What Everyone is Required to Think

muddle's picture

Did that title grab your attention?

Here are some rules or guidelines for avoiding muddled (heh!) thinking.

RULE #1: There is such a thing as the way things really are that obtains independently of what anyone happens to believe about the way they are.

This is inescapable. Suppose you tell me, "No, there is not such a thing as the way things really are, but only our various conceptions reality." You have just offered me your own account of the way things really are.

Agnosticism is a reasonable position in some cases. The agnostic says, "I know there is a truth of the matter. I just do not have access to evidence sufficient for deciding what it is."

Relativism is not a reasonable position in any case. The relativist says, "There is no Truth of the matter. There are only 'truths.'" But this is itself an attemt to assert Truth in the sense that it denies.

RULE #2: An assertion (i.e., a proposition) is true just in case it represents things as they actually are. "It is now raining in PTC" is true if and only if it is, in fact, raining in PTC at the time of utterance.

RULE #3: Rule #2 applies equally to religious and non-religious, moral and non-moral assertions. The rules do not change simply because the assertion includes words like "God" or "Nirvana."

RULE #4: To believe a thing just means believing it to be true. If I believe that Yellowstone is situated mostly in Wyoming, then I believe it to be true that Yellowstone is situated mostly in Wyoming. That is, I take the proposition, "Yellowstone is situated mostly in Wyoming" to be a true proposition. And, as per Rule #2, this means that I take that proposition to represent the world as it actually is.

RULE #5: To believe a thing to be true logically requires also thinking that anything that contradicts it is false. If I take "Yellowstone is situated mostly in Wyoming" to be true, then I must also take it to mean "It is not the case that Yellowstone is situated mostly in Wyoming" to be false. (And, assuming that "Yellowstone is situated mostly in Vermont" contradicts my "Wyoming" belief, I must take it to be false.)

RULE #6: Rules 4 and 5 apply equally to religious and moral beliefs. The rules do not change simply because the beliefs involve concepts such as "God" or "Nirvana." If I believe that Jesus is not divine then I must also believe it to be false to say that Jesus is divine. If I believe that individual persons really exist, then I must also believe it is false that only Nirguna Brahman really exists.

It follows that truth--and, therefore, belief, is exclusive. And because this is so, thinking other beliefs are false can hardly, in and of itself, be regarded as some sort of vice. If "tolerance" requires never thinking anyone else's beliefs false, then, necessarily, there is no such thing as tolerance.

RULE #7: Any assertion that either entails or is reducible to the form "A and not-A" is necessarily false.
"Yellowstone both is and is not mostly situated in Wyoming (at the same time and in the same respect)" is necessarily false.

RULE #8: Rule #7 applies equally to religious and moral beliefs. The rules do not change simply because the beliefs in question involve the concepts "God" or "Nirvana." If my religious beliefs include the assertion "God exists and does not exist at the same time and in the same respect" then at least that belief itself may be safely dismissed as necessarily false. If the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is formally contradictory, then it is necessarily false. If the Advaitin notion that "Nirguna Brahman" is the only thing that really exists is formally contradictory, then it is necessarily false.

RULE #9: Well-formed propositions are either true or they are false. There is no third thing for them to be. It is either true that Yellowstone is situated mostly in Wyoming or it is false. To suggest that it is neither true nor false is to manifest confusion about the nature of language and of logic.

RULE #10: Rule #9 applies equally to religious and moral propositions. The proposition "God exists" (assuming that we have fixed the reference of the word "God") is either true or it is false. It is necessarily false to say that it is neither true nor false.
Either reality does include such a being among its furnishings or it does not.

RULE #11: Offering a proof for a conclusion does not essentially require convincing the person with whom you are arguing. Arguments are either sound and non-question-begging or they are not, and tbnhis is so regardless of what anyone happens to think about their soundness. To think otherwise would be to think that the bare assertion, "It is not!" is a decisive philosophical refutation, which is absurd.

RULE #12: There is no philosophically interesting sense of 'Belief B is true for person S.' It is either the result of utter confusion or it merely means 'Person S takes B to be true' (i.e., 'S believes B.') But 'S believes B' invites the perfectly good question, 'Is B true?'

There will do for now.

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muddle's picture
Submitted by muddle on Fri, 12/21/2007 - 2:48pm.

As a follow-up to the blog, consider the following.

Suppose you are told that a barber who goes by "Jebus" has just opened a shop in the Village.

The unique thing about Jebus is that it is his policy to shave ALL and ONLY those people who DO NOT shave themselves. What should you think?

Well, consider this question: Does Jebus shave himself or not? If you say yes, then it follows that he does not shave himself, because he ONLY shaves those people who do not shave themselves. If you say no, then it follows that he does indeed shave himself, because he shaves ALL people who do NOT shave themselves. Either way, he both does and does not shave himself, which is flatly contradictory.

Contradictory propositions do not always wear their contradictions on their sleeves, so to speak. Sometimes it takes inquiry to determine whether they are coherent. The propositon, "Jebus shaves all and only those who do not shave themselves" is thus self-contradictory and therefore necessarily false.

Nothing changes in the event that we alter some of the content. Suppose that a televangelist on TBN asserts, "Jesus saves ALL and ONLY those who do not save themselves." What should you think?

Answer: the Jesus claim should receive precisely the same assessment as the Jebus claim. It, too, is logically incoherent and, therefore, necessarily false. The fact that the subject was a religious figure changes nothing about the status of the claim.

Nonsense is nonsense, whether it is religious nonsense or secular nonsense.

________________

Floor Mosaic, 3rd cent. church, North end Sea oif Galilee


Main Stream's picture
Submitted by Main Stream on Fri, 12/21/2007 - 11:54am.

Muddle, I know you try very hard to make yourself understood, and I appreciate SOME of your wisdom, however, it is impossible to logically discuss religion, because for the most part, relgion is illogical because it is based mostly on faith, not logic.

Yellowstone is a tangible object, that we can all see (it's actually quite lovely and mysterious). No one can argue that it lies mostly in Wyoming. However, religion is not tangible, therefore, very difficult to debate and argue. If a subject is intangible and illogical in the first place, then any conclusion you derive, of its falseness, is flawed.

We won't know until we die, what happens to us, and then, it will be too late to debate the end result with each other. But it seems ridiculous to me that you try and argue logically about illogical topics, that cannot be proven or disproven.

Unitarian's don't belittle and patronize people, like you insinuate in many of your posts. I should hope that our acceptance of other religions would be seen as a positive attribute, not a negative trait.


muddle's picture
Submitted by muddle on Fri, 12/21/2007 - 12:22pm.

Yes, you should probably get off because you seem a tad dizzy and disoriented.

I've laid it all out--including a reply to your original "faith versus logic" post, to which, I believe, you never responded.

In all of this, my concern is only to set the parameters for fruitful discussion--not to argue for a particular religious view.
I maintain that the approach that you take--a very modern, no, POST-modern, approach--is one that renders all thought impossible.

And you have never answered my pointed questions. For example, most recently, if you think that each religion has its own path to heaven.Nirvana/etc., is it that you think that each is literally true, so that we're all going to split up one day (my airport example)? Or is it that you think that they are all "true" only in the sense that belief in them is instrumentally valuable to some other end (like coming not to hurt anyone)?

Why suppose in advance that it is impossible to make any headway in the rational assessment of religious truth claims? What does "tangibility" have to do with anything? Numbers as abstract objects are not "tangible," yet we think we are doing something significant when we think about them (i.e., when we do mathematics).

(One pointed example of rational assessment of a religious truth claim. Shankara (8th-9th century) maintained that our belief in a plurality of selves is an illusion. Only "propertyless" Brahman exists. His later critic, Ramanuja (11th century) asked, "If that is so, then what is the substrate of the illusion?" Excellent question!" The statement "Jones has the experience of a pink elephant in his room" does not entail the existence of the elephant--he might be suffering from an illusion--but it most certainly entails the existence of Jones! To say that plurality is an illusion is to imply that someone or something is suffering from the illusion. There are two choices: It is either Brahman, or it is something distinct from Brahman. Shankara's philosophy absolutely rules out saying that Brahman suffers the illusion, for both religious and philosophical reasons. And so this implies that there is at least one self distinct from Brahman that suffers from the "illusion." But then it is not an illusion, for it is true that at least one thing other than Brahman exists. If Ramanjua's argument is sound, then it demonstrates that the central tenet of Advaita Vedanta is incoherent and thus necessarily false.)

What you don't seem to realize at all is that the conclusions that you have come to accept presuppose views in epistemology and metaphysics that are, at the very least, debatable (and you assume them without debate), and are more likely than not incoherent in themselves.

________________

My Opie impression: circa 1963.


JeffC's picture
Submitted by JeffC on Fri, 12/21/2007 - 5:27pm.

That you stack the argument so that either the parameters are so skewed that someone (me) cannot follow them or that the parameters are so narrow that only one solution, predestined by your caveats, can be reached.

Just because Shankara's philosophy absolutely ruled out saying that Brahman suffers the illusion does not mean that Brahman does not suffer the illusion, only that Shankara could not encompass a reality which included Brahman suffering illusions. For all we know, Brahman was suffering from multiple and repeated illusions.

You’re argument does not seem to allow multiple truths when we think we know that multiple truths exist and can be scientifically measured (not that it is necessary for the argument). For instance, time dilation from approaching the speed of light leads to two absolutely true and seemingly contradictory measures for the amount of time that has passed.

Suppose I put on a kettle of water to boil and a friend stops by and ask: “Why is that water boiling?” I can say that H2O molecules are being excited and are transitioning from a liquid to a gaseous state. I could say that the water is boiling because I put the kettle on top of a flame. I could say, “because my wife wants some tea!”

Different frames of reference allow totally true but unrelated descriptions of the same reality.

People in the town were laughing at Jebus behind his back for having an internally illogical policy and Shankara was probably just too drunk or stoned to recognize what was plainly right in front of his eyes.

Merry Christmas!


muddle's picture
Submitted by muddle on Fri, 12/21/2007 - 6:05pm.

Not the band. I mean, anything in your reply that challenges what I've said.

Just because Shankara's philosophy absolutely ruled out saying that Brahman suffers the illusion does not mean that Brahman does not suffer the illusion, only that Shankara could not encompass a reality which included Brahman suffering illusions. For all we know, Brahman was suffering from multiple and repeated illusions.

Well, um, OK. But this would simply be to acknowledge the force of Ramanuja's (not mine, by the way--I'm just the messenger here) argument. It would be to allow that the argument forces Shankara to revise his account of what Brahman is like. Fair enough. As Shankara has it set up (and he gets this from threads of thought in the Upanishads), Brahman isn't the kind of being that can possibly suffer from an illusion. For one thing, Brahman is said to be literally propertyless or maximally indeterminate (which I thin is incoherent in itself--another argument). But Shankara also maintains that Brahman is pure consciousness without an object of that consciousness (which explains why certain methods of meditation seek that kind of object-less consciousness.) Now, Ramanuja noted (rightly, I think) that you can't say both that Brahman is literally propertyless AND that he is pure consciousness. But never mind that. Arguably, this is a consciousness incapable of suffering illusion, since illusion involves either taking there to be some object of experience that is not there, or mistaking one object for another.

BUT I DIGRESS...

My point was not necessarily to defend Ramanuja's argument (though I think he was right). Rather, it was to observe that the rational assessment of religious truth claims is possible (and desirable). Whatever your intentions, and whether wittingly or not, you play along here by suggesting a possible way out. The attempt plays by the rules that I was suggesting do, in fact, apply. (Otherwise, you might have said that such arguments employ logic and logic does not extend to religious discourse.)

For instance, time dilation from approaching the speed of light leads to two absolutely true and seemingly contradictory measures for the amount of time that has passed.

I take the "seemingly" to be of extreme importance here. Does anyone suppose that we might discover that something both is and is not what it is at the same time and in the same respect? It smacks of J.S. Mill's assertion that mathematical certainty is merely the result of inductive generalization so that it is HIGHLY PROBABLE that 2+2=4 but not necessary.

Different frames of reference allow totally true but unrelated descriptions of the same reality.

Yes. I am, simultaneously...

* Moving my fingers across a keyboarde.
* Typing a post.
* Annoying my wife.

But how is this supposed to affect anything I've said? First, all of these descriptions are mutually compatible. Second, once we've fixed on one of the possible and true descriptions, the law of non-contradiction applies full force.

Merry Christmas to you!

________________

Floor Mosaic, 3rd cent. church, North end Sea oif Galilee


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