Discovery, not Decision

A proposition, thought, idea, or whatever is true to the extent that it corresponds to reality. If I have the idea that the sky is green, my idea is false because it doesn’t correspond to reality. That’s a trivial example, but it adequately illustrates what I’m getting at. We don’t get to decide what color the sky is. It already has a color. Instead of deciding what the color is, we discover it. Okay, that’s pretty easy to do with something like a color. But I think it still says something about what our relationship with reality needs to be like. We do not define reality; it already has a definition.

And what is true about something trivial like colors is likewise true about everything else. We don’t get to decide. Reality already has a definition. Our job is to discover it. Whether what we have discovered is true or not depends upon whether it corresponds to reality.

The verb “discover” is a bit difficult when it comes to philosophical questions (for one example), because the nature of the problem is not like looking for treasure. It’s more like solving a logic problem. I guess actually we could say that it’s exactly like solving a logic problem. We’re trying to make sense – not out of a puzzle, for entertainment purposes – but rather, when we approach a philosophical problem we’re trying to make sense out of the world. But in both cases, our answers only work if they actually solve the problem: if they correspond to reality.

The same thing is also true with religion. This is maybe more easy to see if we add a further proposition: it is impossible for truth to contradict truth. If that is so, then we simply cannot say things like “That may be true for you, but it’s not true for me.” No. A religious proposition or doctrine is either true – that is, it corresponds to reality – or it is false. It can’t be true and false. So when it comes to religious disagreements as with any other ones we don’t have the luxury of pretending that differences don’t matter. They always matter. Someone is right, and someone is wrong, or maybe both are wrong, but it is impossible for both to be right if their views are contradictory.

[Update, 9 April 2016]

Dr. Michael Liccione puts things much better than I do:

First, it is not the role of conscience to decide what is and is not a moral norm. The role of conscience is to recognize moral norms as such and decide, sincerely and with the best information available, how they apply when a moral choice must be made. A well-formed conscience is therefore necessary for making reliably good choices.

[Emphasis in original]

Read the whole thing (if you have appropriate access on Facebook…).

Posted in Fides et Ratio

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