A Curious Quest for Absolute Truth

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Just ask Eleanor Bobbin. First Edition November 40 pages, 6. ISBN In , when the world was askew and getting askewer every day, Sharon Mehdi wrote a little story about two grandmothers who stood in the park to save the world.

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It sold many thousands of copies and was translated into half a dozen languages. In the story, she quoted the words of a beloved Karuk medicine man named Charlie Red Hawk Thom: "Men have taken the world as far as they can. It's up to the women to take us the rest of the way. Now, as we approach , the world is once again askew.

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More than ever we need the grandmothers, their daughters and their granddaughters. When Sharon Mehdi was six she heard for the first time the word immortal, and on its heels, eternal and infinite. Unfortunately, many philosophers doubt whether an acceptable explanation of facts and correspondence can be given. Facts, as they point out, are strange entities.

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It is tempting to think of them as structures or arrangements of things in the world. However, as the Austrian-born philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein observed, structures have spatial locations, but facts do not. Thus, there is no enterprise of first forming a belief or theory about some matter and then in some new process stepping outside the belief or theory to assess whether it corresponds with the facts.

There are, indeed, processes of checking and verifying beliefs, but they work by bringing up further beliefs and perceptions and assessing the original in light of those.


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In actual investigations, what tells people what to believe is not the world or the facts but how they interpret the world or select and conceptualize the facts. Starting in the midth century, this line of criticism led some philosophers to think that they should concentrate on larger theories, rather than sentences or assertions taken one at a time. An individual belief in such a system is true if it sufficiently coheres with, or makes rational sense within, enough other beliefs; alternatively, a belief system is true if it is sufficiently internally coherent.

Such were the views of the British idealists , including F. Bradley and H.

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A Curious Quest for Absolute Truth

Joachim, who, like all idealists, rejected the existence of mind-independent facts against which the truth of beliefs could be determined see also realism: realism and truth. Yet coherentism too seems inadequate, since it suggests that human beings are trapped in the sealed compartment of their own beliefs, unable to know anything of the world beyond.

Moreover, as the English philosopher and logician Bertrand Russell pointed out, nothing seems to prevent there being many equally coherent but incompatible belief systems. Yet at best only one of them can be true. Some theorists have suggested that belief systems can be compared in pragmatic or utilitarian terms.

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According to this idea, even if many different systems can be internally coherent, it is likely that some will be much more useful than others. Thus, one can expect that, in a process akin to Darwinian natural selection , the more useful systems will survive while the others gradually go extinct. For decades, psychological studies have shown that conservatives are especially afraid of uncertainty and threat, and so crave the order and structure that firm boundaries provide. You are not adrift in a sea of moral chaos.

Though Republicans have had the most success with such language in recent decades, Democrats are eagerly trying to catch up. And they have a rich tradition to draw on. Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D.

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Roosevelt were no more ashamed to assert their Christian faith in the public sphere than is Barack Obama. The historian of conservative thought Corey Robin points out that the conservative quest for limits and structure becomes, inevitably, an insistence on hierarchies.


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If it is safer inside the walls than outside, where danger lurks, then inside is clearly superior to outside. But the demand for hierarchy has a larger impact on politics. A leader who cannot or will not protect religion appears too weak to protect us from the dangers of the unknown in this age of uncertainty and blurred boundaries. Those who feel plagued by the fear of uncertainty will grasp at any issue that comes along if it offers another opportunity to draw firm boundaries.


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