- Reply to Stephen Angle
The idea of natural truth is the idea of truths that are the same for all rational beings with our biological form of life. The thought is that in regard to at least some issues, for example the ontological status of fish, there are natural truths, and that it is the task of philosophy in particular to discover such truths. In my essay I distinguish such truths from empirical truths such as, for example, that water nourishes plants or that there are black swans, as well as from matters of taste. Angle reminds us of yet another sort of truth that is not amenable to the kind of treatment that I outline for natural truth. It is not, or at least seems not to be, a natural truth that one ought (or ought not) to rid oneself of anger. Whether one ought to rid oneself of anger may well be a question that one must answer for oneself insofar as it is a question about how one is to live one's life. Questions about how to live one's life, although informed by such natural truths as there are, are not questions of natural truth any more than are empirical questions or questions of taste.
The question about the fish seems to me distinctive because, on the one hand, it is not an empirical question, and, on the other, it transcends (if I am right) our individual understandings of how to live our lives. And it is important not least because its answer has ramifications for how we, all of us, ought to treat fish. Our relationship to the environment is in question and can be answered, I think, only after we have come better to understand such natural truths as there are about ourselves, about the environment, and about particular things in the environment, things such as fish.
But there is also a larger issue, one that Angle is right to press. My history, my training, and my cultural context all lead me to focus first and foremost on truth. But that, too, may be something that I need to question. Is it a natural truth about us that we value truth above all, at least in some domains? It does seem so to me. But I also know that there are alternative ways of raising the issues of concern in my essay. I, of course, speak the language of my training and intellectual milieu, but what I envisage and am after transcends that training and milieu. In the conversation I envisage, [End Page 989] everything is up for reflective criticism and revision—everything except the idea that there are some things on which we, all human beings, can and should agree, and on which we will agree when we have talked long and hard enough. Perhaps it will concern fish in ponds. Perhaps it will concern how best to negotiate complexity. Perhaps it will focus on how we can continue the conversation at all. I do not know what the natural truths will turn out to be, or even what sorts of things they will turn out to concern. What seems to me incontestable is that there are natural truths (broadly conceived as what is the same for all human beings) to be discovered, and that only philosophers engaged in a truly global dialogue will be in a position to discover them.1
1. Regarding Rorty on irony, readers may be interested in my discussion in "Reading Rorty: A Sketch of a Plan," in A Companion to Rorty, ed. Alan Malachowski (Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2017). [End Page 990]