Four Concepts of Truth

02.24.2013, 1:28 PM

What is driving today’s culture wars?   Religion?  Political manipulations?  Sincere disagreements over important issues?

Yes, all of these factors are important.  But there is another one as well, and it’s the underlying differences in our concepts of truth. 

What are truth’s qualities?  Can we know what is true?  If so, how?  In this post, hoping for your feedback, I want at least to begin to adumbrate four at least partially competing concepts of truth. 

1.         Truth is one and is known.

In this conception, all of life’s important questions can be asked, and for each question, there is one (and only one) true answer. More fundamentally, truth in this conception is a coherent unity existing on one plane.  That is, all of the particular “pieces” of truth fit together perfectly, like pieces of an intricate jig-saw puzzle, ultimately comprising one clear and well-ordered image of the good – one unified portrait of truth that pertains to all people in all situations at all times. In this conception, therefore, truth is both intrinsic and objective. What isn’t truth, is error. 

The methodological procedure most suited for this conception of truth is deductive reasoning. That is, from certain true statements, I can proceed logically to certain necessarily true implications; and given a true premise, I can logically reach certain necessarily true conclusions.  Therefore, starting from certain fundamental or revealed truths, I as the truth-seeker can proceed logically outward and downward (“truth flows downhill”), eventually building a complex and seamless system of interlocking definitions, premises, and conclusions about all of life’s main questions.

2.         Truth is one and can be known.

In this conception of truth, just as in our first, truth in principle is one, universal, and accessible to all; truth is intrinsic and objective, such that the only categories are truth and error; and each bit of truth fits smoothly into a larger coherent pattern, again like pieces of a jig-saw puzzle, ultimately producing one unified and universally applicable portrait of truth.   

But in this conception, we don’t already know the truth.  Instead, we are diligently looking for it, like explorers looking for gold, or scientists in a lab. We don’t yet have the problem all worked out – there is still considerable confusion, disagreement, and clouded perception – but we know, we have faith, that if we try hard enough and long enough, we will win the prize and finally know what is true. We’ll find the gold.   

The methodological procedure most suited for this conception of truth is inductive reasoning. That is, we start from small observable facts, and proceed incrementally outward and upward, piling up fact upon fact, until the weight of evidence leads us to certain empirically valid generalizations.  Eventually in this way, the truth-seeker builds up a body of truth, similar to the way that a brick-layer constructs a wall – that is, layer by layer, with each layer resting securely on top of the layers that came before. 

 3.         Truth is romantic.

In our first two conceptions, truth comes mainly from reason. But in the conception of truth as romantic, truth is larger and more powerful than reason alone and is not constrained by it.  In this conception, we find the truth from our whole selves – our desires and intuitions, our thoughts, our dreams, our bonds with others, our needs, our history and our entire personality. We come to know that some things are simply too beautiful to be untrue.  We come to know that some things are too important or too needful or too primitively potent to be untrue.

This conception of truth breaks decisively with the claims of universality and objectivity.  It does not claim that there is one objectively true answer to each question, and it does not claim that all true answers fit together into one harmonious pattern of truth. Quite the contrary! In this way of knowing, what was once objective becomes subjective, and what was once whole and universal becomes partial and particular. 

For these reasons, truth in this conception is no longer like a jig-saw puzzle, in which all answers fit together into one, but instead more like a brilliant painting on a canvas or a beautiful poem on a page, bursting particular declarations of human passion and power.   

4.         Truth is plural.    

The fundamental premise of the conception of truth as plural is a kind of philosophical negation, or what might be called epistemological realism or modesty.  The conception of truth as plural rejects the (in its view, pretentious) idea that the philosopher, like the person completing a jig-saw puzzle, can fit every important true thing about the universe into one harmonious whole.  Instead, in this conception the truth-seeker accepts both the reality and legitimacy of values pluralism – the notion that, within certain (and debatable) ranges, there are, among persons of rational capacity and good will, inescapably diverse and at times conflicting understandings of what is good and what is true; and that, absent the resort by society to violence and coercion, these divergent views do not and likely will never fit together into a harmonious pattern in which every aspect of truth  reinforces and is reinforced by all the other aspects.  

Accordingly, in this way of knowing, a good question is usually better than a final answer; and in this epistemology we find a consistent emphasis on argument (that always leads to more argument) and on engagement (that always leads to more engagement). For these reasons, truth in this conception is neither like a jig-saw puzzle that is painstakingly assembled, or like a painting or poem that potently declares itself for itself, but instead more like of those Alexander Calder mobiles, with their multiple parts that can variously turn and spin and tilt and shimmer in relationship to one another, such that in principle no two views of the mobile are exactly the same.      

 Therefore What?

Of course, these four proposed concepts are only ideal types. Real life is obviously more messy and heterodox than these stiff categorizations would imply.  Many individuals, for example, mix and mingle these conceptions in their own journeys, seeming  to partake of more than one of them.   

My current obsession with this issue stems largely from my wrestling with the issue of gay marriage.   From day one, my philosophical approach to the issue – both earlier, when I opposed gay marriage, and now, when I favor it – is what I (drawing on others) call “goods in conflict,” which fundamentally partakes of the view that truth is plural. 

That is, I saw and still see the truth that marriage, more than any other arrangement, vitalizes the bonds between children and their biological parents and reflects institutionally the dual (male-female) origin of the human child.  At the same time, I saw and still see the truth that homosexual conduct is benign and that homosexual love is equal in dignity to heterosexual love.  I believed and continue to believe that, especially in the context of our current U.S.debate, these two truths – these two legitimate and to me compelling claims of what is good and what is true – cannot be fully reconciled.  At least to some degree, they conflict. Thus the term “goods in conflict.”   

But for me, working in this epistemological vineyard got confusing and at times depressing.  When I opposed gay marriage, I could find hardly a soul on my side who agreed with my view that truth is plural.  I’d ask those who are now my former comrades:  Do you have any doubt at all on this issue?  Do you see even one good argument on the other side?  The answers were No and No.  Hell, no. Absolutely not.     

Now that I favor gay marriage, it’s the same thing.  I ask my current comrades:  Do you believe that your argument has any weaknesses?  Is there even one valid reason to oppose gay marriage? The answers come back the same:  No.  Hell, no. Absolutely not. What category, then, are my new comrades in?  Do they believe, with philosophical liberals like me, that truth is plural?  Or do they, pretty much exactly like their opponents in the marriage debate, believe that truth is one and that what’s not truth, is error?  The apparent answer to this question worries me.     

For these and other reasons, I give it over to you, kind readers.  What do you make of my descriptions of these four concepts?  Are they accurate?  Fair-minded?  What’s missing?  What needs to be added?  Corrected?  Once we get the descriptions right, we can proceed to evaluating the significance of these concepts in today’s culture wars and arguing over which one is the most … true.


50 Responses to “Four Concepts of Truth”

  1. Anna Cook says:

    A thoughtful enumeration, David. I’ll have to think upon these ways of knowing, and consider how they might shape or influence the debate over same-sex couples’ inclusion in marriage law.

    I was waiting for — and rather surprised not to find — “Truth is one, and cannot be known.” Perhaps you would place this formulation under the “Truth is plural” heading, or the “can be known” heading, since in many ways the outcome of that stance matches both of these. Yet I think it’s somewhat distinct.

    The Christian theological perspective on Truth (and truths) which always appealed most to me, when I was more actively exploring Christian theology and ethics in college — and one which still heavily influences my spiritual and moral practice to this day — is the notion that Truth may be known by [insert supernatural / metaphysical force here], and does tangibly exist in the universe, something to strive toward perhaps, but which we will will never fully grasp. We will forever see “through a glass darkly.”

    In this view, human beings live with the paradoxical tension that there may be a Truth (moral, sometimes physical) out there in the universe, but it is one which we will never fully know. We are left, therefore, as seekers: falling back on humility and discernment, doing out best to live ethically, all the while knowing that there will be some questions to which we will never have definitive (i.e. Truthful) answers. We are left, therefore, to fall back on small-t “truths” in plural, making a case for why our chosen truth(s) might best approximate the capital-T truth, while leaving room for the potentiality that we are wrong (and while remaining open to the possibility of change over time).

  2. Kevin says:

    David, I have to confess to being baffled at your explanation about these “competing truths” or “goods in conflict” with regard to same-sex marriage. We are not arguing whether to have only legal different-sex marriage OR only legal same-sex marriage, but rather, whether to legalize same-sex marriage, which is mostly illegal. This is not a mutually exclusive “either/or” situation, where one group is going to come up empty-handed, or suffer a loss.

    When same-sex marriage is legal, straight couples are still allowed to get married, and their marriages are no more and no less worthy than before. No one is taking anything away from straight people as individuals or as couples. Straight people suffer no loss when gay people are allowed to marry, and in fact are free to continue to believe that that marriage has to be between only a man and a woman; they just won’t have the government enforcing their belief on everyone else, just as Mormons have to accept that the government isn’t going to outlaw coffee because it offends Mormon sensibilities regarding caffeine.

    Conversely, gay people most certainly suffer multiples losses, across various social, legal and moral paradigms, when they can’t marry. Children being raised by same-sex couples are also victims and I think this gets ignored far too much. I think the US Supreme Court recognizes this concept of tangible loss, and is questioning whether supporters of Prop 8 even have standing to defend it in court: they suffer no harm when gay couples can call themselves married, just like straight couples.

    If this were really a conflict of goods, then gay marriage opponents would filing lawsuits in states where same-sex marriage is legal, eager to demonstrate the “losses” they’ve suffered in places where same-sex marriage is legal. I know of not one such lawsuit, despite all the predictions of dire consequences if and when same-sex marriage is legalized. I find it morally troubling to equate the discomfort some people feel about change, or with not getting the government to enforce their orthodoxy, with the real and substantive denigration of an already marginalized minority group (and their kids!) if change doesn’t happen.

    But, to pay respect to your concept of productive doubt, perhaps I’ve misunderstood what you mean by “conflict of goods.” I’m reading into that a notion of moral equivalence between the two sides that’s simply doesn’t exist.

  3. Anna Cook:

    Thank you. That is really wonderful, and beautifully expressed. I can see now that it’s really its own concept, not a sub-category of one of the others.

    Kevin:

    I get it that you see no good arguments on the other side. Believe me, I get it! I didn’t really didn’t hope, myself, to use this thread to re-litigate the gay marriage issue as much as to invite discussion of the larger issue of competing conceptions of truth.

  4. Mark Diebel says:

    You are saying and asking a lot of things! You are not asking, what is the truth of something specific and how do you find it. There are a lot of practices, skills and experience needed for different things. Where is San Francisco? What is the distance to the Sun? What is the idea Goethe was getting at in his theory of color? What is the true social ordering of marriage? All of these require different skills to answer, if they can be answered at all.

    One thing missing in above is what practices or sets of abilities is needed for a person to learn the truth about anything. Irrespective of what is truth is believed to be, truth may be something specific or diverse; but that has not be determined at the very outset. What truth is must be a question and how it may be pursued or discovered is another necessary part of the discussion always keeping in mind that it is very easy to get off the tracks in our thinking about truth.

    A classic example of getting off track in logical thinking is the old Zeno paradox: walking to a door, we must walk half way, then half again, then half of that and so on, so that logically we have an infinite progression of halves and we never arrive at the door because a finite being cannot complete an infinite number of steps. But in reality we do. Logic doesn’t necessarily lead us to the truth. Logic can steer us away from reality. We have to keep reality in mind as we ask about the truth of something particular.

    There is something more. Do all truths matter? I want an orange, but the world is ending. Someone has hold of a truth but in the larger scheme of things does it really matter? Are there really important truths and not so important truths? And how do we discover the difference?

  5. Kevin says:

    Well you said you were struggling with a framework for truth because of the issue of same-sex marriage creates a conflict of goods. I was addressing the conflict of goods part, explaining that same-sex marriage isn’t a conflict of goods, because there isn’t a zero-sum game involved: only one side suffers harm, or benefit, if a particular outcome occurs. But I guess the issues of “what is truth” still resonate beyond the specific issue of same-sex marriage.

  6. Greg Popcak says:

    These are terrific questions. I appreciate you proposing them. I also appreciated Anna’s comments, although my experience of Christian epistemology is a bit more confident than hers. Certainly, because of human weakness, it is difficult to find the truth, but God, in his mercy, makes it possible to discover truth. Otherwise, how could he make himself and his intentions known to us. A God who allows truth to be completely obscured is a clockwork God, not an incarnate one–i.e., one who has intimately united himself to nature for all eternity.

    I have two thoughts that I would like to submit for your consideration.

    First, one of the major goals of the Christianity and Society class I teach is to attempt to present purely secular arguments for traditional Christian positions. One question I address is, “Why should anyone listen to the Church? Or what could the Church possibly know about truth?”

    You are obviously aware of qualitative methodology and how qualitative studies are validated–through triangulation, richness of data, and by the quality of your sample (although representative samples are less important in qualitative research, having demographic depth and breadth in your sample certainly helps).

    One way to think of “religions” is to think of them as longitudinal qualitative research projects who are attempting to answer the fundamental questions of human existence. We can (and should) evaluate the truth claims of various religions using the same methods that we evaluate/criticis the validity of any qualitative research project. How long has the data been being gathered? What is the depth and breadth of the sample that has participated in the discussion of the research questions? What is the richness of the data and the consistency of the themes that have emerged from the discussions?

    I would argue that, seen from this perspective, Catholicism has the clearest perspective on the question, “What is truth?” Here’s why.

    1. Length of data gathering– A two-thousand year old conversation is hard to argue with. If you know anything about the development of doctrine, you know that contrary to popular opinion, it isn’t handed down from on high. It emerges from systematic discussions that go on for centuries in some cases and, in almost every case involve the whole world.

    One might counter that Judaism (circa, 1900 BCE), Buddhism (500BCE), or Hinduism (depending on how you trace it, about 1000 BCE) also have a good case to be made here (Islam is, historically speaking, a new kid on the block, beginning with Muhammad in about 600 CE). And while they are reasonable contenders, there are other problems with their data that must be considered.

    2. Triangulation/Depth and Breadth of Sample.

    This is really where Catholicism shines. It is the only one of our contenders that is not overly geographically or culturally bound. Judaism’s search for truth is limited to the chosen people. Historically, there is very little interest in engaging in a dialog with peoples outside of itself. Same with Islam, only moreso. Buddhism has certainly spread throughout the west, but that is a recent occurrence, say the last 200 years if we are generous). It’s truth claims were well-established by the time it was introduced more broadly. Hinduism suffers here too because of how culturally and geographically bound it is. It has very little appeal outside of certain ethnic groups.

    Only Catholicism can legitimately assert that its truth claims–doctrines–were the result of centuries long discussions/arguments with the entire known world, and these truth claims have continued to be tested and found valid over time and across cultures. In fact, these truth claims have been found so solid, that they serve as the foundation for the vast majority of the things we take for granted not in just Western Civilization, but what is considered civilization anywhere.

    Likewise, while there are professionals who arbitrate these truth claims (bishops and priests serve a similar function as journal editors/peer-review boards in this regard) they do not pronounce the truth claims out of thin air. They facilitate and arbitrate–very much like peer-review boards and journal editors. (And not to be triumphalistic, but while we’re at it, Protestantism suffers because of both its realtive youth and because it tends to get rid of our metaphorical journal editors and peer-review boards).

    3. Richness of the data– Here again, Catholicism comes out strong. It is certainly possible to argue with the Church’s conclusions, but it is harder to dispute the methodology and the fact that the truth claims that support doctrines emerged out of themes that have repeated themselves again and again over centruries and across cultures. ANY social science researcher would kill to have data like this to plug into ATLAS. It is by the strength of these emerging themes across cultures and time that the Church asserts that its teachings are true–combined with the fact that the Church is open to truth where it may be found (i.e., triangulation) in other “conversations” (i.e. other qualitative research projects aka religions and sciences). Contrary to popular, ignorant, opinion, the Church’s positions are not simply rooted in revelation. Although revelation certainly plays a role, the Church always insists that revelation has to be tested in the qualitative laboratory of human experience (and often, in the quanitative lab as well, which is why it invented so many of the hard sciences) and time before it is validated and pronounced upon (that’s why the Church distinguishes between “private” (i.e., untested) revelation and revelation that is doctrine). There is simply no other religion that comes to its truth claims the same way. See Rodney Stark’s, The Victory of Reason.

    Whatever you think of Catholicism’s truth claims, their qualitative methodology is the most rigorous of all world religions, philosophies, or even academic systems of truth gathering. Therefore, the conclusion must be respected and even considered true–or at least as close to truth as we can get in the social sciences– since these truth claims represent the most rigorous , qualitative search for truth undertaken by anybody, any instititution (religious or not), and at any time.

    There are other points that fit into this argument, but I’ve gone on too long already.

    For a more classical, but still enlightening perspective on the Catholic view of the quest for truth, I would recommend Pope John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_15101998_fides-et-ratio_en.html

    Followed by Pope Benedict’s Caritas in Veritate. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate_en.html

  7. Greg Popcak says:

    My second thought.

    You mention that you have thought of the question of gay marriage as one of competing goods. Another way to phrase that statement is to say that you see them as equivalent truths.

    If that is, in fact, how you see things (and I apologize if I misread you), then I might suggest that it might be helpful to remember that even when two things are true, they are not necessarily equivalent. There is such a thing as a hierarchy of truth.

    A hierarchy of truth doesn’t mean that some things are more true than others. It means that some truths are dependent upon other truths.

    For example. It is true that all people have a right to have their needs considered and met. BUT that truth is subject to another truth; that the needs of those who cannot meet their own needs must take precedence of those who can.

    Therefore, when the needs of the infirm, or the disabled, or a child, conflict with the needs of a healthy. capable, adult, the needs of the infirm, disabled, or child must take precedence or they are forced to suffer and are incapable to doing anything to resolve their suffering.

    If this order is not respected then what results is a society that is inherently unjust, because it is a society that agrees that the needs of the more powerful (the healthy, the able-bodied, and the adult) are more true simply because these groups are more capable of asserting them.

    That is, essentially, why I, and people like me, can never support the new conversation on marriage. The new conversation is inherently unjust. It allows power to decide whose truths are more important. The homosexual lobby is more powerful than the voice of children so it wins and children lose–or are forced to take second prize.

    The person of character must be willing to speak the truth to power. Not go along with the more powerful in the hope the some version of truth might be served, which is exactly what this new conversation is attempting to do.

    Greater clarity comes from appreciating that there must be a hierarchy of truths, not just a competition among equally valid truths. When the latter exists, it is power, not truth that will always win.

  8. mythago says:

    I wonder why Greg’s anti-Semitism is never in violation of the site’s civility policy.

  9. Hector_St_Clare says:

    Greg Popcak,

    While I’m not Catholic, you do raise an excellent point about comparative religions and about how we can balance their truth claims. I don’t come to the same conclusion as you, of course (I’m Anglican) but the question ‘Which religion is the best, and the most true?” is a worthwhile question to ask. Certainly, the cultural-liberal approach of treating every religion as equally valid won’t fly.

    I’d point out that one of the great advantages Christianity holds over those other contenders- Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism etc.- is that it relies not on ancient myths, but on historical documents written down in exceptional detail, by people quite close to the events (I’d argue, in several cases, by eyewitnesses, but that’s a separate argument). The evidence for Christianity is much better than for these other faiths.

  10. fannie says:

    David,

    Ever since I read your book The Future of Marriage, I’ve always appreciated your way of articulating the same-sex marriage debate as one of goods in conflict.

    I find it unfortunate that that way of thinking about the debate is not more widely appreciated. And, I wonder if part of the reason for that is because the US is a very binary, dualistic society politically-speaking where grey areas are not readily recognized (let alone doubt or uncertainty).

    In my experience, many people in reality are more nuanced than being strictly liberal or conservative (or Democrat or Republican), but it also seems like people have a lot invested in these labels, perhaps because of our lack of other politically-viable options. So, making even small concessions, like the fact that maybe our political opponents might have some good (or, at least what they believe are good) reasons for believing what they believe, seems like giving away too much.

    It’s as though some people refuse to concede one small truth on the other side because that might result in a series of one’s own bigger “truths” tumbling down- such as the notion that maybe same-sex marriage won’t destroy society, or maybe not everyone who opposes same-sex marriage is a gay-bashing bigot.

  11. Diane M says:

    1. I would add “Truth is one, but can not be fully known by humans.”

    With this view, you search constantly and are humble, but at the same time you think that there is only on truth.

    2. Re: “romantic” truth – I don’t think this is necessarily true: “It does not claim that there is one objectively true answer to each question, and it does not claim that all true answers fit together into one harmonious pattern of truth.”

    I am reading this to be akin to mystical truth. Some mystics have a vision or apprehension of one whole. It’s not found by reasoning, but it doesn’t have to mean that there is no universal truth.

    3. I think you could believe in goods in conflict and still believe in an objective truth. Let’s say it is objectively true that I should care for and nurture my children and that it is objectively true that I should make myself happy and fulfilled. Sometimes those goals will work together well and sometimes they won’t. Sometimes it will be obvious which is more important, but not always. I’m not sure if I think at any given moment it will be possible to say that objectively, today I should have ignored my kids and gone for a walk and tomorrow I should play a board game with them. Still, overall, it could be that objectively I should balance their needs with mine. Just thinking here, I hope it makes sense.

    4. I don’t think agreeing on epistemology is going to help us solve the culture wars. :-)

  12. Hector_St_Clare says:

    Re: I wonder why Greg’s anti-Semitism is never in violation of the site’s civility policy.

    Uh, there wasn’t anything anti-semitic in his post.

    Back to the main topic: I think those first three conceptions of truth all have something to them, but obviously ‘Truth is plural’ doesn’t make sense.

  13. ki sarita says:

    I read greg’s treatise not so much anti semitic as ignorant- almost wilfully so- of the form of “dialogue” engaged in by the Catholic church for centuries. One need not even look at the Jews- we need go no further than galileo.

    Actually Jews did proselytise before Islam and Christianity arose to state power and outlawed it! This history in no small part informs the Jewish aversion to proselytization. Which in my opinion is a good thing. In this light, I find it offensive when anyone of any religion invites themselves to lecture about the superiority of their religion, in a forum not explicitly and openly devoted to such dialogue.

  14. Manny says:

    I think the ultimate good in conflict are: eradicating disease and genetic unfairness, conflicting with equality and equal rights and human dignity. Having children in conflict with being a child. I think children deserve a right to have children, even if they aren’t perfect, and we don’t have a right to be perfect or omni-sexual. Men don’t have a right to be women, men have a right to be men, women don’t have a right to be men, women have a right to be women. Everyone has a right to be the sex they most likely would be able to have a child as if they were able to naturally. And to not be the other sex, no one should not have a right to be their sex and only their sex, no one should be confused into abandoning their sex.

    One of the truths should be that humans are like most species and reproduce sexually, and individuals are one sex and not the other and need to come together with someone of the other sex for life to continue.

  15. La Lubu says:

    Only Catholicism can legitimately assert that its truth claims–doctrines–were the result of centuries long discussions/arguments with the entire known world….

    Except for the female half. Taking that into consideration, the best thing we can say about Catholicism is that it is incomplete. You also appear to have an unorthodox definition of “data”, and you left out traditional African religions, indigenous American religions, and indigenous Australian religions from your timeline. Granted, there would be more of that “data” available (as it would have been for indigenous European and Mediterranean religions) had it not been for colonial military conquest, the Inquisition, that sort of thing….

  16. La Lubu says:

    Thank you, Mark Diebel and Diane M.

  17. Teresa says:

    Hector_St_Clare writes:
    I’d point out that one of the great advantages Christianity holds over those other contenders- Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism etc.- is that it relies not on ancient myths, but on historical documents written down in exceptional detail, by people quite close to the events (I’d argue, in several cases, by eyewitnesses, but that’s a separate argument).

    What of the Bhagavad Gita and the several other holy books of Hinduism? Hindus would argue that their books do not rely on ancient myths. What of the Four Books and Five Classics of Confucianism? Definitely not myths. Finally, what of the Torah and the Prophets in the Old Testament, the writings of the Talmud? Are Jews consigned to believing in myths? Does Islam’s holy book, the Quran, rely on an ancient myth?

    Some of these holy books built civilizations long before Europe saw the light of day. If these holy books are not ours, we can at least respect those that cherish them; and, part of that respect, is to not be dismissive of another’s source of wisdom. In this lies some truth.

  18. Hector says:

    Ki Sarita,

    I confess that I’m not particularly troubled by what you might find offensive. Christians are called to speak the truth in love, and to spread the gospel in order that all men might be saved. these goals are more important than making sure no one feels bad about themselves, or respecting the cannons of political correctness.

    La Lubu,

    Um, paganism was *long* gone from Europe by the time the Inquisition was set up (whose goals were to suppress Christian heresy), so I’m baffled by what you mean. I’m also baffled by what you seem to admire in Mediterranean paganism. you are aware of the cult of Molech, which roasted infants alive?

    I also don’t know what you mean by ‘the female half’. Christianity accords a high place to women and certainly does not ignore them.

  19. ki sarita says:

    Hector,
    If people are interested in attending a my-religion-is-better-than-yours forum, that’s great. You and Greg can go stand up for Team Catholic as much as you want. Forcing it on people who are not interested and who have come to discuss something else, is not loving, it is disrespectful.

  20. Karen says:

    Thank you Hector….speaking truth in love.

  21. mythago says:

    @Hector: given that you’ve cheerfully admitted in the past that you see nothing wrong with the oppression of faiths other than your own, I can understand why you would miss it, but this is not the first time Greg has ranted about how Jews only care about themselves and the rest of the world can go hang. That’s not even Catholic doctrine. (I do confess that I am amused at hearing a Christian dismiss ‘ancient myths’, given that those myths are the foundation of Christianity and are part of Christian scriptures.)

    @fannie: I have a problem with the false equivalence in both your comment and David’s original post. It’s like the recent joke circulating about how one side says 1+1=2, the opposing side says 1+1=3, and the media reports that 1+1=2.5. Of course it would be silly to pretend that anyone on one ‘side’ of an issue is blameless and perfect and the other side is evil, but it’s equally silly to say “well, this side has particular flaws and blindnesses so let’s hunt some up on the other side so we can say it’s the exact mirror image”.

  22. Karen says:

    ki sarita writes:

    You and Greg can go stand up for Team Catholic as much as you want. Forcing it on people who are not interested and who have come to discuss something else, is not loving, it is disrespectful.

    From what I gathered, Greg is Catholic but not Hector. I do not see them forcing their religion on anyone. I am not a practicing Christian (not in the true belief sense and certainly not in the speaking truth in love sense – I have quite a bit to work on in that front) BUT as Greg writes:

    …one of the major goals of the Christianity and Society class I teach is to attempt to present purely secular arguments for traditional Christian positions. One question I address is, “Why should anyone listen to the Church? Or what could the Church possibly know about truth?”

    I never took his class and I’m not Catholic BUT these secular arguments based on the richness of data Greg refers to, that I’ve been following for over 10 years now, do support the Catholic social philosophy.

    Again, I’m Catholic and in fact I was raised to disrespect the religion…but I now have enormous respect for what it teaches as truth and I’m listening.

  23. Teresa says:

    Hector wrote:
    I confess that I’m not particularly troubled by what you might find offensive. Christians are called to speak the truth in love, and to spread the gospel in order that all men might be saved. these goals are more important than making sure no one feels bad about themselves, or respecting the cannons of political correctness.

    Who are Christians, Hector? Only Catholics? You do realize, Hector, that Catholics have the infallible doctrine “Extra ecclesiam, nulla salus” … outside of the Catholic Church, there is no salvation. Catholics for long centuries (and maybe even now) did not think Protestants were Christians … they were called heretics. The battle rages within the Church even to this day.

    You are aware, Hector, that there are deeply divisive issues between Catholics and Protestants? Issues of ‘truth’ … truths that people died for.

    So whose truth are we speaking of here … and who gets to speak it?

    Here’s where doubt and humility come in. Doubt, not of a long held belief necessarily, but how do we love our neighbor, who is different than us, with all that that means. Doubt of ourselves when we think we know it all … and, then come to realize we know but little: not of the belief itself, necessarily; but, the history of that belief, how it grew, what it really means contextually for living with our neighbor.

    How do we be the Good Samaritan in our daily lives? “Now there remain Faith, Hope and Charity, these three: but the greatest of these is Charity.”

  24. La Lubu says:

    Hector, paganism was not (and is not) gone from Europe before the Inquisition; La Vecchia Religione was certainly suppressed in Italy and Sicily but has not disappeared (to give one example). No importa, I’m not interested in the “my religion is better than yours” discussion (thanks, kisarita!); I do find it necessary to refute the claim that Catholic doctrine has had the most input from the human community when literally half the human community was deliberately excluded from both its formation and its leadership.

  25. Hector_St_Clare says:

    Re: What of the Bhagavad Gita and the several other holy books of Hinduism? Hindus would argue that their books do not rely on ancient myths.

    The Bhagavad Gita was written over two thousand years after the events it purports to describe, and (if it has any core of historical validity) at least four hundred years after the events that formed its historical kernel of truth. It may be many things, but a well attested historical document it is not. I should also point out, as someone from a largely Hindu background, I’m not particularly impressed with the moral and theological teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, or with Hinduism more generally. There are some disturbingly nihilistic aspects to the faith, and this is the religion that gave us the wonderful caste system, after all. As the founder of Tamil nationalism liked to say, “If the white man’s government had not arrived, would the Brahmins have allowed even a thousandth part of us to be educated?”

    Re: What of the Four Books and Five Classics of Confucianism? Definitely not myths.

    Uh, those are philosophical documents (and again, not particularly impressive ones), not historical testimony. With everything you cite, you make my point for me.

    Re: Finally, what of the Torah and the Prophets in the Old Testament, the writings of the Talmud? Are Jews consigned to believing in myths? Does Islam’s holy book, the Quran, rely on an ancient myth?

    I think that much of the historical and prophetic material in the Old Testament was probably written down fairly close to when it happened, so I wouldn’t refer to them as mythical, necessarily. The first five books (Genesis, etc.) are clearly mythical though (the world was not created in seven days, etc.). Which is not to say that they’re without meaning or purpose, it’s to say that they are not historical documents. Quite simply, Christianity is better attested historically than any other faith I’m aware of.

    I don’t think Christianity has nearly as much to learn from Hinduism or the oriental faiths, quite the opposite: they need to learn from us. At best, Hinduism is a preparation and supplement to Christianity, not a replacement for it.

    Re: Some of these holy books built civilizations long before Europe saw the light of day

    Yes, but wouldn’t you say that, on the whole, European civilization was more advanced than Indian or Chinese civilization?

  26. fannie says:

    mythago,

    “I have a problem with the false equivalence in both your comment and David’s original post.”

    Maybe you can better articulate the false equivalence that you see in my post, and in David’s, because it’s not self-evidently clear to me what you’re talking about. I don’t think the answer to whether or not same-sex marriage should be legal has an objectively right answer in the way that “1+1 = 2″ does, even though I strongly support SSM.

    And to clarify my position, I don’t think opposition to SSM and support of SSM are two “equal” positions, and I don’t think opponents and supporters of SSM are “just as bad” as each other. I think bigotry is a real thing that really exists, and a thing that opponents of SSM don’t acknowledge as much as they should.

    What I do think is that the “goods in conflict” idea as a good practical way of moving the SSM debate from its current polarizing, toxic place. I will say that I agree with David that people on both sides of the issue seem really resistant to that. Maybe you can explain why.

    Ki sarita,

    I too find some commenters’ “my-religion-is-better-than-yours” tone unpersuasive and distasteful. Especially the part about how Christians in a nation dominated by Christians, where most citizens identify as Christians, where the vast majority of elected officials are Christians, are somehow “speaking truth to power” when they espouse their Christian beliefs.

    Many people who actually live in the US as Not Christians find that argument really…. difficult to take seriously. The “homosexuality lobby” is not oppressing you. Sorry.

  27. Hector_St_Clare says:

    Re: Hector, paganism was not (and is not) gone from Europe before the Inquisition;

    You’re right, as far as the Baltic states go, and I should have been more specific. Lithuania apparently remained pagan until the 15th century. I’m unaware that there was a survival of pre-christian paganism in Italy, though: what is La Vechia Religione?

    Re: Many people who actually live in the US as Not Christians find that argument really…. difficult to take seriously.

    It remains true, nonetheless. Increasingly, I think, traditional Christians in this country are going to face a future much like Greek Christians after 1453, or Egyptian Christians after 642.

  28. Schroeder says:

    Hi David,

    I read your post carefully, and I think I have questions before I can respond to it without accidentally creating a straw man argument… which I really want to avoid!

    First, for context, a little bit of what I believe:

    I think of truth as “the way things are” or “what is.” I don’t think this is an idiosyncratic definition, because it’s in line with what the dictionary says, and it seems to be the way most people use the word.

    Because truth is “the way things are,” it is extraordinarily complex and difficult and even impossible to know in some cases. It also cannot be false any more than a bachelor can be married. And, even though it is extraordinarily complex, truth cannot directly contradict itself.

    In this sense, then, I do think that all truths “harmonize” with each other, in that they do not contradict each other. Speaking for myself, I do find that beautiful, like a painting. I think that (probably) some of it we can know (“I think, therefore I am”); a lot of it we have to assume we know in order to get through life; some of it we can find out (some of this is easy, some of this is hard); some of it we cannot know in this life; and some of it we can believe by faith without knowing it. (In other words, my beliefs encompass all five of the conceptions you listed, as you stated them. Except maybe for “truth is plural…” but more on that later.)

    I also have a higher standard of what counts as “knowledge” than most people. For instance, I don’t think we “know” that what we sense with our five senses exists, because we have no way of knowing whether or not our senses (which, after all, evolved based on what would help us survive and reproduce not based on what would help us ascertain reality) show us what is or what appears.

    Needless to say, with this (some would say) radically skeptical view of reality, I rely quite a bit on faith or belief. It’s not quite as good as knowledge, but it’ll do in a pinch. This also makes it easier for me to firmly believe (if not “know”) the early Christian creeds. I “walk by faith, not by sight.”

    So here are my clarifying questions:

    1.) What do you mean by “truth is one?” Obviously (at least, it seems obvious to me), no one thinks that there is only one true statement from which everything else is inferred. “My desk is brown” and “my phone is black.” Those are two “truths” I believe, but I don’t think this proves that I’m not a monist.

    2.) What to you mean by “truth is plural?” Do you mean that “truth is sometimes contradictory?” Because if this is what you mean, then I definitely don’t believe that truth is plural.

    Based on what I’ve read of William Galtson and Isaiah Berlin, though, I think you probably mean something more along the lines of “sometimes equally valid moral principles or values can lead to different actions… and this fact is okay.” If that’s what you mean, then, well, I’m not sure if I agree with you or not.

    I think that the highest value in our dealings with other people should be love. Therefore, for instance, you shouldn’t hurt someone because you value wealth more than loving people (like the folks at Enron). (Thus, I do believe in the objective ordering of values.) But I also believe that people love in different ways, which might lead to different actions, based on personality, values, etc. So, in that sense, I don’t disagree with you.

    Also, I do think that there are some values that can’t really be ranked. For example, I might choose to travel up 12th Street rather than 11th Street, because I value looking at nature more than I value looking at historic buildings. Different values, different actions, and I feel fine. But I don’t think that goes against the monistic way of looking at the world as you describe it… so I’m still confused.

    But all that to say this: I need more clarity before I can form an opinion on whether I agree or disagree.

  29. Karen says:

    Teresa writes:

    outside of the Catholic Church, there is no salvation

    Is that true? Really? A catholic priest told me that this cannot truly be known, only GOD can determine THAT. But following the catholic faith and protocol are what the church can do to help us attain salvation on the earthly plain. No guarantees one way or the other.

  30. David Blankenhorn says:

    Thanks to all for the good comments.

    Greg, you say:

    You mention that you have thought of the question of gay marriage as one of competing goods. Another way to phrase that statement is to say that you see them as equivalent truths.

    Well, no. I don not think that “competing truths” is another way of saying “equivalent truths.” Period, not even a tiny bit.

    On your larger argument on why Catholicism is better than other religions in terms of its methodology: I certainly agree that there is a great deal to admire, andf learn from, in the Catholic tradition! But when all is said and done, the methodology, in my view, is still rooted in deductive reasoning (as is your own argument about the superiority of Catholic method, I would suggest); and deductive reasoning in my view is simply not a valid way to figure out what is true. (This is my own pesonal view; I know that many many smart people disagree!)

    Therefore, when my Muslim friends provide long treatises about the superiority of the Muslim method — and believe me, they do! — I end up, I hope and believe with deep respect, telling them pretty much the same thing.

    On the same point but on a lighter note, here’s a little story, which is true. I have a friend who loves red wine. He read a study saying that drinking red wine is good for your health, and he told me that he was worried that he might put a bit too much faith in that particular study; that he might accept it a bit too uncritically. I love that story, and as I say, it’s true.

  31. maggie gallagher says:

    Anna, I think your post is perhaps the most perceptive. I too believe that truth exists, and I believe that Christians believe in theological monism. I’m am uncertain how that relates to philosophical monism–truths known to man without God.

    Truth exists, but we see through a glass darkly, and therefore humility is a virtue intellectually as well as morally.

    There is also a second grounding for pluralism in this view–which is love. “Error has not rights but erring people certainly do.” As we are all erring people (except Jesus and Mary) it would behoove us all to adopt this view.

    David’s four positions do not capture that view precisely.

  32. Teresa says:

    Karen asked:

    Teresa writes:

    outside of the Catholic Church, there is no salvation

    Is that true? Really? A catholic priest told me that this cannot truly be known, only GOD can determine THAT. But following the catholic faith and protocol are what the church can do to help us attain salvation on the earthly plain. No guarantees one way or the other.

    Here in a nutshell is some of what David is getting at. Yes, Karen, it is a Dogma of the Catholic Faith. And, yes, the priest that responded to you is right. Both things are true. Can we see the difference?

    The application of an all encompassing truth … how does it apply to the individual. Are these competing truths?

  33. Schroeder says:

    Deductive reasoning in my view is simply not a valid way to figure out what is true.

    David, I’m actually not sure if many smart people would disagree with you, if this is all you mean. The tool of deduction is not meant to figure out what is true “from scratch,” if you will.

    A valid deductive argument implies the truth of its conclusion if and only if its premises are true.

    And an argument’s premises cannot come (ultimately) from deduction, because deductive reasoning is a form of argumentation not a type of statement, and a premise is a type of statement, not an argument.

    The premises for a deductive argument can come from lots of places: bald-faced assertion, authority, revelation, the conclusions of other deductive arguments, intuition, empirical observation, or induction (to name a few). All of these sources have severe shortcomings… which, admittedly, does put us in an epidemiological pickle.

    It seems like you don’t so much has a problem with deduction as with authority or revelation, though.

  34. Schroeder says:

    An example of what I mean…

    Here is a deductive argument:

    Socrates is a human.
    All humans are mortal.
    Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

    A perfectly valid way out of accepting this conclusions is to deny that Socrates is a human or that all humans are mortal.

    But, if the premises are correct, deduction is a pretty darn good way to figure out that Socrates is mortal.

  35. David Blankenhorn says:

    Thank you Schroeder.

    “Truth is one”: By that, I mean believing with confidence that, for every question, there is one and only one true answer; and that all true answers harmonize with and reinforce one another. That’s the best I can do, by way of definition. An example:

    Q: What is the chief end of humanity? A: To know and love God.

    Q: What is hell? A: Separation from God.

    Two very difficult questions. Two quite specific or “correct” answers. And each answer supports the other. Thus, truth, in this case, is one.

    “Truth is pluaral”: By that, I mean believing with confidence that, for many important questions there is either no knowable answer or more than one legitimate answer; and that all legitmate answers do NOT necessarily harmonize with or reinforce one another. That’s the best I can do, by way of definition. An example:

    Q: What is higher, justice or mercy? A: Mercy.

    Q: What is better, punishing the criminal or not punishing him? A: Punishing.

    Two not-simple questions. Two legitimate (i.e. a rational and good person could believe that) answers. But the two answers may at least partially clash. In this case, truth is not, or may not be, one; truth here may be more plural, in the sense that some legitimate answers are not fully reconcilable.

    I’m sure there are flaws in these examples. I’m just trying, too quickly, to come up with illustrations; I’m sure there are other better ones.

  36. David Lapp says:

    This is a great conversation. Thanks for continuing it, David.

    One thought about “Truth is romantic.” I find that truth is often beautiful — the fact that it is beautiful is why wonder is the appropriate response to truth. But in finding it beautiful (or “romantic,” as you put it), I’m not abandoning universality. I’m just admiring what’s there.

    As you recall, John Paul II suggested that there is objective truth, and that it has a subjective accent. In proposing that, I don’t think he meant to abandon the idea of objective or universal truth.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seen to presuppose something like beauty = passion, and passion = something that is not reason.

    In the way I think about it, reason may discover what is true, and respond with awe at the beauty of the truth. In this way of thinking, the response that “This is beautiful” is not opposed to reason. To the contrary, our reason helps us to discover what is beautiful.

    But I do not think I fully understand you on this point. Please forgive me if I am misstating what you mean.

  37. David Blankenhorn says:

    Also, Schroeder, I agree with your statements about deduction. My (limited) experiences with systems of thought founded on deduction have not ultimately been satisifactory ones, precisely because I view the founding premises as arbitrary and limited. As I think Mont said earlier, it all works as long as we all agree that we are starting with a turtle and that everything else all the way through is turtles. But for me, that’s precisely the problem.

  38. Karen says:

    Teresa writes:

    the priest that responded to you is right. Both things are true. Can we see the difference?

    Well, yes and no. I’m still trying to understand and I think I might never fully understand…but this is what I get so far, there is a recommended, tried and true way but it is not the only way but balance is key.

    That is why I tie to balance my “listening” with other religions and philosophies, in particular Buddhism and the four noble truths which I also have a particular affinity to/with.

  39. maggie gallagher says:

    “What’s driving culture wars”–to quote from the master, a culture war is a struggle over who has the power (legitimate power) to “name reality.” It is always rooted in deeply competing visions of what is real.

    As you note the idea that truth can be plural seems to be believed by almost no-one. While the idea that goods can be in conflict is more easily absorbed.

    I’m not sure I even understand what “truth is plural,” means while I understand the idea that good people disagree because they order real true goods differently (goods in conflict) very well.

    And on whether we can always achieve one truth about how to properly order goods, I would suspect not because humans are very fallible and also we have different capacities. There could be more than one way to order goods, if human beings are in fact differently. “My Father’s House has many mansions.”

  40. maggie gallagher says:

    Equality appears to function as the one true good, the touchstone by which we order other goods, in progressive thinking. It is the trump card when goods conflict.

  41. Teresa says:

    Maggie wrote:

    “What’s driving culture wars”–to quote from the master, a culture war is a struggle over who has the power (legitimate power) to “name reality.”

    Lord Acton might reply: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That applies to the “reality” creators, in my opinion.

  42. David Lapp says:

    Maggie says:

    Equality appears to function as the one true good, the touchstone by which we order other goods, in progressive thinking. It is the trump card when goods conflict.

    Good point. But within the “truth is plural” framework, how do we decide that equality, rather than for instance the good of children, is the touchstone? To me, it seems like whoever has the most cultural power gets to answer that.

    Catholic social teaching talks about “a preferential option for the poor.” It seems like we should adopt a “prefential option for the most vulnerable.”

  43. David Blankenhorn says:

    D-Lapp:

    I, too, am deeply moved by the idea of beauty as a sign of truth. (“Too beautiful to be untrue.”) If I were to try to categorize myself in terms of my four-part grid, I’d probably say, “Plural truth, inductive method, with a dash of romaticism.” That’s just (I think) me.

    But in your comment I feel that you may be struggling too hard to reconcile reason on the one hand and passion/beauty/awe on the other, such that each can be viewed as perfectly reinforcing of the other and in pure harmony with the other, in line with your desire to make truth one thing. But in my view, no matter how hard we struggle, such an operation of unity simply cannot validly be performed, period. Reason is reason. Beauty is beauty. Neither is the other; neither is both; and the two do NOT always do the same thing or yield the same result. (Sometime they can flatly, brazenly contradict one another; look at those awe-inspiring Leni Reifenstahl photos from the 1940s and tell me that the two are always the same.)

    The thing is only the thing. That’s the key point in all of this.

  44. Schroeder says:

    Looking at your examples, David, I’m still a little unclear, but I guess that’s fine.

    You give this as an example:

    “Q: What is higher, justice or mercy? A: Mercy.

    Q: What is better, punishing the criminal or not punishing him? A: Punishing.”

    Well, that’s certainly the way many Christians have looked at these questions throughout history. Anselm, for instance, has some great things to say, in which he argues for the the same answers to those questions that you give.

    Like I said, though, I don’t think that truth directly contradicts itself.

    That said, it might be extremely complicated (you could even say “paradoxical,” to bring in a religiously loaded term :-)).

    Let me ask you this:

    If someone answered this way:

    “Q: What is higher, justice or mercy? A: justice.

    Q: What is better, punishing the criminal or not punishing him? A: not punishing him.”

    …would you say that that was equally valid as the other way around?

    Also, even though I consider myself a Christian, I can think of a lot of equally valid answers to “Q: What is hell?” None of my answers would contradict each other and they wouldn’t necessarily reinforce one another.

    (The question “Q: What is the chief end of humanity?” is tricky, because the question itself [by asking for "the chief end"] is asking for a singular answer [the chief one]. But if it asked “What is an end of humanity?” I could give a lot of equally valid answers, chief among them “to love and serve God” :-).)

  45. Teresa says:

    Maggie wrote:

    Equality appears to function as the one true good, the touchstone by which we order other goods, in progressive thinking. It is the trump card when goods conflict.

    Yes!!

    Now what?

  46. Hector says:

    Mythago,

    I don’t believe in oppression of faiths other than my own. I think it’s legitimate in some situations to have a state religion, and to have one religion given special status, but that’s a far cry from ‘oppression’. and I saw nothing remotely anti-Semitic about Greg’s comment.

    In general, I find the tendency some people have to cry ‘anti-semitism’ in response to criticisms of Judaism, Jewish culture or the state of Israel, to be pretty unseemly and distasteful. it reminds me of the tendency of some feminists to label anything they don’t like ‘sexism’ or ‘patriarchy’. it would be much better, in both cases, for the people being criticized to consider whether there might be something to the criticisms.

  47. David Lapp says:

    David:

    The thing is only the thing. That’s the key point in all of this.

    You know, after I wrote what I wrote, I thought you might say this!

    Whenever I hear you say this, I’m puzzled. The principle seems arbitrary to me. I want to know more about why you think the thing is only the thing. What is the reason for why the thing is only the thing?

    Because things have properties and qualities. Things have essences. For instance, a lot of philosophers says that the “essence” of a person is that he is a rational animal: People are rational animals. Okay, the thing is the thing.

    But it’s also true that people have properties, or qualities. For instance, the ability to speak is a property of being human. The ability to speak is a property of being human because the ability to speak “flows from” the essence of rationality.

    By noting that “People have the ability to speak” am I violating the principle that the thing is the thing? That would seem absurd.

    Let’s say that truth is “what is” (to follow Shcroeder’s earlier definition). That’s the essence of what truth is. Okay, but it’s possible for truth to have properties that flow from the essence. It’s possible that one of those properties is beauty. I’m convinced that it is. So in addition to saying to saying “The truth is what is,” I also say “Truth is beautiful.”

    You might disagree with me that beauty is not one of the properties. But I’m confused when you appear to deny the possibility of admitting that things have properties which flow from the essences.

    In sum, that’s why it seems arbitrary to me when you insist that “the thing is the only thing.” Could you explain further?

  48. Kevin says:

    “Equality appears to function as the one true good, the touchstone by which we order other goods, in progressive thinking. It is the trump card when goods conflict.”

    Perhaps a more accurate way to describe things is that we play by the rules of whatever game we’re playing. If we’re talking about a legal matter, then we apply legal principles. If we’re playing football, we apply football rules. If we’re talking about art, then form, composition and medium matter; due process and touchdowns do not.

    In the US, while equal treatment under the law is codified, it also is reflected in our sense of fairness, socially and otherwise. It dovetails nicely with moral and religious themes commonly referred to as the Golden Rule. It is hardly the sole domain of the politically progressive, I certainly hope.

  49. Diane M says:

    I would agree with Shroeder that truth is by definition, not plural. It may be extremely complex and even unknowable, but it is what is.

    If you look at the example of punishing criminals, it is the complexity that makes it hard to answer the question. Mercy may be better than justice, but there may still be a time when justice is the right thing to do. Perhaps mercy only applies in certain situations. Perhaps punishment is merciful.

    Although truth may be one in some abstract sense, when we get down to real-life examples, it is much harder to figure out. Should you fund the nursery school or the drug rehabilitation program?

    The other thing that struck me reading through the comments is that in many debates about social policy you have people starting with different assumptions and working for different social goods. When they conflict, it isn’t just hard to sort out which social good is more important, it’s hard to figure out how to talk to each other. So people end up just talking past each other.

  50. Teresa says:

    DianeWhen they conflict, it isn’t just hard to sort out which social good is more important, it’s hard to figure out how to talk to each other. So people end up just talking past each other.

    Excellent observation, Diane. We talk past each other all the time, it seems. It seems even harder, if that’s possible, to listen to the other in the virtual world; where we’re not even dealing with the other’s presence, but some digital name.

    Diane, you seem to be very good at staying on-topic for the Posts. I admire that and will try to emulate that in the future. Can you offer tips on how to stay focused?

    @David B., are you up for opening this Post to more comments?