True vs. "true"
An Interpretation of Religion, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), pp. 241- 42.
Kant distinguished between noumenon and phenomenon, or between a Ding an sich and that thing as it appears to human consciousness... In this strand of Kant's thought — not the only strand, but the one which I am seeking to press into service in the epistemology of religion — the noumenal world exists independently of our perception of it and the phenomenal world is that same world as it appears to our human consciousness... I want to say that the noumenal Real is experienced and thought by different human mentalities, forming and formed by different religious traditions, as the range of gods and absolutes which the phenomenology of religion reports.
Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio by John Paul II, (14 September 1998).
This has given rise to different forms of agnosticism and relativism which have led philosophical research to lose its way in the shifting sands of widespread scepticism. Recent times have seen the rise to prominence of various doctrines which tend to devalue even the truths which had been judged certain. A legitimate plurality of positions has yielded to an undifferentiated pluralism, based upon the assumption that all positions are equally valid, which is one of today's most widespread symptoms of the lack of confidence in truth. Even certain conceptions of life coming from the East betray this lack of confidence, denying truth its exclusive character and assuming that truth reveals itself equally in different doctrines, even if they contradict one another. On this understanding, everything is reduced to opinion; and there is a sense of being adrift. While, on the one hand, philosophical thinking has succeeded in coming closer to the reality of human life and its forms of expression, it has also tended to pursue issues — existential, hermeneutical or linguistic — which ignore the radical question of the truth about personal existence, about being and about God. Hence we see among the men and women of our time, and not just in some philosophers, attitudes of widespread distrust of the human being's great capacity for knowledge. With a false modesty, people rest content with partial and provisional truths, no longer seeking to ask radical questions about the meaning and ultimate foundation of human, personal and social existence. In short, the hope that philosophy might be able to provide definitive answers to these questions has dwindled.
Louis Pojman on Multiculturalism said...
A Critique of Moral Relativism, in Ethical Theory (Wadsworth, 1998), 39.
Eskimos allow their elderly to die by starvation, whereas we believe that this is morally wrong. The Spartans of ancient Greece and the Dobu of New Guinea believe(d) that stealing is morally right, but we believe it is wrong. A tribe in East Africa once threw deformed infants to the hippopotamuses, but we abhor infanticide. Ruth Benedict describes a tribe in Melanesia that views cooperation and kindness as vices, whereas we see them as virtues. Sexual practices vary over time and place. Some cultures accept cannibalism, while the very idea revolts us. Cultural relativism is well documented, and "custom is the king o'er all." There may or may not be moral principles held in common by every society, but if there are any, they seem to be few, at best. Certainly, it would be very difficult to derive any single "true" morality by observing various societies' moral standards.
"A Critique of Moral Relativism", in Ethical Theory (Wadsworth, 1998), 41.
If there were only one person on earth, there would be no occasion for morality because there wouldn't be any interpersonal conflicts to resolve or others whose suffering he or she would have a duty to ameliorate. Subjectivism implicitly assumes something of this solipsism, an atomism in which isolated individuals make up separate universes. Subjectivism treats individuals like billiard balls on a societal pool table where they meet only in radical collision, each aimed at his or her own goal and striving to do in the others before they themselves are done in. This atomistic view of personality is belied by the facts that we develop in which we share a common language, common institution, and similar rituals and habits, and that we often feel one another's joys and sorrow. As John Donne wrote, "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent."
Thomas Nagel on Skepticism said...
The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 115-6.
Suppose you become convinced that all your choices, decisions, and conclusions were determined by rationally arbitrary features of your psychological makeup or by external manipulation, and then tried to ask yourself what, in the light of this information, you should do or believe. There would really be no way to answer the question. Because the arbitrary causal control of which you had become convinced would apply to whatever you said or decided. You could not simultaneously believe this about yourself and try to make a free, rational choice. Not only that, but if the very belief in the causal system of control was itself a product of what you thought to be reasoning, then it too would lose its status as a belief freely arrived at, and your attitude toward it would have to change. ¶ Doubt about your own rationality is unstable; it leaves you really with nothing to think. So although the hypothesis of nonrational control seems a contingent possibility, it is no more possible to entertain it with regard to yourself than it is to consider the possibility that you are not thinking. I have never known how to respond to this conundrum.
The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 81.
We begin from the idea that there is some way the world is, and this, I believe, is an idea to which there is no intelligible alternative and which cannot be subordinated to or derived from anything else... [E]ven a subjectivist cannot escape from or rise above this idea. Even if he wishes to offer an analysis of it in subjective or community-relative terms, his proposal has to be understood as an account of how the world is and therefore as inconsistent with alternative accounts, with which it can be compared for plausibility.
Thomas Nagel on Reason said...
The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 3-4.
Reason, if there is such a thing, can serve as a court of appeal not only against the received opinions and habits of our community but also against the peculiarities of our personal perspective. It is something each individual can find with himself, but at the same time it has universal authority. Reason provides, mysteriously, a way of distancing oneself from common opinion and received practices that is not a mere elevation of individuality... not a determination to express one's idiosyncratic self rather than go along with everyone else. Whoever appeals to reason purports to discover a source of authority within himself that is not merely personal or societal, but universal... and that should also persuade others who are willing to listen to it.
The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 4.
How is it possible that creatures like ourselves, supplied with the contingent capacities of a biological species whose very existence appears to be radically accidental, should have access to universally valid methods of objective thought? It is because this question seems unanswerable that sophisticated forms of subjectivism keep appearing in the philosophical literature...
Thomas Nagel on Subjectivism said...
The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 6.
The worst of it is that subjectivism is not just an inconsequential intellectual flourish or badge of theoretical chic. It is used to deflect argument, or to belittle the pretensions of the arguments of others. Claims that something is without relativistic qualification true or false, right or wrong, good or bad, risk being derided as expressions of a parochial perspective or form of life, not as a preliminary to showing that they are mistaken whereas something else is right, but as a way of showing that nothing is right and that instead we are all expressing our personal or cultural point of view. The actual result has been a growth in the already extreme intellectual laziness of contemporary culture and the collapse of serious argument throughout the lower reaches of the humanities and social sciences, together with a refusal to take seriously, as anything other than first-person avowals, the objective arguments of others.