The world is in a desperate state of affairs. Social institutions – the family, schools, and churches – are falling apart. Society is breaking up into warring factions. Truth has become irrelevant and unfounded rumors and opinions take precedence over facts and knowledge. There are no genuine standards of behavior anymore because all morality has become merely relative. People are becoming increasingly uncivil toward one another. Money and power appear to rule the day. We seem to have lost our common sense. Can we do something about it?
Yes, we can! We need to return to Realistic Philosophy, the philosophy of Common Sense, Examined and Expanded. This return to genuine realistic thought, which was both the source and the rationale for Western Culture, is exactly what is needed if we as a nation are to protect ourselves from the “intellectual barbarism” that is so prevalent today and is the major influence on contemporary affairs.
The Importance of a Realistic Philosophy
Philosophy is the attempt to understand the most basic facts about the world we inhabit and so far as possible to explain these facts. This enterprise is not the exclusive concern of certain specialists, but one in which every human being is deeply involved, whether or not he is clearly conscious of it.
Every way of life is based upon a way of looking at life. The way you look at life is your philosophy. Just as there are many ways of life, so are there many philosophies, some more true and some less true. So important is this basic enterprise of man, so much hinges upon the avoidance of confusion and error, that since the time of the ancient Greeks a certain discipline has been set aside for the concentrated consideration of philosophical problems and for the careful comparison and criticism of different ways of answering them. This discipline is called philosophy.
While there are many philosophies, and many of these contradict one another and others have even led to and supported terrible acts of barbarism against mankind, there is one philosophy that has stood the test of time, been accepted by virtually all ordinary men, and forms a rational foundation for truth and morality. This philosophy is called the philosophy of Common Sense, Critically Examined and Expanded. It is not ordinary common sense opinion, but common sense opinion subjected to rigorous examination and criticism. It is an authentic philosophy of Realism, based on demonstrated principles of objective truth and using objective evidence as its sole criterion of truth.
Why an authentic philosophy of Realism? For three reasons. First, this philosophy has been pursued and developed by great minds from the fifth century B.C. in ancient Greece throughout the whole of Western history down to the present day and it has stood the test of time. Second, this philosophy of Realism does not violate any basic insight of what we call common sense, possessed by all rational men at all times. Third, this philosophy of Realism contains an important core of truth which cannot help but enlighten the individual intellect as it starts out and continues its quest for understanding and truth.
The Philosophic Battlefield
Our culture and society today are decidedly under the influence of a philosophy of Subjectivism, an unrealistic, and even anti-realistic, philosophy which is both relativistic and pragmatic. Subjectivism is the result of the intellectual battle which has waged between the philosophies of Idealism (actually Idea-ism) and Materialism (or Naturalism) for the past several centuries.
According to Subjectivism (whether Idealist or Materialist), there is no such thing as objective truth (truth is relative) and there are no objectively defined, universally true principles of moral behavior (morality is relative). This has led to the current situation which is permeated with intellectual chaos, resulting in disastrous practical consequences for everyone.
There is little doubt among knowledgeable observers that our present age is on the verge of conceptual collapse. If Subjectivism is valid, then all truth is relative, and the laws of physics and the laws of civil society are simply arbitrary. If Subjectivism is valid, then morality is merely a matter of opinion and personal taste, and personal responsibility is simply a figment of our collective imagination. Subjectivism also undermines empirical science, undermines the entire concept of jurisprudence, and undermines any attempt to promote a human and humane morality. We are all subject to the whims of the moment and are all victims of the latest public poll.
The only reason our culture and society have not totally collapsed is because there are still enough remnants of authentic Realism around to keep the present situation from falling into an intellectual “black hole.” How long this situation will last is anyone’s guess. This makes a solid presentation of the philosophy of Common Sense all the more important. We need to promote a philosophy of authentic Realism, with its principles of objective truth and objectively defined morality. If for no other reason, we need to do this in sheer self-defense.
Keep this in mind: If there is no such thing as objective truth, then any – that means any – proposition has a claim to truth, no matter how insane or absurd. If there is no such thing as a universally valid principle of morality, then any behavior or human act of any type can be permitted, no matter how heinous it may be. Should this be the case, then we all will be subject to the latest social conventions, no matter how insane or absurd, and our pleas for being judged by objective standards of truth and morality will be for naught.
Incidentally, the latest practical application of Subjectivism (and by far the most dangerous) is something we might call “Politicism.” This means that every human problem is considered to be basically political, needs to be solved by political means, and all decisions regarding truth and morality are decided by public polls. If you think this is an extreme statement, consider that not so long ago, some of the worst criminals ever to walk the earth, members not of a “primitive” society but a “civilized” culture, justified their horrible behavior by saying: “I was just following the orders of my superiors.” (and one can substitute leaders, or government, or church, etc.).
Truth does exist and it does matter. Moral principles exist and they do matter. The philosophy of Common Sense, Critically Examined and Expanded, provides a solid rational foundation for these principles, using the spontaneous convictions of ordinary people, coupled with the criterion of objective evidence, utilizing the correct principles of philosophical analysis and subject to the rules of logic and accepted scientific methods. This philosophy is the genuine philosophy of Realism, to which our society must return if it is to be reformed and transformed into a true civil society of free and equal individuals.
Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty was the Founder and President of The Center for Applied Philosophy and the Radical Academy, and is Honorary Philosophy Editor at The Moral Liberal. The Moral Liberal has adopted these projects beginning with a republishing and preserving of all of Dr. Dolhenty’s work.