Monday, January 01, 2007


Continuing to read Marvin Farber's (1901-1980) book "Basic Issues of Philosophy: Experience, Reality, and Human Values" (Harper Torchbooks, 1968).

As New Years is a popular time for predictions about the future I couldn't help but pay attention to this paragraph in Farber's book:

"If we are modest and practical, we may define the goal of philosophy as the best possible explanation of the world of experience within existing human and cultural limitations. At the present time there is much philosophical ferment, with the issue of religion versus science gradually disappearing from prominence. The newer issues are predominantly scientific and logical. The older dualism of spirit and matter has become obsolete; and whatever motivation for dualistic views of the world remains is kept alive by social conflicts. It does not seem unreasonable to expect the elimination of all important social conflicts in the present century. In general, the solution of all practical social problems may be expected, on the ground that what is made by man may be controlled by man. Here, an objective philosophy of values will be an effective aid. Afterwards, the perennial problem will remain - the further understanding of reality, and its progressive mastery through science."

It is hard to imagine that a more naive statement could be made by a primary school student than this statement made by a published philosopher. Keep in mind that this statement was made in 1968. In a mere thirty years this man could picture the end of all important social conflicts. It shows the extent to which his faith in science had become a deeply rooted fundamentalist religious belief. Throughout the book it is clear that everything, including philosophy, is at the service of science, which is the only logic worth considering and encompasses all there is or can be of reality. The further statement that "whatever is made by man may be controlled by man" reflects a truly superficial anthropology. Superficiality is the intellectual fruit of philosophical naturalism.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Assumptions and Premises in Philosophy

Continuing to read Marvin Farber's (1901-1980) book "Basic Issues of Philosophy: Experience, Reality, and Human Values" (Harper Torchbooks, 1968).

"Speculation in philosophy takes the form of hypotheses about the ultimate nature of reality, or the interpretation of existence in terms of one or more basic principles. Finally, the ideal of arranging the body of philosophic knowledge in the form of a deductive system is set up as an ultimate goal. Such a program has the advantage of making clear just what is assumed; and assumptions have been seen to be unavoidable."

This is one of the most important contributions that philosophy makes to every other cognitive enterprise. It reveals that at the bottom of every belief system, including the scientific one, are a set of hypotheses and assumptions that have been adopted in order to have a starting place for constructing the deductive system that derives from these premises. Neither science, nor philosophy, nor religion can construct successful rationalistic proofs for the truth of their foundational assumptions. These assumptions must be taken as a matter of faith in order to proceed with the task of making sense of the world. Faith based assumptions sit at the bottom of every philosophical, scientific, and religious worldview. An examination of these premises is and their implications for our understanding of reality is what constitutes the material for a transcendental critique that reveals the strengths and weaknesses of each system.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

O Holy Night

The predicament of absolute authority

Continuing to read Marvin Farber's (1901-1980) book "Basic Issues of Philosophy: Experience, Reality, and Human Values" (Harper Torchbooks, 1968).

"In order to be logically acceptable, grounds and evidence must be provided. Every authority may and should be challenged to justify itself, and in justifying itself it must have recourse to other grounds, in the last analysis to evidence. The logically minded person always insists upon proof and evidence; and the mere demand that justification for an alleged absolute authority be given is sufficient to undermine its status as absolute. If the justification is given, the authority becomes relative to the grounds of evidence that may be adduced; and if no justification is given the alleged authority will be rejected. This may be called the predicament of absolute authority."

Here Farber has placed God in a predicament. By means of this word puzzle he has made it impossible for God either to be an absolute authority or, if he is, to be recognized as one. In either case God becomes nicely irrelevant. If the authority justifies itself by presenting evidence it becomes relative to the evidence and is not, therefore, absolute. If the authority refuses to justify itself it will not be recognized and will, therefore, be irrelevant and meaningless.

In this argument against absolute authority, however, an absolute authority is clearly already recognized. The absolute authority that is established here is the individual who has the right to demand proof and evidence of all other authorities and to accept or reject them on the basis of their own evaluation of the evidence. This is where the real predicament of absolute authority lies, the predicament of human autonomy. What do we do with the countless millions of absolute authorities all of whom recognize only themselves as the final authority of what is true or right or just? An expert authority is no threat to human autonomy because it can still be rejected. An absolute authority, however, completely undermines human autonomy. Only the absolute authority of God can give meaning to human rationalizing and enable it to be anything other than arbitrary.

An absolute authority does not have to justify itself in order to be an absolute authority. An absolute authority does have to justify its claim in order to be recognized as an absolute authority. An absolute authority, however, does not have to justify its every action or pronouncement in order to be recognized as a absolute authority. It only has to justify its ultimate claim to authority, once that is demonstrated and accepted everything else is accepted "on authority." God's justification lies in his self-existence and in his position as Creator. He is not dependent on any external facts because no facts are external to him. Every fact relates directly to God and means God.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The problem of Self-Evidence

Continuing to read Marvin Farber's (1901-1980) book "Basic Issues of Philosophy: Experience, Reality, and Human Values" (Harper Torchbooks, 1968).

"Although, he (Schopenhauer) advises his readers to view the 'self-evident' as a problem, he is unable to question his own conception of the understanding, with its alleged forms and limits. This shows how difficult it is for a philosopher to be aware of his own premises and assumed entities, and how he may fail to see what a later generation comes to see clearly."

Here are a few thoughts provoked by Faber's comment on Schopenhauer:

1. The problem of "self-evidence"
The problem lies in the subjectivity of the observer. It is based on what is evident to me. Since no observer is neutral we need to be aware of the ultimate assumptions we are making that affect our observation and why we have chosen to adopt those assumptions. Adoption is the correct word here because every philosophical position is built on one or more premises which are assumed but cannot be rationally proven. We assume the premises we do, not arbitrarily, but because we believe they are able to make the best sense out of the "facts" at hand.

2. The goal in questioning the "self-evident" is not to rid ourselves of all unproven premises (unless we wish to affirm a radical skepticism). The goal in questioning the "self-evident" is to ensure that we understand what our ultimate premises are, whether what is evident to myself reflects these premises, and whether in the end I am still willing to commit to these premises.

3. Awareness of our premises can be enhanced through some form of distancing. This can occur through the passing of time ("what a later generation comes to see clearly"), through clarifying the motivations that may affect our choice of premises, through the detachment achieved by applying a consistent analytical methodology, etc.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Lack of Agreement Among Philosophers

I'm reading Marvin Farber's (1901-1980) book "Basic Issues of Philosophy: Experience, Reality, and Human Values" (Harper Torchbooks, 1968). In his opening chapter he writes:

"The lack of general agreement among philosophers, whether in different historical periods or at a given time, has been the cause of much criticism. Many of the differences in philosophical views may be attributed to the diversity of motives which lead thinkers to more ultimate speculation or inquiry."

You could replace the word philosophers with almost any branch of study and the statement would make as much sense. People often criticize various disciplines for their abundance of disunity and disagreement and point to this as evidence of the weakness of the discipline. On the contrary it is out of the multitude of views that critical debate arises and progress is made. I believe that this was Paul Feyerabend's point in recognizing and encouraging anarchism in the scientific disciplines. Science (and other disciplines) are weakened when there is too much pressure for conformity to particular theories and viewpoints. Only in a perfect world would perfect conformity be an asset. The key to making the most of our disagreements is to enter into and continue the dialogue.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Richard Kirk on Richard Dawkins

For yet another demolition of Richard Dawkins tirade in "The God Delusion" see what Richard Kirk has to say in The American Spectator.

Plantinga on the Ontological Argument

Plantinga (God and Other Minds) thinks that Anselm's argument is best understood as a reductio ad absurdum and states it like this:

1) God exists in the understanding but not in reality - assumption for reductio
2) Existence in reality is greater than existence in the understanding alone - premise
3) A being having all of God's properties plus existence in reality can be conceived - premise
4) A being having all of God's properties plus existence in reality is greater than God - from 1) and 2)
5) A being greater than God can be conceived - 3), 4)
6) It is false that a being greater than God can be conceived - by definition of "God"
7) Hence it is false that God exists in the understanding but not in reality - 1) - 6), reductio ad absurdum

And so if God exists in the understanding, he also exists in reality; but clearly enough he does exist in the understanding (as even the fool will testify); accordingly he exists in reality as well.