Saturday, December 11, 2004


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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The difficulty in being disinclined to accept anything on faith beyond self existence is that, as is stated in Godel's incompleteness theorem, no consistent system can be used to prove its own consistency. So, very well, we assume the self; where do we proceed from there? That is to say, how then do we prove everything else that we know. Obviously, one might quote Descartes here, but still, the difficulty is that the self, in its true state, is completely detached fromt he outer world and interfaces with a rather inadequate and inaccurate representation of the self. To clarify, language and action are far too limiting to the self and thus allow only for inaccurate representation and perception, so how are we to judge anything from the existance of the self? Even accepting the self, we require more from this, we must formulate a variety of assumptions about the outer world, thus proving nothing. The difficulty in judging whether one should believe in existence or naught, is that one must ascribe values to two states which are nigh incomprehensible. I would hold that, especially without god, nothing can truly be held as valuable. That is to say, that if one finds no god, there is no reason to assume the human more valuable than the mule or otherwise, for it is in the basis of religion that humankind attains a value. There are, obviously, other justifications, but none as strong as the assumption that a god created humankind as superior.

4:12 PM  
Blogger RCowan said...

You've raised two separate issues here, one regarding reality and our interaction with it, the second regarding values. Both are, in fact, titles for two posts I have saved as drafts currently, so expect more on these topics coming soon. I hope to show that God is not required to hold men higher than animals, and that God is not required to have values. You do seem to like to push the God thing, don't you...

12:30 PM  

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