Can Anyone Own Truth?:
A Reply To Morioka (1) Marantz (2) And Ors (3)

- Frank J. Leavitt, Ph.D.

The Jakobovits Centre of Jewish Medical Ethics, Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben Gurion University of the Negev
Beer Sheva, ISRAEL (Home Tel/FAX: +972-2-9963048)

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 6 (1996), 70-71.
There is a difference between cold logical analysis of ethical concepts, and deep self-criticism and soul searching. Although physicians have many failings, medical ethics has set an example for the academic and scientific world, of ruthless self-criticism. Of course it has a place in philosophical and other scientific conferences.

No one mentioned intentional plagiarism but only unintentional plagiarism which is not a crime. We all do it all the time. I think that most knowledge is just logical deduction from what was known to the ancients. As Newton said, we stand on the shoulders of giants. Indeed, if philosophy is analytic necessary truths, then all philosophy should be deducible from simple matters of common knowledge. So in a way all philosophy is unintentional plagiarism.

So when a couple of years ago I wrote in the old EEIN about taking a distance from Western cultural imperialism, Masahiro remarked in a letter that he had said similar things in a book in Japanese. But I forgot about it until seeing his commentary in the last EJAIB. I didn't pay much attention to the matter. It's natural that two people should think of the same thing because the truth should be obvious and belong to everyone.

Whenever I've had an idea and then learned that someone else said it before me, I've been delighted, not upset, for this strengthens the idea. If Masahiro and I both came to the same conclusion, we are more likely to be right.

Only pridefulness and acquisitiveness can make one think one owns a truth. (The same goes for the patenting of gene sequences.)

All doctrines known to me, of how unowned things become private property, from ancient Jewish tradition (as summarized in Maimonides' Laws of Acquisition and Gift, Chapter II) and as was picked up by Locke, (and then developed by Adam Smith and Marx) require one to invest ones' labour into the thing in order to change it to make it more useful. But science and philosophy intend to report truth as it is without changing it. So unlike works of fiction, which may change and distort truth, science and philosophy can never be private property.

I apologize if I tend to get ad hominem in discussing philosophers. But philosophy should, and used to be, the pure love of truth, goodness and wisdom. I feel the current small, cold chase after career advancement and fame is a personal insult to what I love dearly. I think all this detached logical analysis of "claims" and "arguments" in ethics is often a facade to avoid being true to oneself. If philosophers can no longer be pure seekers of wisdom, I hope bioethicists will be.

So quibbling about "world premiers" is pointless. Truth, wisdom and goodness are important. Who said it first is irrelevant.


1. Morioka, M. "Commentary on Leavitt", EJAIB 6 (1996), 29.

2. Marantz, H. "Frank Leavitt's Questionable Claims", EJAIB 6 (1996), 70.

3. Ors, Y. " Ethics, morals and drama", EJAIB 6 (1996), 69-70.

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