Monday, December 27, 2004

Christmas

While the Christmas season is still in full swing, Christmas proper and the holiday season in general has started to come to a close. It seems an appropriate time, then, to examine Christmas, its worth, and how we are to regard it in the world today.
Naturally, Christmas has a severely religious connotation. The name it self contains the word for the central figure in America's most popular religion. But is Christmas really all about a baby born more than 2000 years ago?
Christmas has lost, for the majority of America, its religious significance. People attend church more out of a misplaced sense of obligation and tradition than in order to worship their Lord. In fact, the traditions we hold on to the strongest are not religious at all; Santa Claus is a creepy old guy who gives gifts, Christmas trees are reminiscent of the pagan solstice tradition, and most modern Christmas carols are totally secular.
Why, then, do we celebrate the holiday? Is it simply out of tradition? Should celebration be reserved for those who truly follow the religion? Christmas has transformed into a new type of holiday, one that is not necessarily concerned with the religious meaning that started it, but rather that has translated the meaning behind the religious into the secular world. Christmas is about a cheer, goodwill, happiness, giving and receiving, friends, and family. It is about being together and celebrating life. While it might be cliche, Christmas is a time to revel in the enjoyment of being alive, and to enjoy the people and things you have to share it with you.

Merry Christmas, and I apologize for an unusually sappy post. Regular, darker blogging will continue soon.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Epistemology

If we're going to assume that the self does, in fact, exist, there still is a disconnect between this assumption and any conclusion we can formulate about epistemology. Simply because we exist does not mean that we perceive, or that our perceptions are true, or that there even exists "truth" outside of our self.

I have, though, no means outside of my senses by which to seek understanding. No amount of logic or philosophical posturing can take me beyond the self besides my perceptions, and while my perceptions could be horribly incorrect, it is better than nothing.

There might be no world around me, there might be nothing outside of myself, but I at least perceive that there is, and it is my only clue on how I should live. I am able to bring about certain things in my perceived reality to further my existence and to make myself "happier," and I also have the ability to create pain and suffering for myself in my perceived reality.

If the reality I perceive is the only thing dictating the quality of life I have, then why shouldn't I live and die by the rules of the world I perceive? I have no other world in which to live besides this one, and even if I am simply deluding myself, at least I will have worked to make it a happy illusion.

This is not a proof of objective reality but rather a choice to play the game that is presented me. In interacting with the world around me I can either choose inaction which leads, in the reality I perceive, to death, or I can choose to act. If the existence of my self is the only assumption I can start with, I obviously would choose to hold onto that life above all else. The alternative would be to let go of all knowledge and all hope of future knowledge.

All this does not make reality objective, and does not mean that I have found "truth," but it does mean that my perceptions are as close as I can get to determining if those things exist.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Faith

There is too much in this world that is simply unknowable and not provable. This is the deconstructionists' and the nihilists' argument, and is frankly rather frightening. If we cannot determine basic metaphysical principles of our universe, then how can we formulate cogent ethical structures, political systems, or even an epistemological framework?

This is a thread I have touched on in my two most recent posts, God and Deconstruction. My conclusion to this point has consisted of one primary supposition: that we "know" we exist. I realize, of course, that this is not a proof or argument, but merely a statement, one which cannot be supported. Holding this statement as truth is, in fact, an act of faith.

Faith is something I'm personally disinclined to accept as reasonable. If we do not know it, why should we accept it as true? I much prefer empiricism and logical connections. We must, though, accept something as truth. If we do not, we are unable to formulate any sort of sense of life, any philosophy, or any determination of what actions we should take (assuming that we are able to take any action at all).

On the subject of existence, let us take a few possibilities. Either I exist or I do not exist. If I do not exist, then I am not writing this, and any philosophy I formulate will be for naught, as I will not have actually formulated it.

If, though, I do exist, there are even more possibilities. Perhaps I exist but am not actually writing this and not actually formulating a philosophy at all, in which case my thinking is again for naught. Perhaps I exist, but my philosophical formulation is simply a dream, and you, my benevolent readers, do not exist, in which case my philosophical philandering is of no use to anyone besides myself. Perhaps I exist, and others exist to read what I write, but they do not exist as I think they exist, and my perceptions are false. Or perhaps things exist exactly as I perceive them.

There are far more possibilities than this short list here, but these at least capture the essence of the matter. When we look at the potential outcomes of one belief over another, which belief to choose becomes clear. If we do not exist, then acting as if we do is zero-sum, without cost or benefit. If we do exist, then there might be some cost in acting, but the costs related to inaction are far greater (that is, non-existence, or death).

Of course, this is not an argument for existence, it is simply an argument to show why we should choose to assume that we exist. Taking the existence of the self on faith might be incorrect, but it is the most beneficial choice to our potential existance; if we do not exist then assuming we do does not make any difference, if we do exist then assuming we do makes a crucial difference.

Is this a modified version of Pascal's Wager? In some ways, perhaps, but the same critiques do not necessarily apply. For one, there is no cost in assuming we do exist when we in fact do not, as there is no self to be taxed. Furthermore, the alternative (existence or non-existence) does not have alternate possibilities. Looking at the wager does, though, turn our attention to God. If I am willing to take my own existence on a relative amount of faith, why would I not also be willing to assume the existence of God?

When I take my own existence on faith, I am not making any assumption as to the nature of other people. The people that my self perceives might or might not exist; the world around me could simply be an elaborate dream. Furthermore, assuming that people around me exist has no benefit over assuming that they are merely figments of my imagination, as I will interact with them in the same way by the laws that govern the world I perceive. Expect to see more on perception and reality in future posts.

God, though, is not another person. We do not perceive Him (It, Her). In fact, there is no immediate reward for believing in Him. The potential good in believing in God is assured after-life, that is, after existence.

Questions about the afterlife aside, our faith in God seems unwarranted. The cost to us now is considerable (that is, prayers, going to church, changing our entire worldview and ethical structure) while the benefit is far from assured. Also, while placing faith in personal existence is the difference between believing existence or non-existence, believing in God is the difference between not believing in Him or believing in a variety of different choices in God. Is He the Judeo-Christian type? The type that judges after death? The type that helps out his believers? Furthermore, we have no evidence to support the existence of one variety of God over another, further complicating things.

Am I saying that this is proof against God's existance? No, far from it. I admit that, like existance, there is no evidence to support either side of the God argument, but while believing in the self provides innumerable returns, believing in God might be a lifelong investment for nothing. Our sense perception at least provides us with some inkling of an idea that a self might exist (even if it is not proof), but we have no such pointer in the realm of God. We must take at least one supposition on faith, I'll submit, and the existence of the self is that one assumption.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

God

We live in a "God-centric" society. Our lives are dictated by the religious institutions around us, both politically and socially. We vote based on "moral issues" (according to CNN), we bomb cafes because our interpretation of our holy book requires it, we evangelize others because they don't believe what we believe.

People can believe what they want about the existence and nature of God. We live in a country that recognizes the individual right to believe what one wishes to believe. The important thing to remember is that God does not matter, regardless of what one believes.

As established in Deconstruction, we must live our lives based on the information that we know, and this information is limited to the existence of our self. There is no evidence to support the existence of God, rather there is a truckload of evidence that negates his existence. Take for a moment:
God is defined as A) Omnipotent, B) omniscient, and C) Omnibenificent
If A and B, then not C (an all-loving God would not permit unhappiness and suffering)
If A and C, then not B (the all-loving God doesn't see the suffering happening, but would like to stop it)
If B and C, then not A (the all-loving God is powerless to stop the suffering from happening)
Therefore, God does not exist.
Of course, our friends throughout history have countered this argument with new ideas; God is all those things but it is our human nature that corrupts and causes suffering (Augustine), God is actually defined as the greatest and best thing that we can imagine (Anselm), God is simply the creator or the prime mover (Aquinas). These claims require more intense scrutiny to topple, but in the end none stand as a definite proof of God, particularly not in the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving sense that we normally define him.

If God cannot be definitively proved, and our perception gives us no reason to believe he exists in the first place, then it follows that one cannot base a personal philosophy on a theistic foundation. My claim is not atheistic in the strictest sense; it is still open to a potential higher power. My claim does, though, require us to remove God from our philosophies. God can remain a possibility in our metaphysics, but it cannot be allowed to influence our ethics, or epistemology, or our politics.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Deconstruction

Thinkers from Descartes to Derrida have deconstructed our views of metaphysics and epistemology to such an extent that I won't belabor the topic here. In fact, one can generally just stand behind the standard nihilist argument against existence, "but how do you know?" Any supposition I make about metaphysics can simply be countered by this question, and any particularly good points can simply be refuted by asking the question more loudly and with more exaggeration on the word "know."

While the nihilsts have a compelling argument (and by compelling I mean, of course, annoying), it is just as compelling to clock a nihilist with a stiff blow to the solar-plexus and then ask them if my fist exists or not. I will cede that our perception might be imperfect, but there is at least one thing that we can be reasonably sure about: life.

Regardless our perception, we can agree that we do, indeed, perceive something, or at least believe we perceive something. If this is true then there must be something that is perceiving, or something that is believing it is perceiving, and this is us, our essence, or perhaps even our soul.

We must base our philosophy on what we know. There is nothing that one can know outside of their own existence, thus one's personal philosophy must be founded in their life and knowledge of it.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Publication

In the past few weeks, notable pieces, written by yours truly, have been published in a variety of newspapers. First, a piece on the legalization of prostitution in the Gonzaga Bulletin.

Secondly, this piece ran in the Anchorage Daily News letters to the editor on Dec. 2nd:


Personal liberties must be returned to citizens; oppression needs to end

Exit polls from the recent election tell us that people voted the way they did because of "moral issues." The whole foundation of our American government, though, is based on the idea that the government shouldn't, under any circumstances, be involved with dictating our morals. This is what is meant in the Declaration of Independence by a "right to liberty."

The government wants to tell us who can be married to whom, yet the government has no right to dictate the direction of an institution which is so clearly religious. The government should not be sanctioning any type of marriage, regardless of the gender of participants.

The government tells us what substances are "right" to put into our bodies. Sadly, Alaskans failed to acknowledge this simple personal liberty on Nov. 2 in not affirming the basic rights embodied in the marijuana legalization bill.

The government doesn't stop with these violations, though. Our government dictates what is "right" or "wrong" for its citizens. This is not freedom, this is not liberty, this is not even constitutional. Let's end government oppression and return personal liberties back to the individuals that comprise this great nation.

------Robbie Cowan
Anchorage


Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Disclaimer

There are things that I know, and I know that I know them. There is then the vast majority of things that I do not know, and by and large I realize that I do not know them. In this blog, I will not necessarily make a differentiation between that which I know that I which I do not know. All opinions expressed and arguments posed stem from a train of logical thought, not from known truths.

Because of this, none of my writings should be taken too seriously. My background in philosophy is primarily in reading great thinkers, and while I am in fact an undergraduate philosophy major (among other things) I realize that this in no way qualifies me to be an authority on all things abstract and philosophic.

The point? I'm full of it, but at least I know I'm full of it.