correspond to reality, then it is not true and is a creation. What one cannot claim is that there is no “fact of the matter” when it comes to morality—there “is” moral truth—even if it is something like “It is a matter of opinion whether or not we should torture babies.”
That is why it was necessary, in Part 2 of the “Moral realism and our rights and liberties” series, to point out evidence that we live against the idea that there is no moral truth (a real fulfilled ought). It is a contradiction to say “It is true that there is no ‘moral’ truth” (descriptive statement about morality which corresponds to reality)—but it is not a contradiction to say “It is true that there is no ‘moral’ truth” (a real fulfilled ought) (unless there certainly is one, of course).
In sum, usually, and throughout the “Moral realism and our rights and liberties” series, ‘moral truth’ means ‘a real fulfilled ought’. It does not mean, of course, a particularly praiseworthy truth. And as for “What is ‘immoral’ truth?” – that would be a descriptive statement about immorality which corresponds to reality (however, it would not correspond to the unchanging, eternal aspect of reality which is the fulfilled ought, because that would be a contradiction–evil is the privation, not opposite, of a preexistent good which can never be evil).
This post also appeared on Examiner.com.