Plato and Aristotle were very different thinkers. They came at the same fundamental philosophical problems from radically different directions. Rafael nicely characterized this in his famous “School of Athens” painting – Plato, ever the tutor, sternly pointing to the sky; Aristotle, the indignant pupil, gesturing reflexively toward the earth. But this image is somewhat deceiving. To anyone unfamiliar with the territory, you might walk away from the work thinking that Plato and Aristotle differed fundamentally, rather than merely instrumentally.
In a recent exchange between Douglas Murray and N. T. Wright on the Unbelievable? Podcast, Douglas poses the following conundrum: Is it the case that we are meaning-seeking beings, or, that we are meaning-seeking beings and there is meaning to seek? This, it seems to me, is the basic choice every man faces implicitly as a fundamental part of his maturation, and every philosopher faces explicitly as a fundamental part of his matriculation.
I think there is a lack of subtlety in the modern debate around meaning and truth. People struggle with ham-fisted dichotomies and adversarial arguments that never go anywhere, because of this low resolution notion of meaning. I want to suggest that we think of meaning in three different ways, and that each of them has a context and a scope that is appropriate to that distinction. VALENCE Valence is the truth value of a proposition.
“If I must choose between peace and righteousness, I choose righteousness” ~Theodore Roosevelt I have long held the belief that moral self-justification is both the engine and the doom of the world. Nobody does what they do thinking to themselves “this is the wrong thing, so I should do it”, or desiring to do wrong for its own sake. Even people as evil as Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot all had reasons for why they did what they did.
“What is truth?” ~ Pontius Pilate This is an interesting and surprisingly difficult question. If you look in the OED, what you’ll find there are entirely circular and self-referential explanations: “the quality or state of being true“, ” that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality“, and “a fact or belief that is accepted as true“. So, the poor souls that rely on the dictionary are left with, essentially, “truth is what’s true”, and “what’s true is what we agree are the facts of reality.