Are there really any self-evident truths? Yesterday I suggested there might be when I wrote:
It seems to me, as apparently to Dave, to be a self-evident truth that faith or belief is an act of the human mind and will.
Yes, it seems self-evident to us that we have freedom of will. But are such truths really self-evident? Any American is likely to be reminded by this phrase of the second sentence of the United States Declaration of Independence:
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
If these truths were really self-evident in 1776, they must still be today. But do people today hold them to be self-evident? I guess it depends on who exactly is included under “all Men”. The original drafters of this declaration may have intended this to apply only to male human beings, not to women. But in recent years its applicability seems to have become even more restricted, only to United States citizens, at least in the understanding of those citizens.
Even my friend David Ker, in his latest rant, does not seem to accept that the people of Iraq have the right to life and liberty. Indeed when in my first comment there I alluded to their rights I was accused of “pinko rhetoric”. It seems to me that to conservative Americans, including very many evangelical Christians, that famous sentence has been amended to:
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all US citizens are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness, and the right to deprive anyone else of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
No wonder most non-Americans in the world hate Americans, and consider them to be hypocrites in preaching liberty while using their military and financial might to trample over anyone else’s liberty. Perhaps the only non-Americans left who love Americans are those who think they can gain power or money by sucking up them.
David, sorry for such a rant at you and your compatriots, but you did ask for it.
At least there is hope, that President Obama understands the issues here and will do his best to defuse them. So, despite David’s rant against it, I support Archbishop Tutu’s call (see also the full text) for America to apologise to Iraq, as a step towards averting
the risk of squandering the goodwill he says the US president’s election has generated.
As for self-evident truths, I think this shows that really there are no such things, that concepts that we think self-evident are just reflections of our culturally relative presuppositions. Or perhaps there is just the one such truth, which Descartes found: cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am”. For any truths beyond that we depend on what God, or our untrustworthy senses, have made evident to us.