PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 95 22nd November 2004
I. 'Arguments Beyond Reason' by Jeff Meyerhoff
II. 'Essay on Right and Wrong' by Richard Vincent Grear
III. 'Epigrams on Metaphysics' by Vinayak Shankar
Within the space of one week I received three remarkable pieces of work, which are here published together, although in terms of approach and inspiration the essays could not be further apart.
Jeff Meyerhoff is an independent scholar who has been studying philosophy and other disciplines for some twenty years. 'I recently started doing my own work,' he writes. 'Since I have no philosophy peer group, I have no way of getting informed opinion about its quality... I haven't seen what I'm arguing in the literature, but not being immersed in a philosophical community makes it easy to miss important work and fool yourself into thinking you've contributed something original when you haven't.'
Vinayak Shankar is 25. 'I have seriously decided to dedicate my remainder of this life to write some inspirational lines. Struggling between success and failure, I feel confused to make a decision... I am surrounded by people who worship God but do not realize his presence in every atom around us... I never know what the future holds for me but to me it's meaningless if I don't do what I feel.'
I am prepared to stick my neck out and state that, in my view, each of these pieces of work is evidence of an original, authentic and deep attempt to grapple with the nature of the human predicament. Take your time, and enjoy!
The article by Richard Grear has been removed at the author's request.
I. 'ARGUMENTS BEYOND REASON' BY JEFF MEYERHOFF
Rationally Justifying the Exploration of the Psychological Bases of Beliefs
'... truth thus rests in the end on belief and, even more
ultimately, on the affective attitudes.'
It's commonly thought that once the participants in a rational discussion have exhausted all rational means of coming to agreement there is nothing more to do except to agree to disagree. By following a line of thought justified by current outcomes in contemporary analytic philosophy, I argue that there is a further investigation that rational discussants can pursue which is called for because our deeply held beliefs are held for non-rational rather than rational reasons. I further argue that this exploration into the basis of belief - rather than the belief itself - does, contrary to the genetic fallacy, affect truth and objectivity. While distasteful for most intellectuals to contemplate, the basis of individual beliefs in personal psychologies makes necessary the individual and joint exploration of the irrational.
The genetic fallacy says that the origin of a person's intellectual views plays no role in determining the validity of those views. The validity lies in whether the views are valid according to the criteria of valid knowledge claims, such as agreement with the facts, consistency or the way the world is. For example, Heidegger's psychology and beliefs as a Nazi sympathizer tell us nothing about whether his philosophy is true or false, right or wrong. Those who refer to the psychology of the believer to undermine the validity of a thinker's beliefs are said to be using an ad hominem analysis and committing the genetic fallacy. According to the genetic fallacy, a psychological explanation of why someone believes as they do is beside the point; it could be an interesting empirical investigation in the field of psychology, but it is thought to play no role in determining what is true.
The genetic fallacy assumes that there is a right representing that some beliefs do and that we can determine which beliefs represent rightly and which do not; that reality impresses itself upon some people, making their beliefs true, and is missed by others, necessitating finding another origin for their mistaken beliefs. Yet in philosophy it is readily admitted that we do not have a theory of truth or an epistemology which has been conclusively proven to be true. Moreover, the very project of explaining our connection to, and knowledge of, a reality beyond us has been brought into serious doubt. Finally, the very question of the existence of reality is "hotly debated." If we take seriously this historical failure to reach consensus on our connection to, knowledge of and the existence of reality we have to conclude, for now, that it is false to compare an imagined right relation to reality which makes some beliefs true and a mistaken relation that makes other beliefs false.
If we examine our reasons for believing what we believe beyond the reason-giving we do to defend our beliefs we find the animating core which motivates us to have the beliefs that we have and deploy the reasons that we do. The reasons we give for believing as we do are not the real reasons we believe because they always ultimately end in circularity, regress or assumptions. Since all belief-systems if pursued far enough will end in circularity, regress or assumptions we cannot say that reasons are what ultimately cause us to believe. There must be something else which causes us to adopt our particular chain of reasons or web of beliefs. Since in terms of their ultimate rational foundation our belief system is as good as an opposed belief-system, there must be something else which causes us to choose, and which holds us to, our particular belief-system. What is characteristic of us is not only the combination of beliefs we have woven together, since everyone does that with greater or lesser originality, but why we adhere to this, rather than that, belief-system. In our rational discussions there is a way in which we completely miss the point since it is not the reasons we are deploying that cause us to believe. If we are trying to convince another person or challenge our own beliefs then we should, for more efficiency, go to the source of the belief, which is the emotional and psychic need to have the world be the way we believe it is.
According to Pascal, "The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know." In contrast, I am arguing that the subterranean psychic world of the heart lying beneath reason that gives our beliefs their animating force can be better known. The many tools of psychological analysis developed over the course of the 20th century can be used for self and other analysis in a productive way. Normally, if this kind of analysis of another is deployed in a rational argument it is a sign that rational argumentation has broken down and some other reason for our opponents' mistaken obstinacy must be found. But because all of us ultimately adhere to our beliefs for non-rational reasons, this kind of psychological analysis of belief can be used to understand those reasons. Using a depth psychological approach to understand the psychological origins of belief we can uncover the reasons beyond reason that cause us to believe.
An illustrative example of this kind of investigation is conveniently ready-to-hand: my own psyche. I have discovered that I contain an uneasy mix of a dominant Chomskyan-Marxian, socialist, political-economic worldview and a subterranean and unintegrated (Ayn) Randian libertarianism. The socialism has part of its psychic origins in an unfair familial structure which allotted the intrinsic good of attention unfairly. I was in a rigged competition with an older sibling in which I didn't get the goods. The resulting unconscious frustration and anger caused me to be relentlessly critical of any status quo. The socialist ideal of a fair distribution of goods acts, in adulthood, as a political corrective to a personal need and a standard by which to measure a political-economic reality that never measures up. Marx's impassioned writings against capitalist competition offers an inspiring social and economic ideal and, on another level, a symbolic relief from a sibling competition I was resigned to losing.
This same situation produced a shadow political-economic vision. The lack of familial goods caused disappointment and withdrawal. A false self-sufficiency was created since caregivers could not be relied upon and healthy dependency seen as a danger. This false self-sufficiency thinks of itself as a healthy autonomy. The need to not need anyone and to "pull myself up by my own bootstraps" laid the foundation for an anti-socialist, uncompassionate libertarianism which believes that "it is every man for himself."
Notice that the shadow worldview is described more negatively as a pathological outcome. It wouldn't describe itself in that way as evidenced by those who hold such views as their dominant belief-system. So a further exploration here would be how one political-economic vision gained ascendancy and the ways in which the dominant vision holds sway through an invidious characterization of the subordinate worldview. The speculation then suggests itself: what would it be like experientially to actually be that shadow self?
These two political-economic outlooks could be integrated into a libertarian socialism which Chomsky has described. And they are integrated, to a small degree, on the level of political ideals and when forming opinions on current political events. But on a deeper level they remain largely unexamined. The emotional substructure of belief animates the political beliefs and holds them within certain bounds. The political views can be refined and broadened on the intellectual level through the usual means of reading, discussion and political action. But an additional method is to explore the psychic terrain from which these beliefs grew and upon which they are still dependent. As long as this is not done these beliefs will repetitively have to do the psychic work of satisfying primary needs in never-quite-satisfying secondary ways. The examination of the shunned Randianism may release new energies and create a novel political integration, or it may just allow a deeper more sympathetic appreciation of the character of an alien view. There's no guarantee that an integration of the other may result.
An example of this broadening and deepening which did not result in a change in belief can be found in George Lakoff's study of liberal and conservative mindsets. In studying conservatives, Lakoff, a liberal, tried to appreciate the alien conservative views as sympathetically as possible and, while not changing his liberal views, reports a much greater understanding of why conservatives believe as they do and a deeper understanding of, and commitment to, his own liberal beliefs. Greater insight resulted from an exploration of the experiential basis of beliefs. New political encounters will be engaged with a different understanding and produce different knowledge and the creation of different truths.
An interactive, as opposed to an individual, psychological analysis of beliefs would allow us to pursue debate beyond disagreement. The purpose of rational argumentation is to determine what is true or right. When two or more people debate, the goal is to gain agreement; if they come to agreement they are done. This often does not occur. If the debate ends in disagreement what are the debaters to do? They must agree to disagree. I am proposing that there is more to be done.
The predominant way of thinking regarding rational debate is that the debate participants share the same objective world which is the guarantor of reaching truth. If the debaters follow rational procedures of argumentation in an unbiased fashion then they should eventually come to agreement about whatever matter they are discussing because all participants should agree that the most rational understanding of the issue will represent best the one reality that the participants are trying to get right using their reason.
For those non-realists who believe there is not one reality we share, another neutral guarantor of correctness might be thought to be our criteria for valid knowledge claims. It may be hoped that our criteria of valid knowledge claims, such as simplicity, plausibility, consistency, adherence to the facts and coherence, could provide a neutral criteria of validation, but here too a rational foundation for these values is missing. Hilary Putnam argues that even seemingly neutral rational criteria such as simplicity, plausibility, consistency and coherence are themselves values - epistemic values - which cannot rationally ground their primacy as standards for evaluating thought. So it can be argued that even the criteria of evaluation are, ultimately, not rationally defensible.
The goals of truth and objectivity still play a prominent role in this expansion of rational argumentation despite the proposed immersion in psychological and emotional subjectivity and intersubjectivity. Because we will continue to employ common criteria for evaluating ethical and knowledge claims we will continue to have objectivity. Objectivity within a discussion will be gained through the overlap of the participants' criteria of validation. If two or more people share criteria of validation then they can determine what they will call "objectively true." Two people who share no criteria of validation (if this is even possible) could not even have a discussion since they would share no objective world in common.
As stated before, there are a number of competing theories of truth, each with successful and problematic aspects and continuing debates. What we know now about truth is that it is being determined and re-determined in an ongoing fashion in the myriad reflections and discussions occurring both publicly and privately every day. An approach such as the one I am describing, which alters the character and resolution of such reflections and discussions, will alter what is determined to be true. Since there is, as of yet, no supreme determiner of what is true which is provable to all, these ongoing and ever revisable determinations of true are determining truth. In that way, contrary to the genetic fallacy, the investigation of the psychological causes of beliefs and justifications affects what is determined to be true by altering what people think is true and what they think is the best method for determining what is true.
This psychology of beliefs allows more of the ingredients of truth creation to be brought to consciousness and creates more self and other knowledge. This knowledge is not only intellectual knowledge, because the exploration of the psyche invariably produces experiential knowledge as the emotional roots of belief are touched. Becoming more intellectually and emotionally conscious creates better thinking, better being and better acting.
1. "The Structure and Content of Truth," Journal of Philosophy 87, no. 6 (1990), (326).
2. Ben-Ami Scharfstein in his psychological study of great philosophers and their ideas writes "I have no qualms in accepting this formal answer" "the formal answer that nothing in the truth or value of an idea is affected by the circumstances of its origin. These circumstances help to explain just how the idea was arrived at and what its contemporary nuances were, but in themselves they have no bearing on its truth or falsity." The Philosophers, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1980), p. 380.
3. In Roger Scruton's mainstream account of philosophy he describes five major competing theories of truth. Modern Philosophy, New York: Penguin Books, 1994, pp. 97-111. Joseph Margolis gives a short history of philosophy's lack of success in these areas in The Unraveling of Scientism, (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2003), pp. 1-18.
4. See Richard Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton U. Press, 1979).
5. Miller, Alexander, "Realism", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2002 Edition), Edward N. Zalta(ed.) http:---
6. Bailey, Alan, Sextus Empiricus and Pyrrhonian Scepticism, (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 135-136. Priest, Graham, Beyond the Limits of Thought, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
7. Lakoff, George, Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).
8. Of course this is not the case if the social situation requires winning an argument such as at a doctoral defense or at a conference panel discussion where reputations, status and job furtherance are at stake.
9. Putnam, Hilary, The Collapse of the Fact/Value Dichotomy and Other Essays, (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2002).
(c) Jeff Meyerhoff 2004
II. 'ESSAY ON RIGHT AND WRONG' BY RICHARD VINCENT GREAR
[Article removed at author's request.]
III.'EPIGRAMS ON METAPHYSICS' BY VINAYAK SHANKAR
1. A great man is one who feels nothing about the good things he does for others.
2. Words can create an image but not a picture.
3. Man can never be the slave of animals because he is of no use to them.
4. We are said to be learning and matured when something or anything we see looks like everything. But the real maturity will make us feel like everything we see is nothing.
5. There is certainly someone who tosses a coin for us with good and bad on either sides of it.
6. One can feel great under a roof but not under a sky.
7. Water can separate lands but blood makes us cross them.
8. Only mind can go back in time not the body.
9. Don't cross the sea without getting pearls or precious stones from them.
10. Numbers and words cannot measure or describe Nature.
11. Nature can make anyone live anywhere.
12. Hard work is not doing more work than others, but is trying to cross your own limits.
13. The happiness for a man comes from how much desire he has defined for himself.
14. You are happy when you make the world your home but sad when you try making your home look like a world.
15. No one on this world has a desire of seeing the 8th colour because he knows its not existent. Desire always comes from being aware of its existence.
16. Exploit your strength instead of exploring your weaknesses.
17. Little desire stimulates action, but more desire stimulates confusion.
18. Bad memories in mind are like a stone in water, they never get dissolved.
19. Experiencing the existence of GOD is like tasting a deadly poison, because you can never come out of it and share your feelings with others.
20. A search for GOD in one's Life is like a search for gold in an empty gold container.
21. We repent from past, learn from present and expect from future.
22. A man keeps control of plants and animals around him, not because he his superior to them but just because he is dependent on them.
23. You cannot show colours to someone who is blind from birth, and he cannot show GOD to someone who is a fool from birth.
24. Life is like light, it needs an object to show its existence.
25. Health comes from excess of energy, decease comes from deficiency of energy and death comes from transformation of energy.
26. You don't need to have a good language skill to convince yourself.
27. What bothers every living being on earth is uncertainty. An event that is certain to occur is not to be bothered at all.
28. Don't live for others because others cannot die for you.
29. The fastest thing which looks slow is TIME.
30. Future looks like past for a man who has always seen success in Life.
31. Poison taken at once, kills Life but when taken in small quantities becomes food.
32. Words can never be a substitute for water to quench one's thirst.
33. An invention to us is nothing to Nature.
34. Leafs makes a plant grow but flowers and fruits makes them precious.
35. What is good to flesh is never good to soul.
36. Life is like fragrance, you can feel it, but never can see it.
37. For a man with strength his mind controls the body but for a weak man body takes control over the mind. This is a fact and reality, but in reality both of them are in some one else's control. The master control is the force of Nature.
38. Even a fool can look at the mistakes made in the past, but only a wise can see mistakes in future.
39. Life is like glass, it can break but not perish.
40. A stem can never hold a branch if it is as weak as a branch.
41. Success is never a surprise for an optimist and failure is never a surprise for a pessimist.
42. A seed of a tree looks no different from a seed of a plant.
43. A true pleasure can be seen only through closed eyes.
44. Without a fish in water and birds in air, man could have never explored sky and ocean.
45. Intelligence is of no use to a man of no desires.
46. God creates everything from nothing, but humans create nothing from everything.
47. Death is an end of actions made by him or her, but not an end of actions.
48. The secret of Life starts from the smallest and the farthest man can see
49. Science can explain the occurrence of death but can never prevent it happen.
50. The day man prevents the occurrence of death by Nature, occurrence of death by humans would start.
51. The depth of devotion is greater than the depth of an ocean.
52. There is no gender for a corpse.
53. Closed eyes can see beyond your open eyes can see.
54. Life in a body is like a cell in a watch, because a watch counts up time but for a cell time is a count down.
55. One can understand everything about Nature but unfortunately can do nothing about it.
56. What the world wants might be your weakness but never forget that your strength is someone's else weakness.
57. The one and only animal which is dependent on humans is himself.
58. Every generation could have lived more than the past generation if we had no intelligence of making technology.
59. Every man on his journey to death keeps learning how to live better, but it will be too late by the time he applies them all.
60. A man who invents is not a scientist but a messenger of GOD.
61. We count time because it is finite for us but not for Nature.
62. A soul in your body is like a bird in your hand, when the hands become weak the bird flies away.
63. You can see any thing in Life and share your experiences except DEATH.
64. Nature was made by GOD in the absence of man and it was only later Life came into existence.
65. The cause of every invention came from Nature.
66. Never believe in someone speaking about death, because it can never be seen twice.
67. Creativity of humans cannot exist without the creations of GOD.
68. Humans are intelligent than all animals because he is not gifted to live independently.
69. The way Nature nurtures man is letting him torture it.
70. God created colours so that the vision of man can never go beyond it and it is beyond this the secret of Life exists.
71. Every road leads to a destination but every destination might not have roads leading to it.
72. A man in joy never counts time but a man in pain counts every second of it.
73. Science can invent a heart that can pump blood but not feelings through it.
74. There can be no invention without his creation.
75. If humans think they made this earth a living place then why not make every planet around him a living place.
76. Even if some day in the future man can give intelligence to robots he would refuse to give robots the intelligence to think about humans. It's the same way GOD has worked it out for us.
77. Creations can never find the creator because he could ask for more and more until he becomes the creator.
78. No invention on this earth can survive the forces of Nature.
79. There are countless number of planets away from the human sight that support Life with each planet having different laws of Nature.
80. All secrets of Nature are totally kept invisible to either the most powerful microscope or the most powerful telescope.
81. The journey of exploring the creator is so long that by then this planet earth would be a dust in galaxy with no ability of supporting Life on it.
82. If an atheist survives the greatest forces of Nature he would be transformed into a theist.
83. Food and air might look as some form of chemical composition to a scientist but in simple terms its called Life.
84. Human body is a finite sized object with infinite activities in it, all powered by an unknown source of energy which we call it as GOD.
85. The more and more we explore this endless universe of countless galaxies and limitless star nurseries, the size of our earth scales down and down in comparison to almost nothing.
86. Something can end only if something else can start. That means every thing can never end even at the farthest point because we will be left with nothing to start with.
87. There are countless planets that support Life, each separated by a distance that can be crossed only by a journey called DEATH.
89. Difficulties and death define the contour of living and Life.
90. It can be clearly accepted that all non-Life objects come under the law of science and all living beings are partially seen to obey the law of science, but the fact is that they are influenced by an unseen force of energy.
91. Our body holds Life, which when set free would turn up into a corpse, this energy so called as Life will either split up or rejoin energies that will make a invisible cell power up to a another body of any form. This is the process of reincarnation or rebirth.
92. Life is a puzzle, a enigma, a mystery, a bottomless pit, a journey whose start and destination is unknown. It actually is the journey through different and endless galaxies of universe.
93. If every element in this universe is made up of something, then does it mean the smallest the humans have ever seen is made up of nothing? If the answer is yes then it means there are certain things in this universe which are made up of nothing. And if the answer is no then it means we still haven't seen beyond the smallest. Which is true only time can reply.
94. It is only soul that can travel faster than light.
95. In this universe where no unit of measurement is sufficient to measure the distance to the end, does Life exist outside earth? Are we alone? The answer is yes! We are one of them who have all asked are we alone. We cannot reach them nor survive in their law of Nature. If we reach them at all, it is only by changing our form of existence, and that is exactly what is called death.
96. For us infinity means beyond the scope of human imagination, but in reality it is the smallest unit in the universe.
97. A question that has no answer doesn't mean the question does not exist but means that the answer for the question is in a form that by no means can enter our human brain. Because if it should enter it should be in the form of light, sound or substance. But there are infinite things in this universe that are not in these forms, and all of these remain invisible and unknown for ever. Then why did the question arise? That's because the question comes from the brain to the outside world and the answer comes from the outside world into the brain. That which comes from the brain need not be in the form of human senses but what enters our brain should have a form our body can identify. This is the reason certain questions can have no answer. A TRUE QUESTION IS ONE THAT HAS NO ANSWER.
98. What does nothing mean? What does an end mean? They all always mean some thing which for us always meant nothing. There are countless things in this nothing which are not required for our existence, and all that is not required for our existence is called nothing. NOTHING HAS EVERYTHING WHICH ALSO CONTAINS SOMETHING.
99. Pleasure and pain are the greatest barriers humans should cross to discover the universe. And to get away from pleasure or pain you are supposed get away from yourself, your own body. That which gets out of the body is the energy which is free from pain, pleasure, or any law of Nature. It is only the energy that can travel the limitless boundaries of the universe, because energy in any form is still energy and can never die.
100. So where do all these thoughts take us? These paranormal thoughts which are not fiction but the hardcore reality make us stand at a point in space where we feel that humans are great on this earth. But let him not try to conquer the unknown space around his home planet. Let him not decide to his favour about universe. He always has got rights to do anything in his planet but not try to venture into the creator's domain. What we have done in the past, and the one we are doing now and that which we have planned to do it in future are all good but never forget that we are all made up of and powered by an unknown creator who has left no clue to humans to find him. And no clue does't mean no creator. He is there always forever to keep all Life in this universe in the state of ENIGMA.
(c) Vinayak Shankar 2004