Three foundational beliefs…
First, we start with logic as a necessary foundational assumption.
Without this, we cannot even begin to consider or discuss this (or any other) topic intelligibly.
- Notice how even those who would argue for an alternate first foundational presupposition reveal their error by implicitly using reasoning to “argue” that an alternate first assumption is necessary in the first place? In their efforts, they succeed only in demonstrating that the basic logic or reason they presume to use therein is the true basic foundation we must all start with.
Indeed, when conversing with others, why would we even try to “reason” with someone who rejects reason as our shared foundation outright? Any points they, if they make any at all, will be inherently self defeating (such as above).
Who can help such a person? It’s a great mystery! Perhaps the lessons of time and experience. One can at least hope.
Second, we join Descartes in drawing the foundational conclusion that we in some form exist and are having an experience.
- “I think, therefore I am.” – René Descartes, Discourse on Method (1637)
Given the subjective certainty available to each of us here, reasonable differences between interlocutors are presumed to be found elsewhere and beyond these first two basic beliefs (indeed, beyond all three as we’ll see below).
- That is, at least differences between persons worth attempting to reason with for much time at all.
3) Not an Illusion
Third, we commit to one last foundational belief, at least in practice, that the world we experience is real and not an illusion.
First, to actually assume or believe that the world is an illusion would commit to more unjustified assumptions than practically necessary in life.
- Stepping back, consider that the whole reason we’ve started our assumptions “over from scratch” here (as above) and proceeded minimally with the most basic assumptions (ie. Reason and Descarte’s basic belief) is to proceed carefully and slowly in establishing our beliefs by making as few foundational assumptions as possible.
- Yet the belief that our experience is an illusion rather than real would require at minimum the additional assumption that an alternately “real” plane of reality (hidden from us) also exists (in addition to our experience of this one) and is not only there but also of a specific nature to be generating the illusory reality we are now experiencing directly, both in capability and actuality.
- This is possible but not demonstrably more probable than the simpler alternative that the world that we experience is indeed as real as we find it. Indeed, the more about this world we observe, the more we must presume to explain as part of said illusion and the more unjustified assumptions about the nature and actualized capabilities of the “real” unseen plane generating said illusion are required of us. Simply put, the pile of unjustified assumptions here grows ever higher before us.
As such, if we have to choose, at least in practice (and not necessarily as an unchangeable commitment forever) to one or the other belief, we know that to assume reality an illusion and some other reality real is more costly in terms of unjustified assumptions, the avoidance of which is our whole purpose in this philosophical exercise!
- Note that we can still remain open to this possibility in theory without committing to actually believing it as the most probable (per a lack of good reasons, beyond being merely possible) in practice.
At the same time and in the opposite direction, we do have reason to assume reality is real in practice. Even if possibly in “the matrix” or life as a video game style simulation (unable to know for sure that we are in one, let alone escape it), we would still have reason to make the most of our experience in it by treating the world and its rules as “real” for all practical purposes.
- The more stubborn amongst us are theoretically free to try the opposite and see how it goes! Such a person, more than others can ultimately speak from the conviction of consequence when they later say, “I wouldn’t recommend that path!”
But this is not the only reason we are forced to make a decision to take the world seriously and assume it real in practice.
- There’s also the issue of others. That is to say, if we find that we intrinsically care about the experiences of others and not just our own, we have no way of avoiding the choice in practice between the working assumption that the world and other people’s experiences in it are real and therefore (empathetically) matter and the alternative option that they are not real and don’t matter or require consideration.
- Notice that being merely agnostic or non-commital on the topic, if even actively and resolutely possible for us, would only serve to weaken our commitment to taking the reality and importance of other people’s lives and experiences seriously.
- “Indecision with the passing of time becomes decision.” (Bill Wilson)
- Hence, the choice to take reality and the experiences of others seriously as “real” in practice must be made one way or the other. For most of us, the choice here is quite obvious.
- If I have to gamble either way, I’m betting on acting as if others are real and therein matter.
- However, for those where such a necessary choice is less obvious (if even conscious at all), it is generally desirable to avoid such people wherever possible for the obvious reasons. That is, unless one favors speaking to people that suspect you are a mere figment of their imagination to toy and play with as they wish: a “hard pass”, for most!
So to review, there are three basic or foundational assumptions we must minimally commit to in order to begin reasoning usefully and moreover, to be worth reasoning with by others:
- The belief in Reason itself
- The belief that we individually exist and are having an experience
- The belief, at least in practice, that the world we experience, including other people and their experiences within it, are real and worth taking seriously.
From these three foundational beliefs, we can proceed to reason our other belief’s slowly and carefully.
- Fortunately for us, most people share in these basic assumptions without any conscious consideration. For those who consciously choose to do otherwise, we’ll know to avoid investing our limited time and energy in engaging with them before too long.
Going forward and building upon this foundation, our goal will be simply this: with slow and careful reasoning, to gain as many true beliefs as possible while also avoiding as many false beliefs as possible.
But I disagree! You haven’t convinced me!
No problem! Please feel free to discuss further with someone else as I’ll now be excusing myself.
- I might recommend someone that loves you with unconditional love and an abundance of patience.
- Thought, to be honest, I’m not sure how seriously you’re going to be able to return the favor to them as such.
And that’s why, I’m afraid it’s not going to be me, for reasons restated from above as simply as follows:
- I won’t try to reason with someone who rejects reason as our shared starting point.
- I won’t take seriously someone who takes the reality and weight of their own existence less seriously than I do.
- I won’t frustrate myself by trying to reason about the world with someone who does not believe in taking the reality (and reasonableness) of the world seriously.
- Nor will I pain myself by trying to relate to someone who does not believe in treating my and other people’s experience in the world as real enough to possibly matter in the first place.
As far as people who can’t agree to the above proposed minimal “common ground” are concerned, I should find it most wise to end the dialogue there – though I can gladly say I’ve mostly avoided such theoretically obtuse persons up to this point in reality.
- I beg your pardon but the only regret I fear is for you who should continue in conversation with such a person for longer than barely at all, at least for now.
- With time and experience, they may yet come back around to reason’s orbit.
Human Logic and Evolutionary Psychology
Moving forward from here, for those who would argue that anyone should abandon reason for lack of sharing additional presumptions with them (beyond those above), the picture only gets worse:
- From a perspective of the history of the world, the expectation that philosophy should ever need to first ground logic or reason itself may ultimately be ruled unnecessary.
- In its place, sits the understanding that some accurate correlation between our minds and the world emerges from our evolved nature itself and it being chiseled to be sufficiently symbiotic with our largely consistent environment or universe. From this perspective of evolutionary psychology, the utility of truth perception at least to some essential degree having survival value.
Philosophy then should serve to correct for our nature’s epistemological weaknesses but not to ground our natural capacity to reason altogether (as our nature’s already have). And any attempt to force philosophy to do the job, may be rightly dismissed as likely misguided.
- That some degree of expectation that the world we will experience later will be something like the one we have experienced before is therein unsurprisingly found to be an expectation seeded by human nature itself: to include memory, implicitly related associations therein, and intertwined reflex or instinct together at a minimum (and a persistently stubborn instinct at that!)
That said, we do find, we have great reason to question and curb the human tendency to reason unfaithfully – just as perfect reason hasn’t fundamentally been required to serve our own and prerequisite species survival across history.
- For example, racial stereotypes perpetuated by culture and media should rightly be resisted by the anti-racist even at the expense of ongoing efforts against said cultural programming that might yet be found even within one’s own thinking.
But we have not as yet encountered reasons to question reasoning more broadly, that is reason itself altogether. Nor will we for as long as reason and the pursuit of truth in general it empowers has utility to the human race, both individually and collectively.
- In fact, even if one was misguidedly convinced that they should fully abandon the presumed efficacy of basic logic in their life, such as in the name of philosophical consistently (as some unreasonably suggesting alternate presuppositions to reason would assert), it is likely they will have an impossible and unending uphill climb working forever against their very core nature as a human being to attempt to do so.
- And for what reward? To forfeit the abiding utility of logic that human’s have inherited from their nature’s being symbiotically-shaped by natural selection for sufficiently thriving within their surrounding and rationally consistent environment?
- This, unlike the tailored correction of particular errors, appears an impossible effort for no reward at all! No, worse, an impossible effort with only immeasurable cost granted should one succeed! Fortunately, this fool’s errand is doubtfully achievable in practice in the first place.
For all the reasons above and with these more immediate reasons added upon them, we will find no good reason to abandon reason itself (a contradiction in itself, we might add!), at least for as long as the rationally-consistent environment that baked it into our nature and the related utility that it offers continues to serve us so well. Nor do we clearly have means or ability to successfully harm ourselves by doing so.
- Again, those so unreasonably skeptical are free to attempt the alternative of abandoning reason itself. For whatever degree they might succeed, they will do so at great risk to themselves and those around them.