In my last post, we looked at truths that deal with what is. There’s another kind of truth, though, that deals with “ought“–with what we should do. That’s “philosophical truth,” and because philosophical truth deals with action, we can also call it “methodological truth.”
This kind of truth only directly affects choices made in individual minds. All philosophical truth, then, is inherently subjective. There is no such thing as “being right” when it comes to action, but it can be said that one course of action is “more right” than another, as long as a desired outcome of action is understood. That desired outcome is founded on prior truths, and extrapolation from those priors (defining an reality-pattern that should be realized) also falls under the realm of philosophical truth.
Philosophy, then, only addresses how individuals should act.
Matters of Scale
All philosophy exists in the context of some realm of human action, and those realms exist on different scales of importance to each individual. All scientists, for instance, operate under a philosophy (method) of science. These days, most scientific truth is obtained through the use of the scientific method, a philosophy of science adapted into its modern form by Francis Bacon. The validity of the method cannot be observed directly, but only by the effects it has. There are competing philosophies of gardening, cuisine, painting, and writing, to name just a few. Though we often speak of such philosophies as being “right” or “wrong,” we only judge them by their effects: therefore, we should rather judge competing philosophies as being more or less useful.
Philosophy, sans “of,” refers to the act of living. The mark of a good philosophy is a life well lived. It may seem that “well” is too subjective a term, because philosophy tends to define what a good life actually is. Defining a desired state isn’t itself a value judgment, however — a philosophically-defined desired state is properly a goal toward which one acts, and still addresses action.
Understandings of a “good” life are founded on prior truths. The foundations of all systems of value judgment are partly biological (or “inherent”, if you prefer) and partly arbitrary. This can be seen in the widely varying definitions of some aspects commonly cited as making up a good life: happiness, meaning, fulfillment, love. Each of those things is prior. We can’t define them, but we know them when we feel them, and most of us value them without any “reason” for doing so.
Any given philosophy also has another effect: that of influencing the actions of those humans who are born into the social pattern (or culture) the philosophy creates. Humans who fail to understand their own philosophies and those of others often fail to realize they have a philosophy at all, and so count their philosophical beliefs as prior–and it is over prior beliefs that misunderstandings happen and wars are waged. With such blind beliefs in the place of chosen philosophical knowledge, society degrades. This point will be elaborated in a future essay.
Relation to Other Forms of Truth
Because philosophy’s only effect is on actions taken by humans in the context of reality, it does not and cannot exist in a vacuum. How, then, do the other kinds of truth affect our use of philosophical truth?
Linguistic truths are fundamental not to the nature of a given philosophy, but to its structure. Many disagreements that seem to be philosophical in nature are actually merely linguistic. Linguistic truth, then, can prevent misunderstanding. It also defines the rules by which philosophical systems can be communicated from person to person, and the sorts of people the philosophy will reach. The geniuses of Lao Tse and Jesus Christ, for example, are in no small part linguistic in nature: by the use of clear, simple language, both teachers were able to reach globe-spanning audiences, and both continue to do so thousands of years after their deaths.
Prior truths define the objectives of philosophy. When we are determining how we should act, prior truths (preconceptions or value judgments) are deceitful and often unreliable, and should be examined and questioned at every opportunity. Racism, for instance, is generally a “prior truth” for those that hold it–but then again, so is Beauty. Some priors are necessary, but all priors should be treated with caution. Thus the reason for the Zen question, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” Such questions (a method, a philosophy, in themselves) serve to attack our prior truths and force us to question our preconceptions. I’ll address the great value of the Zen method in a future essay.
Observational truths are acquired through application of method, and in turn inform the evolution of those methods. The modern ability of observational truth to influence philosophy is unprecedented and potentially dangerous. Sciences such as neurology, evolutionary biology, and cosmology, along with technologies like networked computing, artificial intelligence, and particle colliders can be vastly useful in telling us about ourselves and therefore about how we should best act to achieve a “good life.” They are also shiny new toys for a species none too old, and so should be treated with caution and respect. Haphazard application of scientific discoveries result in philosophies like Social Darwinism, the result of a hasty misunderstanding of evolutionary biology, or Leninist Marxism, the result of an insufficiently accurate economic theory and outright inaccurate understanding of human nature (as observed, at the time, in history).
Linguistic truths provide the structure for philosophy, prior truths its objective, and observational truth its bases of information.
The Historical Objection
You may be thinking at this point that the methodological definition of philosophy is not a historically accurate one. If so, you’re right. For most of our history, philosophical and observational truths existed in the same realm. Aristotle was famous not only as one of the fathers of philosophy, but also one of the fathers of science. Before the so-called scientific revolution, explication of method and observation went hand in hand.
That has changed. You may have noticed that the only truth outlined in the last post that directly discussed reality itself was observational truth. The two other contenders for that kind of truth in history have been religion and metaphysics. I discussed my choice to reject religious truth as valid (for our purposes, at least) in a previous essay. The euthorian rejection of metaphysics stems from our pragmatic approach. If you make a claim about reality not based either on observation (by you or others) or religion (essentially, claims communicated by a deity), your claim has no effect beyond influencing personal action. Philosophy does this by saying what should be and supporting it through argument. The metaphysical approach strikes is less directly useful. More on that in a future essay.
Philosophy, as we will henceforth define it, is method. Philosophy not explicated as being “of” something else will be understood to be philosophy of living–or, how to live a good life.
Euthoria, the “good path,” is a result of that concept.