Continuing with the History of American Thought, and William James's contribution to it, I suggest that the idea that we may very well exist in a "God"-less universe leads to two philosophical questions, both of which were formerly answered by the existence of God.
The first asks what is the source of morality, or maybe, what is the ultimate moral authority? We covered that a little in the previous post regarding James's The Will To Believe.
The second question, with which we will now begin to deal, is, what is the source of ultimate Truth? Is there even one? Another way to look at this question, a beginning point anyway, is, what do we mean when we say we "know" something? Is there a difference in belief and knowledge? If we claim to know something that turns out to be false, is it fair to say that we did not actually "know" it, we only thought we did? And if we believe something is true, what is the point of claiming knowledge of this truth if we recognize that at some future time we may discover that we are wrong. Is there such a thing as knowledge or is it all just belief?
Whew! Why did I think this would be easy? Anyway, knowledge claims are based on various foundations. Aristotle believed that reason led to knowledge. The empiricists believed that examination of "the facts" would lead to knowledge of truth. Generations of thinkers relied on the authority of Aristotle. Others insisted that "holy scripture," "The Bible," were the only true authority, that God was the one sure source of knowledge, the determinant of Truth.
In What Pragmatism Means, James argues that truth is what "works." If we have a question and a possible answer, we "test" the answer, see if it "holds up." Against what do we test it though? Something in the writings of Aristotle? Look in the Bible? James says that the pragmatist doesn't rule this appeal to authority out, it can be used as a starting point, at least, but he doesn't accept "authority." He treats it more like informed opinion. What we also do, he says, is try it in the real world. Think about Aristotle and his idea that a bigger stone would fall at a greater velocity than a smaller stone. The pragmatist, indeed even the empiricist, says, "let's see." And if we determine that the stones fall at the same rate then we consider what we have (Aristotle says this, we just saw that) and we decide. The pragmatist sees no reason to distrust his own eyes simply for the sake of being faithful to the statement of a man who lived 2,000 years ago and can no longer be questioned, so he decides that, at least for now, the truth appears to be (is?) that two different sized stones fall at the same rate.
But the question remains, what IS the Truth? Have we found it? How can we know? The urge to check our findings is strong. But how? We would like to consult some ultimate authority, someone who "knows." That was always "God." God would know. If only we could ask Him. Which led many to the Bible. The Bible is God's word, God wouldn't lie to us (would He?); try to find the answer in there. Of course the Bible is finite and the number of possible questions is infinite so we can see that the Bible cannot answer all questions. Right? And anyway, the thinking is, what is the source of Truth if there IS no "God"?
James, as far as I can tell, says that there is no such source, there is only what works. We hold these truths, then, until new information comes to light and then we incorporate the new information into our new Truth. Obviously, then, we cannot afford to get to married to any particular truth, since new information may show us to be at least slightky in error.
So, do we ever really "know" anything or don't we? What do you think? (There is more in this vein coming, it's kind of a major philosophical question. ; ) )