Sunday, October 31, 2010

ETA: Nov. 1, 2010 7:30AM Central Time - Wolfgang!

Wolfgang Emerson Stark will be here tomorrow morning.

I started this blog to have a creative and communicative outlet when his older brother Severin was born. I look forward to more of this and I appreciate all the friends I have made over the last couple of years.

Look out world....


Monday, October 25, 2010

Rationalization part 4 - Objective/Subjective?

This is a long swirl of thought exploration. Perhaps skimming (or skipping!) is as good or better than reading here......

From the Wikipedia pages on these subjects (objects?)

"Subjectivity refers to the subject and his or her perspective, feelings, beliefs, and desiers.[1] In philosophy, the term is usually contrasted with objectivity.[1]"

"Objectivity is both a central and elusive philosophical category. While there is no universally accepted articulation of objectivity, a proposition is generally considered to be objectively true when its truth conditions are "mind-independent"—that is, not the result of any judgments made by a conscious entity or subject."

When thinking in ultimate terms, there is a false dichotomy between objective and subjective. In the end it’s all the same stuff. Here are two problems I see with any notion of ultimate objectivity:

One - Can we really conceive of anything “mind independent” since our minds, and the inevitable coloration they bring to apprehending “reality”, are required to conceive of anything at all? If there is objective reality, how can we know we accurately perceive it?

Two - Ultimately our minds, and the subjective thoughts and feelings they produce, are as much a part of “objective" reality as anything else. They actually do exist. Products of minds and products of “mind-independent” aspects of the universe are ultimately the same thing. The unicorn I imagine is ultimately made of the same stuff as the keyboard I am touching now.

But even though there is no ultimate objectivity we can access with certainty, it’s a useful concept in everyday use, as it helps distinguish between things that we describe as a personal point of view and things that are there regardless of our point of view - even though ultimately we couldn’t perceive anything as exisiting at all without a point of view! Yes, it’s tricky business.

Is it hopeless to have conversations which seek objectivity? No, but they must be built upon shared suppositions that may not be ultimately defendable themselves.

Could these suppositions be anything? No, because even if they cannot be ultimately defended, there must be some sort of reason for them - primarily that they give us success in some way. Rationality tends to give us positive results, for instance. It gives us more prediction and control over aspects of our world, and this contributes to our well-being. Therefore it seems a wise choice to seek this idea of rationality. And of course, I have to use rationality to justify rationality, and the only thing I can appeal to in defending rationality is some sort of enhanced well-being.

How do we define what is rational and what isn't? Aren't these systems of thought that we have developed that just seem to be true to us? Is that proof? We think it is true. We feel it is true. Can there be evidence that it is true? Can we exhibit meta-rationality? Perhaps only in the realm of our intuitions and feelings about what is successful - in the evidence of what works and enhances our lives.

Once again, we have to adopt foundations to have a discussion or a train of thought, but the only way we can justify these foundations ultimately is if they work in some way for us. Otherwise we are making a giant claim about the ability of the human mind to understand ultimate reality, and this is difficult to justify. Even logic depends on our levels of ability to generate words and concepts and the context in which we do it, which I do not think we can assume is indicative of any ultimate reality, else, once again, we are making very strong claims about the scope of the finite human mind.

In an ultimate sense, we can't start at the beginning, with ultimate foundations, because we are not there! We are in the middle and we have to reconstruct backwards and forwards to find the best way.

Perhaps in a deeper, more comprehensive level of reality, A can be "A" and "not-A" in a way that would blow a gasket in our finite minds. After all, can ants understand calculus? Just because I may be unable to have a system of thought without logic, is this proof that logic is an ultimate reality beyond humanity? Apparently I am trying to use logic to question logic's ultimate reality. So what does it mean for something to be illogical? That it cannot exist? Like a married bachelor? But if it cannot exist, then is the term logical really meaningful in any way? And what am I even referencing when I say something like "unmarried bachelor"? Nothing? Is even the term "nothing" indicative of some concept that is real? That would seem to make it not nothing....

If logic is the standard by which we judge thoughts, how do we judge this standard? Who will police the police? The Coast Guard?

Perhaps logic is a term that we use to describe the quality of the ability to exist. Or perhaps it is a term that we use for thought systems that work - that generate results. So by definition what is logical is what works, but what we use to fill the term "logic" needs to be proven as effective in some way. We discovered it and then labeled it, but we used it to discover it, but we have to check our process of discovery by that which we have labeled. Chicken, egg, Chicken, egg - phoenix, fire, phoenix, fire....

I am not suggesting that logic is not foundational for us. It is. It certainly is the word to describe what is foundational for the human mind. But there may exist things that could blow our minds.

What about quantum mechanics? It seems to suggest that something can act as a single particle and as a wave at the same time. Perhaps this implies that multiples worlds exist outside our ability to normally apprehend, but perhaps it also MIGHT suggest that the principle of non-contradiction falls apart at some level of reality. Perhaps something can be a single particle and a group of particles at the same time. The same is true when contemplating the beginnings of things. What was before the beginning of everything? Such a question is impossible to answer and makes no sense, but the idea of a beginning out of nothing suggests a vioation of the principle of sufficient reason, that everything must have a further explanation for why it is so. If we appeal to a necessary being that does not require any cause at all and has existed forever, this also violates the principle of sufficient reason. We have to pick our nonsense at this point which may point to the limits of the human mind in comprehending the ultimate nature of things, or at least the deeper nature of things.

Does all of this put one of my feet in the camp of the pragmatists? I am not a trained philosopher, and I enjoy reinventing the wheel, but it is nice to find a useful label now and then.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rationalization part 3 - Metaphysical Reality or Subjective Arbitrariness?

If there is a true, absolute morality, then we strive to discover it.

If this morality is a true metaphysical reality, a true ultimate good to the universe, then what would discovering it entail? Surely it would lead to a greater sense of well-being, for individuals and for communities, than what would have happened otherwise.

Imagine we traveled to another planet and found a thriving civilization. It is interesting to wonder if such a civilization could thrive if murder was not looked down upon. Perhaps there are some universals for any society to thrive.

If a morality did not contribute to an individual or community's well-being, then it would not be a metaphysical reality. It would be arbitrary.

I believe that we ultimately justify morality in our deepest feelings, our intuitions, but if we are to argue that these deep feelings correspond to some sort of objective, "external" morality, if we say that these feelings are objectively true in some way in addition to our deep feelings - like the rules of mathematics - then there must be a criteria.

Conversely, if there were a superpower dictating morality (a god, a majority, a government, a dictator) and this "morality" did not support a greater long-term sense of well-being, then this "absolute morality" would actually be "grounded" in the desires of a subjective entity. And the rules put forth would appear arbitrary to those seeking a meaningful life. In fact, they would probably seem immoral.

Is there a true metaphysical reality to be discovered and proven over time, or are there only arbitrary rules put forth at the whim of a subjective personality or circumstance?

In other words, if there is an objective morality, then how do we define it or know it or prove it? Ultimately it comes down to our deepest feelings, and to prove these feelings correct, there must be a criteria, and the grounding for that criteria goes back to even deeper feelings.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rationalization part 2 -Logic, Morality and Grounding

Often logic is referenced as an absolute "ground" for knowledge. Fair enough. It is often pointed out that we cannot even have a conversation that makes any sense at all without the rules of logic. Certainly this is true.

But what do we mean if something is illogical? What we mean is that if something doesn't make sense, that it cannot be. And if it doesn't make sense and it cannot be, then it doesn't exist - necessarily.

For instance, a theist will rightly criticize the argument that God cannot be omnipotent because he cannot create a stone that he cannot lift. It's a bad argument because it criticizes God for not being able to do something that is illogical. God also cannot create a married bachelor. Why? Because it is illogical and illogical things cannot exist.

But morality is different, because immoral things can exist.

So if morality is the idea that a certain choice is better than another (and they both exist!), it begs the question - why is one choice better than another? Surely the only way to establish which choice is moral is if there is some sort of goal in mind. This is where moral theories come in, I suppose. X is better than Y because it will lead to greater happiness, lead to the preservation of conscious creatures, fulfill more desires, etc. etc.

The idea of morality does imply the idea of an absolute standard of good. That makes sense. But we must define what "good" means. If we do not, then our "morality" is arbitrary. For me, good means things coming together. The opposite of good is separateness. ( BTW, this does not mean that someone going off to live in the woods is doing something evil. A person needs to be connected to nature too after all. We are all made of the same stuff.)

And how do I, and we, ultimately ground a definition of "good"? I am not sure we can, except in our deepest feelings, our intuitions, about what the meaning of existence is. And one person may feel this is because God created this sense in us, a "natural law", and another person may think these deep feelings are the result of natural selection and cultural conditioning, or someone may think that both of these ideas are true. But the process of seeking morality becomes the same in both cases. We use our reason to probe our deepest feelings and educate ourselves in order to find the best course of action to satisfy the goals of these deep intuitions.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Little Dragon Ends A Regress Of Explanations

LD: The tree outside is shimmering.

ME: Oh, that's cool. What is that?

LD: It's the pool reflecting on the tree.

ME: Nice. So. What is it that is actually reflecting on to the tree?

LD: What do you mean?

ME: The tree is shimmery, and it is from the pool, but it's not water that is on the tree, right?

LD: Right....

ME: So what is it?

LD: Shininess?

ME: (silent stare with eyes widened)

LD: Oh! Light!

ME: Exactly! And where does the light come from?

LD: The sun!

ME: And where does the sun get its light?

LD: (silence)

ME: The sun is a star, right? So where does a star get its light?

LD: Ummmmm...... ( suddenly the tension in her face releases) God and Jesus! That's my answer.

We could talk about nuclear reactions in a star, but at some point in the backwards questioning of "why" we all have to come up with some regress-ending explanation..... or shrug our shoulders.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


People criticize the idea of "rationalizing". They will say that humans can rationalize anything. If I am on a diet, I can find a reason for eating a piece of cake anyway ("It's such-and-such's birthday, I have to celebrate!", etc.).

The problem I have with this is that rationalizing is not bad. Anytime we are faced with a dilemma, we have an emotional reaction and an ethical intuition, then we seek to rationalize that response. This is much, much better than to NOT seek to rationalize our response!

Of course we rationalize - as if it were possible to have a completely neutral, unfeeling lack-of-response to an occurrence, and then to do some rational calculations and act on them. We would all live in a state of paralysis. We have to act according to our intuitions all the time.

So the question is not "Should I rationalize?". The question is "Is my rationalization successful?" If it is, then great! If not, then perhaps some personal exploration may reveal something that needs attention in ourselves.

But how do we judge our rationalization? By more rationalization and intuition (like the ones we first started to rationalize!) So really we must weigh our different ethical intuitions against each other using our reason, and decide what the best choices are.

In other words, I guess we do our best!