Chapter Overview: 4

How Do You Know You’re Right?

“In human affairs that person is ‘right’ who has the might to enforce his point of view on others who have less might. That is what leads to tyranny and wars.”

Andrew J. Galambos

Throughout history there has been no absolute standard of rightness in human interaction. Rather there has been a relative standard of rightness, ultimately determined by coercive force. That is, he is “right” who has the most coercive power. For example, “might makes right” is a saying which characterizes human affairs and leads to tyranny.

Barbarians cartoon1

Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) was an Italian philosopher, astronomer, mathematician and poet who espoused the hypothesis of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) that the sun did not revolve around the earth, but rather that the earth revolved around the sun. Bruno advanced the further hypothesis that the sun was only one of an infinite number of stars. These beliefs contradicted teachings of the Roman Catholic Church that the earth was the center of creation. On February 17, 1600, Bruno was burned alive in Rome for defying the authority of the church.


Giordano Bruno (1548-1600)

Bruno’s fate illustrates a perennial problem in human affairs: how to resolve differences of opinion peacefully. In 1600 Bruno could not prove that he was right, although his opinions were founded on astronomers’ already considerable observational corroboration of the Copernican hypothesis. Neither could the church prove it was right. Its action was based on its coercive power to enforce Church dogma. That is still the way differences of opinion are resolved in human affairs—he is right who has the coercive ability to enforce his opinion.

Bruno burned

Illustration of the scene of Giordano Bruno’s death

Relative rightness in human interaction leads to tyranny.

Two prominent examples of tyranny arising from a relative standard of rightness occurred in France and Russia. The French Revolution deteriorated into a reign of terror (1793-1795) in which the mere denunciation of someone to a small group of people, known as the Committee of Public Safety, doomed that person to immediate execution by the guillotine.

French Revolution

Peasants and angry mobs during the French Revolution

Maximilian Robespierre became head of the Committee of Public Safety, sending thousands to their death.


Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794)

One day Robespierre himself was denounced and arrested, and the next day he was executed by guillotine. Until the day before Robespierre died, he decided what was right in France. Then he was wrong and dead, and what was right depended on the Committee members who survived him.


Robespierre at the Guillotine

In Soviet Russia between 1924 and 1953 what was right was whatever Joseph Stalin decreed. Stalin launched a reign of terror in Soviet Russia that killed tens of millions. Until his death in 1953 Stalin’s opinion was the law for every other person in the Soviet Union. Not long after Stalin’s death his successors denounced him as a murderer, cities named after him had their names changed, statues of him were torn down and he was virtually eradicated from Russian history books.

A toppled statue of Stalin, Hungary 1956

Hungarians gloat over a toppled Stalin statue, 1956

When rightness is relative, it will eventually be decided by those who seize and wield coercive power over others.

Bangkok coup detat

The photograph above shows tanks of the Royal Thai Army in a coup that overthrew Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra while he was out of the country.

Absolute Rightness: A Derivative of Scientific Method

In the methods used in the physical sciences there is an absolute standard of rightness. It was developed gradually over several hundred years leading up to its culmination in the achievements of Isaac Newton (1642-1727).

In the physical sciences absolute rightness is the totality of truth and validity in arriving at a conclusion. That is, any conclusion is absolutely right if

  1. It is observationally true;
  2. It is derived by valid or logical thought processes; and
  3. All antecedent thought processes and propositions are also true.

This absolute standard of rightness has had stupendous consequences. Virtually all technological progress in the way we live has occurred in just the last 300 years, since the establishment of the methods of determining what is right in the physical sciences. Before then there was virtually no technological progress in the way people lived during and before the prior 6,000 years of recorded human history.

Anchor Point in History

The graph illustrates that Newton integrated a terrific amount of prior knowledge, and that his integration stimulated an outpouring of further scientific discoveries that is still ongoing.

There is confusion among thinking people about the concept of absolute rightness. The conventional wisdom, taught in universities, is that in human relations there can be no absolute rightness; that all is relative according to an individual’s point of view; that everything is a matter of opinion, and no one’s opinion is better than anyone else’s. Yet the statement that everything is relative is self-contradictory, because to say that everything is relative with no exceptions is itself a statement of an absolute.

University of Gloucestershire

Students at the University of Gloucestershire, England

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is sometimes cited to support the assertion that even in science everything is relative.  However, the Theory of Relativity begins with an absolute statement—that the speed of light is the same for all observers.

In science, including the “soft” sciences such as economics, the main objective is to find better explanations, and to look for absolutes in a world in which most things are relative. For example, in physics the three laws of thermodynamics are considered absolute. In economics, Andrew Galambos opined that the law of supply and demand is a law of nature because it describes an invariable process by which prices are established in a free market. That is tantamount to saying it is an absolute.

Supply Demand

The scientific method is natural to man’s life and will replace coercion

The thesis of Volitional Science is that the scientific method, when properly understood and applied, will eliminate and replace the violent, destructive, and socially harmful practices of coercion.

“Truth” and “validity” are central to the scientific  method. In volition truth is that which is observationally identifiable. Truth is fact, not opinion.

Validity distinguishes between that which is a logical thought process and that which is not a logical thought process.


Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy

The connection between truth and validity is illustrated by the following: In the 4th century BC, Aristotle held that heavier bodies fall faster than lighter ones when their shapes are the same, although he never tested his idea by experiment. Nearly 2,000 years later, the Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) falsified Aristotle’s hypothesis by simultaneously dropping two objects of the same material but different weights from the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The two objects hit the ground simultaneously

How is it for 2,000 years, until Galileo, nobody tested Aristotle’s conclusion about falling bodies by trying it out? That is one of the great significant questions. Can you imagine anything more fantastic? Yes! How is it that in 6,000 years nobody, until now, has questioned the idea that the ultimate way to solve human disputes is with coercion?

There are many more fascinating things to learn about how the Scientific Method can be applied to human affairs to create a more peaceful society. To read more, please proceed to the full text of this chapter.

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