Monday, January 12, 2015

Some Arguments against Ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism is a cultural attitude or viewpoint that takes a particular ethnic group or culture as the standard or center of reference for evaluating other ethnic groups or cultures. It may have moral, epistemological, aesthetic, social, and political dimensions.
      According to The Random House College Dictionary (2010), ethnocentrism is “the belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own ethnic group or culture,” or “a tendency to view alien groups or cultures from the perspective of one’s own.”1
      According to Robert LeVine and Donald Campbell (1972), ethnocentrism may also be described as an “an attitude or outlook in which values derived from one’s own cultural background are applied to other cultural contexts where different values are operative.”2
      One argument that may therefore be made against ethnocentrism is that it may lead to misinterpretation of the beliefs and practices of cultures different from one’s own. If one takes one’s own culture as a standard or center of reference for interpreting the beliefs and practices of other cultures, then one may misinterpret the meaning of the beliefs and practices of those cultures. The habits and practices of other cultures may have a different meaning from the same or similar habits and practices in one’s own culture.
      Another argument that may be made against ethnocentrism is that is it may be based on an attitude of cultural superiority or an attitude that one's own culture is somehow more advanced and civilized than other cultures. It may therefore express disrespect of people who belong to other cultures, and it may deny the importance of cultural pluralism to the development of a democratic and truly pluralistic society.
      Another argument against ethnocentrism is that it may be a rejection of any efforts to promote multiculturalism or cosmopolitanism. Thus, it may become a kind of cultural or linguistic imperialism. It may become an effort to enforce the use of only one language, the language of the dominant ethnic group or culture, in public discourse. It may become an effort to eradicate bilingual or multilingual education. It may also become an effort to accord second-class citizenship to those who are not native speakers of the culturally dominant language of a society.
      Another argument against ethnocentrism is that it may be a form of cultural chauvinism (perhaps a zealous and unquestioning advocacy of the virtues of one’s own culture, as well as a denial that one’s own culture has any possible faults or shortcomings), and it may also be a form of cultural exceptionalism (an attitude that one's own culture is morally, aesthetically, or politically exceptional and should therefore be regarded as a moral, aesthetic, or political standard for other cultures).
      Another argument against ethnocentrism is that it may be based on racism. It may express a particular racial or ethnic group’s attitude of superiority in relation to other racial or ethnic groups, and it may lead to a particular group’s efforts to subordinate other racial or ethnic groups it views as inferior.
      Another argument against ethnocentrism is that it may tend to promote right-wing nationalism, militarism, and xenophobia. It may lead to efforts to prevent immigration to a country, and to efforts to expel immigrants and foreigners from a country. It may also, in the most extreme cases, lead to military aggression, ethnic violence, forcible appropriation of land or territory, genocide, and ethnic cleansing (by mass murder, deportation, and forcible displacement of local populations).
      LeVine and Campbell (1972) explain that the fixity or fluidity of ethnic boundaries may depend on such factors as the degree to which ethnic communities are culturally similar or dissimilar, the degree to which they are (geographically or socially) proximate to or remote from one another, the degree to which they change or remain the same in their linguistic and cultural characteristics, and the degree to which community members agree or disagree about the assignment of community labels or boundaries.3
      Stephen Cornell and Douglas Hartman (2007) also explain that ethnicity and race may overlap, and that these two social categories may share many features in common (such as group identity based on a putative common ancestry, on claims of shared history, and on shared symbols of peoplehood).4 Racial groups may be, but are not necessarily, ethnic groups,5 and ethnic groups may sometimes be ascribed the same kinds of characteristics as are ascribed to racial groups.6 Each of the commonly designated racial groups may include multiple ethnicities (for example, white Americans of European descent include British Americans, Irish Americans, German Americans, Italian Americans, Polish Americans, and other ethnic groups). Many individuals also identify themselves as biracial or multiracial or multiethnic.
      Richard Burkey (1978) explains that relations of domination or subordination between racial or ethic groups may be established or maintained by the use of racial or ethnic discrimination, by racist or anti-ethnic ideology, and by inequitable institutional practices. A means of rectifying such relations is the promotion of racial and ethnic group integration, and another means of rectifying such relations is the promotion of social and cultural pluralism.7

1Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary, 2010.
2Robert A. LeVine and Donald T. Campbell, Ethnocentrism: Theories of Conflict, Ethnic Attitudes, and Group Behavior (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1972), p. 1.
3Ibid., pp. 81-109.
4Stephen Cornell and Douglas Hartman, Ethnicity and Race: Making Identities in a Changing World (Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press, 2007), p. 33.
5Ibid., p. 26.
6Ibid., p. 33
7Richard M. Burkey, Ethnic & Racial Groups: The Dynamics of Dominance (Menlo Park: Cummings Publishing Company, 1978), p. 2.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Street Knowledge - Book Knowledge Dichotomy

In African-American epistemology, a distinction is sometimes made between "street knowledge" and "book knowledge" or between knowledge derived from primary experience and knowledge derived from secondary sources. The distinction may be analogous to the distinction between direct and indirect knowledge or to the distinction between practical and theoretical knowledge.
      But can’t these two kinds of knowledge be combined? Can’t they support and supplement each other? Can’t a person have both kinds of knowledge?
       Does street knowledge, which may consist of various insights and adaptations necessary for survival in a hostile, dangerous, or unstable social environment, represent a primary form of knowledge? Does book knowledge, which may consist of formal education necessary for vocational, professional, or technological pursuits, represent a secondary form of knowledge? Are these two kinds of knowledge perhaps interdependent and mutually complementary? Does the distinction between them represent a false dichotomy?
      Street knowledge and book knowledge may differ in the contexts or settings in which they are learned or taught. They may also differ in the nature and mode of their narrativity. It is tempting to suggest that street knowledge is more dependent on the study of oral narrative, while book knowledge is more dependent on the study of written narrative. But would this be to posit a false dichotomy between oral and written narrative, between speech and writing?
      The two kinds of knowledge may require different kinds of cognitive skills or abilities. Street knowledge may depend more on an ability to “think on one’s feet,” and on a kind of intellectual adroitness or dexterity (although these abilities may to some extent be necessary to anyone who intends to develop any depth of book knowledge). Book knowledge may depend more on a kind of rigorous intellectual training and discipline, and on an ability to read or engage with written texts (although these skills may to some extent be necessary to anyone who intends to develop any depth of street knowledge).
      Street knowledge may be favorably perceived as being expressed by social adeptness, savoir faire, urbanity, and worldly sophistication. It may be attributed to an individual who is seen as streetwise, shrewd, or clever. It may also be attributed to an individual who is seen as confident in her ability to cope with unusual or unforeseen situations. However, it may be unfavorably perceived as an unlettered and undisciplined form of underhandedness, deception, fraud, or intentional misrepresentation.
      Book knowledge, on the other hand, may be favorably perceived as a conventional and generally accepted (although often unapplied and untested) form of knowledge. However, it may also be unfavorably perceived as a second-hand, learned-by-rote, entirely theoretical, and empirically unreliable form of knowledge.
      Are there any grounds for assuming that the distinction between street knowledge and book knowledge is any more closely adhered to by African-American epistemology than the analogous distinction between practical and theoretical knowledge is adhered to by other epistemologies? Such an assumption may indeed be mistaken, since the lack of formality with which the distinction is adhered to by African-American epistemology is revealed by the colloquial nature of the terms themselves.
      An important implication of the distinction between book knowledge and street knowledge, however, is that book knowledge, or the knowledge gained through formal education, may often be acquired through a kind of miseducation. For example, the knowledge gained through formal education may be taught by an educational system that is biased against racial, ethnic, and other minorities. This educational system may ignore the relevance and importance of African-American, Hispanic, Native American, and other minority group cultural experience to the project of knowledge acquisition.
      There may also be senseless disparagement, by those who perceive themselves as having street knowledge, of those who are said to have only book knowledge, just as there may be senseless disparagement, by those who perceive themselves as having book knowledge, of those who are said to have only street knowledge. The two kinds of knowledge may be misconceived as kinds of knowledge assigned to individuals of particular social or cultural backgrounds.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Transgression in Philosophy

What is the difference between a transgressive philosophy and a philosophy of transgression? Perhaps the difference is that a transgressive philosophy breaks the rules of traditional philosophy and is conducted in an unusual and unconventional way, while a philosophy of transgression may not itself be transgressive in its attitude toward the norms of traditional philosophy and may be practiced in a very standard and conventional way.
      Transgression may be a breaking of the rules or overstepping of the limits of conventional behavior. It may be an act of noncompliance with regard to moral, institutional, or cultural norms. It may also be an unintentional act of neglect or intentional act of defiance with regard to socially expected and accepted modes of behavior.
      Transgression may also be a mode of nonconformity. It may be an assertion of personal freedom, and an affirmation of an individual’s capacity for self-determination.
      To be transgressive may be to “cross the line” between conventional and unconventional behavior. It may be to ignore, resist, defy, or refuse to comply with social, institutional, or cultural norms.
      Transgression may thus be moral, religious, social, institutional, or cultural in nature. It may take the form of disobedient, defiant, noncompliant, indecent, improper, or socially unacceptable (discouraged or prohibited) behavior.
      To be transgressive may be to assume the risk of being found guilty of imprudence, carelessness, arrogance, or ostentation for violating social norms. It may also be to violate norms of politeness, decorum, or propriety or to allow oneself to be considered uncouth or “beyond the pale” by the rest of society.
      The transgressive may also be the sexually ambiguous or suggestive, the subversive, the disruptive, the intentionally improper, the provocative, the erotic, the perverse, or the pornographic.
      Sexual transgression is one of the most serious and harmful kinds of moral transgression. It may take the form of sexual assault, sexual coercion, nonconsensual sexual relations, personal boundary violations, professional boundary violations, relational boundary violations, use of false pretenses in order to engage in sexual relations, breaches of privacy, breaches of confidentiality, sexual victimization, sexual humiliation, sexual infidelity, and sexual indecency.
      The wide variety of kinds of sexual transgression may lead to the question of whether all transgression has a sexual aspect or is partly sexual in nature. The sexual nature of transgression may in some cases be revealed by the production of a thrill or feeling of excitement as a result of violating a conventional social boundary or as a result of misbehaving or being “naughty," being a “bad boy” or “bad girl,” being (openly or secretively) lewd or improper, or taking stimulating and pleasurable risks.
      Transgression may be a testing of the limits of social convention in order to elicit some response from those in authority. It may also be a means of being odd, unusual, out of the ordinary, vaguely disconcerting, or even scandalous or shocking, It may also be a means of advocating nonconformity for nonconformity’s sake, and a means of expressing a personal desire to be different from others.
      Transgression, like regression and progression, has directionality. It is a crossing over or moving beyond a recognized limit or boundary. It may be designed to produce an unsettling, overturning, or disruption of conventional mores.
      To be transgressive may be to question or challenge the status quo. It may also be to (figuratively rather than literally) become a kind of revolutionary, anarchist, or philosophical bomb-thrower.
      It should be emphasized that the term “transgressive philosophy” should not be understood as implying, justifying, or apologizing for any kind of immorality or moral transgression. The “boundary crossing” practiced by a transgressive philosopher must be distinguished from the “boundary violating” practiced by a victimizer, egoist, extremist, or nihilist. Transgressive philosophy is not a repudiation of the norms required for social harmony and well-being. It is not an evasion of moral, professional, or institutional codes of conduct. Nor is it a transgression of the principles of what is right and wrong or just and unjust.
      The transgressive philosopher does not victimize, mistreat, or take unfair advantage of others. The transgressive philosopher does not use others as means to serve his or her own ends. The transgressive philosopher does not infringe on the rights of others to life, liberty, dignity, and security.
      Transgressive philosophy may involve transgressive reading, writing, and interpretation of texts that have philosophical themes or implications. It may also involve the examination of transgressive modes of speech and language.
      To do transgressive philosophy may be to break the rules, transgress, or transcend the limits of a closed or bounded system of concepts. It may also be to defy those who want to police the borders of mainstream or traditional philosophy.
      A list of transgressive philosophers might include such names as Socrates (who was sentenced to death for impiety and for corrupting the youth of Athens), Diogenes of Sinope (who was known for his shameless disregard of conventional decencies and is said to have lived in a tub1), Spinoza (who was charged with heresy by religious authorities and excommunicated from the Jewish community in Amsterdam), and Rousseau (who argued that if the sovereignty of a people is usurped by their government, then they are no longer obligated to obey that government).
      The list of transgressive philosophers might also include such names as Marx, Nietzsche, Camus, Bataille, Foucault, Derrida, Irigaray, Butler, Andrea Dworkin, Angela Davis, bell hooks, Baudrillard, and Zizek.
      Transgressive philosophers may reformulate or recontextualize traditional philosophical problems by reconsidering them from previously excluded or marginalized viewpoints. They may subvert culturally biased or hegemonic practices and thereby promote reevaluation of traditional approaches to problem solving. Thus, they may be able to open up domains of inquiry not accessible to more conventional approaches.


1Anthony Flew, A Dictionary of Philosophy (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979), p. 90.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Value Theory

“Value” is a term that may be used in a number of ways. It may be used to describe the degree to which we esteem something or regard that thing highly or favorably (as in “We value your friendship,” “She sees great value in earning a biotechnology degree,” “He owns several highly valued works of art,” and “What kind of value can be placed on good health?”). It may also be used to describe a quality of something that renders that thing desirable or admirable (as in “That car is a good value for the money,” “Previous experience will be of great value to you if you decide to apply for the position,” and “There’s a real value in becoming a fully qualified instructor”). It may also be used to describe an ideal or criterion of the merit or worth of something (as in “Our values include reliability, honesty, and integrity,” and “Working with a very low budget can make it more difficult to produce a film with high production values”). It may also be used to describe a quantity or number representing the magnitude of something (as in “The value of the function y = x3 for x = 3 is 27”).
      Values may serve as markers of our admiration or esteem for various things. They may also be ranked or prioritized in order to reflect the relative importance of our interests and concerns, depending on the situation and the (moral, aesthetic, social, or historical) context.
      Values may also serve as rules or standards for our conduct. They may act as guiding principles for our intuitions, reasoning, judgments, and actions. We may in some cases feel that we must live up to, and act in accordance with, our values in order to comply with given principles of duty. We may also in such cases be contented and happy with ourselves (and with our own feelings, emotions, attitudes, judgments, and actions) if we do indeed act in accordance with, and remain faithful to, our own values.
       We may express, articulate, and exemplify many kinds of values in our feelings, attitudes, judgments, and conduct. These kinds of values may be not only moral, but also aesthetic, religious, philosophical, economic, and sociocultural.
      If we ask ourselves to define our own personal values, then we may also be asking ourselves to name those things that we most value and consider most important. Some common (and perhaps very conventional) responses to the question of what might be the most important qualities or ideals to value include: unselfish service to others, personal commitment to others, personal growth, personal freedom, financial success, financial independence, professional advancement, intellectual stimulation, physical health and fitness, stable personal relationships, satisfying love relationships, avoidance of stress, and avoidance of interpersonal conflicts.
      Moral values may be principles or ideals revealed by intuition, reasoning, feeling, judgment, and conduct. They may include truthfulness, honesty, sincerity, trustworthiness, love, commitment, forgiveness, compassion, and humility.
      Aesthetic values may be formal, non-formal (content-related), creative, and/or interpretive in nature, and they may include such ideals as beauty, sublimity, eloquence, originality, expressiveness, insightfulness, spontaneity, harmony, unity, and structural integrity.
      Social values may include such standards or ideals as freedom of expression, freedom of speech, equal civil and legal rights, equal opportunity for political participation, equal protection under the law, compliance with the rule of law, fairness, justice, protection of human rights, concern for the common good, eradication of disease and poverty, mutual respect and tolerance, and promotion of social harmony and well-being.
      Cultural values may include family values, social class values, peer group values, ethnic group values, religious values, institutional values, corporate values, political party values, and national values.
      Cross-cultural values (those shared by individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds) may transcend cultural differences, and may establish a foundation for intercultural understanding and cooperation.
      Value bearers may include such things as objects, properties, modes (or tropes), relations, acts, aims, purposes, functions, methods, and procedures. Many kinds of things may therefore have value or be valued.
       Objects that may be valued include natural or artificial objects, concrete or abstract objects, and real or imaginary objects. Examples of abstract objects that may be valued include ideas, theories, and concepts. Examples of imaginary objects that may be valued include imaginary situations, imagined states of mind, fictional stories, and imaginary worlds.
      Many kinds of value may belong to an object and may contribute to the value of that object (e.g. an object’s moral value may contribute to its aesthetic value, and its social value may contribute to its cultural value).
      Value theory may be explored and investigated by such disciplines as ethics, aesthetics, political philosophy, (moral, political, social, and cognitive) psychology, sociology, and economics.
      Value theory is normative insofar as it is concerned with what things we should value and with why and how we should value those things. It is also normative insofar as it is concerned with the kinds of value that are appropriate to assign to things.
      Value theory is metanormative insofar as it is concerned with the nature of value and with the intuitive and cognitive processes involved in making value judgments.1
       Value theory is descriptive insofar as it is describes methods of valuing things and ways in which things may be valued. It is also descriptive insofar as it describes the attributes that may give value to things. It is also descriptive insofar as it describes the relations between different kinds of value(s), and the relations between different ways of valuing things.
      Value theory is comparative insofar as it is compares the values of things and the ways or methods of valuing things.
      Values may be intrinsic or extrinsic, formal or non-formal, material or non-material, essential or non-essential, abstract or concrete, theoretical or practical. Values may also be relational or non-relational, structural or non-structural, natural or conventional, individual or collective, relative or absolute, real or ideal.
      Some things may have both intrinsic and extrinsic (instrumental) value, formal and non-formal (content-related) value, material and non-material value, and so on.
      Value intrinsicalism may emphasize the importance of intrinsic value, while value extrinsicalism may emphasize the importance of extrinsic value. Similarly, value formalism may emphasize the importance of formal value, while value non-formalism may emphasize the importance of non-formal value.
      The term “epistemic value” may be used in a number of ways. It may be used to describe the truth-value of a proposition (e.g. true propositions have a truth-value of “true,” while false propositions have a truth-value of “false”). It may also be used to describe the value of knowledge as opposed to the value of mere true belief, on the assumption that knowledge has a greater epistemic value than mere true belief, because of the objective certainty of knowledge as opposed to the objective uncertainty of mere true belief. It may also be used to describe the value of knowing the truth of a given proposition or set of propositions. It may also be used to describe the degree to which belief in the truth of a given proposition provides knowledge of the truth of that proposition. Thus, there may be several kinds of epistemic value.
      If some true propositions are truer than others, then some true propositions may have greater truth-value than others. However, if all true propositions are equally true, then all true propositions may have the same truth-value.
      Linda Zagzebski (2004) raises the question of whether a false belief may be epistemically valuable if it arises from an intellectually virtuous performance on the part of the believer, even though that performance has produced a false belief. However, she notes that if the epistemic value of a belief is considered to be derived solely from the truth of that belief, then we are still left to solve the problem of where the epistemic value of a false belief can come from.2 Zagzebski describes epistemic value monism as the theory that the truth of a belief, or of knowledge, is the only source of its epistemic value. Epistemic value pluralism is the theory that the epistemic value of a belief, or of knowledge, may be derived from sources other than truth.
      Thomas A. Schwandt (2007) explains that epistemic values may include not only truth, but also objectivity, consistency, testability, and reliability, and that epistemic values may be distinguished from non-epistemic values (such as moral, aesthetic, and social values).3
      Value judgments may include moral, aesthetic, social, and other kinds of judgments. They may be based on the intrinsic merit or lack of merit of something, or on the formal, material, theoretical, or practical consequence of something.
      Value systems may be moral, aesthetic, religious, or sociocultural in nature. They may belong to individuals, groups, and/or whole societies.
      Conflicts between groups having differing value systems may sometimes be bitter, violent, and intractable. Political and ideological conflicts may sometimes be based on conflicts of values. Solutions to such conflicts may depend in part on whether the opposing groups persist in, or refrain from, attempting to impose their value systems on each other.
      An individual’s personal values may be shaped by her personality traits, personal experiences, personal relationships, upbringing, family background, friends, teachers, educational background, professional background, religious background, social background, and exposure to individuals of other ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds.
      Personal value systems may include personal, group, community, and societal values, and they may reflect personal, group, community, and societal perceptions.
      Group value systems may allow for some differences among the value systems of members of a given group, as long as the value systems of those members are compatible with the group's value system. If the value systems of some members begin to deviate significantly from, or become incompatible with, a group's value system, then the group may have several options: (1) it may simply ignore the deviant members, (2) it may attempt to marginalize them, while still recognizing them as group members (although in name only), (3) it may attempt to persuade them to conform more closely to the group's value system, (4) it may attempt to accommodate them by adapting or modifying the group's value system, or (5) it may attempt to reaffirm the group's value system by disciplining the deviant members or terminating their group membership. In some cases, a group may have to choose between retaining its (moral, religious, political, or social) identity and retaining the membership of deviant members; the expulsion of those members may be the only way for it to preserve its identity, principles, and integrity. In other cases, the attempt to reaffirm group values by disciplining or expelling deviant members may be merely an exercise in reiteration of a value system whose logical and moral justification has not been clearly and thoroughly reflected upon.
      Value systems may vary in their degree of coherence, consistency, uniformity, cohesiveness, flexibility, and adaptability to various situations. They may or may not overlap, and they may or may not be comparable to, or commensurable with, one another. Commensurable systems may be measurable by the same standard, while incommensurable systems may not.
      Mathematical values may include arithmetic, algebraic, geometric, and other kinds of values. 
      Numerical values may be arranged in increasing or decreasing order so that the higher or lower the value, the higher or lower its position in the order. Numerical values may also be placed in random order, so that the highness or lowness of a given value has no effect on its position in the order.
      Economic values may include monetary, commercial, financial, and market values.
      To what kinds of things or entities is it appropriate (or inappropriate) to assign a monetary value? What kinds of entities cannot rightly be bought or sold? Michael Walzer (1983) says there are some things that money can’t buy or shouldn’t be able to buy, and he proposes the following list of entities that shouldn’t be for sale: (1) human beings, (2) political power and influence, (3) justice, (4) freedom of speech, press, religion, and assembly, (5) marriage rights, (6) the right to emigrate, (7) exemptions from community imposed service, such as exemptions from military service and jury duty, (8) election or appointment to political office, (9) basic welfare services, such as public education, police protection, and other basic services, (10) minimum welfare standards, such as minimum wage laws, basic health standards, and safety regulations, (11) prizes and honors of various sorts, (12) divine grace (through the sale of indulgences), (13) love and friendship, and (14) products that are illegal to produce, buy, or sell, such as unsafe or dangerous products, stolen goods, and fraudulently marketed products.4
      To this list of entities that shouldn’t be for sale may be added such entities as human life, human tissue, and human organs.
      Our moral, aesthetic, religious, and social values may enable us to define ourselves, and our freedom to define our values may also be our freedom to define ourselves as human beings.
      Our values may to some extent be instilled or inculcated by others or may be informed and influenced by others (such as parents, friends, teachers, and those whom we view as role models), but we may also adopt our own values, based on our own preferences, desires, attitudes, and experiences.
      The value of a particular object for a person may in some cases be determined by that person’s preference for that object as opposed to other objects, and it may also in some cases be determined by a negotiation or bargaining process between that person and other persons or groups, through a sale, auction, lottery, or other market mechanism. In other cases, the value of an object may be arbitrarily determined by producers and sellers, or it may be determined by fixed pricing, or it may be determined by price controls on the part of government regulatory authorities. In still other cases, the value of an object may simply be determined by the current price of that object; the value of the object for a person (group, community, or society) may be the same as what it currently costs to buy the object or the same as what it currently costs to produce and sell the object. The value of any particular object, however, may never be completely or permanently fixed and stable.
      Precise estimations of the value of an object may not always be possible. Some objects may have an easily discoverable and determinable value, while others may not. Some objects may have a well-known and commonly acknowledged value, while others may not. Some objects may be worthless, while others may be of extraordinary or amazing value. Some objects may transcend valuation and be invaluable or beyond value.
      Valuation of an object may be performed with varying degrees of care, thoroughness, accuracy, and consistency, depending on the circumstances and the needs, interests, aptitudes, disposition, and knowledge of the person or group performing the valuation. Analytical skills as well as careful examination and practical experience may be necessary in order to perform accurate and reliable valuation of various objects, relations, properties, and modes (or ways of being).


1William K. Frankena, “Value and Valuation,” in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Paul Edwards, Volume 8 (New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1967), p. 231.
2Linda Zagzebski, “Epistemic Value Monism,” in Ernest Sosa: And His Critics, edited by John Greco (Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2004), p. 193.
3Thomas A. Schwandt, The SAGE Dictionary of Qualitative Inquiry, Third Edition (Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc., 2007), p. 10.
4Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality (Basic Books, 1983), pp. 11-103

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Will the Truth Always Set You Free?

A biblical argument for the liberating power of truth is that if you live in (listen to, obey) the Word of God, then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31). If you commit sin, then you will be a slave to sin (8:34), but if you live in the Word of God, then you will no longer be a slave to sin, because you will live in truth, and the truth will set you free.
      It may perhaps be argued to the contrary, however, that the discovery of truth may in some cases be very distressing and painful to us, and that we may experience the discovery of truth as oppressive, rather than liberating. Our discovery of a troubling, disquieting, or disturbing truth may in some cases lead us to regret having discovered it. We may regret having allowed ourselves to be deceived or misled by someone we trusted. We may blame ourselves or feel humiliated for having mistakenly trusted someone we thought we could trust.
      Discovering the truth may also in some cases lead us to become more aware of our being used and manipulated by someone or our being subjugated and oppressed by something beyond our control. In such cases, we may not perceive this awareness as liberating. We may rather perceive it as painful, discouraging, heartbreaking, or overwhelming.
      The truth may not set us free if the truth we are compelled to accept is a conventional, (inter)subjective, dogmatic, or propagandistic truth that we may not necessarily accept as our own. What is (inter)subjectively or conventionally true for and assumed by others (for example, that personal success is defined by the accumulation of money, prestige, and power) may not necessarily be true for and assumed by us, and we may therefore not feel liberated by being compelled to accept such (inter)subjective truths and conventional assumptions.
      Having always to tell the truth may also not set us free if there are cases in which it is morally better not to tell the truth (or at least not the whole truth). Having to always tell the (whole) truth may hinder our moral freedom if we encounter cases in which it is morally better not to tell the (whole) truth.
      The truth may also not set us free if whatever we thought was true turns out to be false. Some purported or supposed truths may not turn out to be actual truths. Some statements that appear to be true at first glance may not turn out to be true on final analysis.
      The truth may not always set us free if freedom is defined merely as the freedom to act in whatever way we choose, regardless of the moral and practical consequences of our actions. However, freedom to act in whatever way we choose may not be true moral freedom, which may involve the freedom to act morally and responsibly, with regard for the moral and practical consequences of our actions.
      In some cases, discovering the truth may lead to us to recognize that we have many (moral, social, professional, and public) obligations to fulfill in order to respond appropriately to knowing the truth. While our moral freedom may be defined by our awareness of, and compliance with, our moral obligations, we may sometimes be intimidated, disheartened, or dismayed by the number, extent, and stringency of those obligations. We may not always feel as if we are freer after discovering the truth than we were before discovering the truth and recognizing the number and extent of our obligations.
      There may, of course, be many counter-arguments (some more religiously dogmatic or fundamentalist than others) to these arguments against the liberating power of truth. The counter-argument may be made, for example, that discovering the truth is always better than not discovering it, regardless of the pain or suffering that discovering the truth may sometimes involve, because only by discovering the truth can we become morally and spiritually free. Another such argument is that knowing what is morally right may be a condition for acting morally (e.g. the "knowledge is virtue" argument). Another such argument is that only by being committed to truth and justice can we promote social harmony and well-being.