Author Topic: Agnosticism and the socratic method  (Read 3135 times)

Ratonderio

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Agnosticism and the socratic method
« on: August 02, 2009, 11:02:11 pm »
A post I just finished writing a bit ago, critiques and comments welcome.

Agnosticism and the Socratic Method
Always Seek to Learn

Let me start off by saying that the following is quote heavy and largely unoriginal. Allow me to emphasize my point with a quote. "Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don't bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: 'It's not where you take things from - it's where you take them to.'" I hope this clears things up.

Agnosticism is defined as "the disbelief in any claims of ultimate knowledge." Thomas Henry Huxley coined the term in 1860 to describe his philosophical position. He states, "Agnosticism simply means that a man shall not say he knows or believes that for which he has no grounds for professing to believe." Most generally regard Agnosticism as a position of religious belief or lack thereof. I, like Robert Anton Wilson, view it as a way of life. "My goal is to try to get people into a state of generalized agnosticism, not agnosticism about God alone, but agnosticism about everything." I will dive deeper into this position later.

The Socratic method is "a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate rational thinking and to illuminate ideas." Initially, Socrates would engage his fellow Athenian in conversation asking questions to lead his conversational partner into a new awareness of their previously held beliefs. The Sophists were a class of teachers in ancient Greece that had similar methods of shedding light on ignorance, perhaps before Socrates himself had committed to utilizing the Socratic method. The term "sophism," in ancient Greece, meant "one who makes a business out of wisdom." The term "sophos" meant "wise man." Over the centuries, the constant bastardizing of the Socratic method and various other Sophist teachings including formal debate tools has led the term "sophism" to mean something entirely different from it's origins. A "sophism" is now "a confusing or illogical argument used for deceiving someone." When I use the term "Socratic method," I mean it in the way Socrates had intended. A way of questioning to shed light or new found clarity on one's ignorance of a subject.

Now allow me a moment to explain a few names in further detail.

"'Is,' 'is,' 'is,' - the idiocy of the word haunts me. If it were abolished, human thought might begin to make sense. I don't know what anything 'is'; I only know how it seems to me at this moment." - Robert Anton Wilson

Robert Anton Wilson, or RAW henceforth, introduced the idea of maybe logic. The idea is not particularly difficult in theory, nor exceedingly so in practice, but it is when pushed to remember that you learned it in the first place. The idea behind maybe logic is that nothing is 100% certain. That's all. Now while this may not seem like a big deal at first glance, it's easy to see how it can become a big deal when repeatedly used in practice. This would mean that the idea of any belief system or religious practice is not absolute, nor is any preexisting prejudice towards different races, nor is any political belief, nor is any superstition or ritual, nor is any mathematical proof or theorem, nor is any scientific theory or hypothesis, nor is any... I'm going to stop here for purposes of brevity. Now you can see how this can quickly devolve into ideas of solipsism, but the point still remains. It would be silly to always look at the world as if it could fall apart at any minute or that it's just an image projected from your own imagination or that you can do as you wish and there will be no social repercussions for those actions because everything is simply illusory (more on that subject in posts to come). RAW does not say to always act as if things are uncertain. Intrinsically, some things are more agreeable than others such as the thought that we can socially agree that the color of grass is green in the English language. The point of maybe logic is to look at your preexisting beliefs and examine them from time to time and realize that maybe you shouldn't take things so seriously because the only thing that is for certain is that nothing is for certain. Maybe.

Now maybe logic sounds an awful lot like something introduced by someone about 2400 to 2500 years prior and I suspect that the general idea is the same. Socrates was arguably one of the smartest men to have ever existed and part of this argument can be built up due to the fact that he never wrote anything down himself, so any point of view attributed to him is simply hearsay and may or may not have any affiliation with the actual beliefs of the man himself. Now that Socrates is deceased, this puts him in an awfully good position for any legend of extraordinary proportions to crop up about who Socrates was and what he really thought. Regardless of this ambiguity, Socrates is widely considered to have had a pretty good head on his shoulders. He was found guilty of corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens and sentenced to death by drinking a mixture containing hemlock. This is evidence enough that he was probably a bit smarter than the norm. As stated previously, the primary way Socrates sought to corrupt the youth of Athens was to ask them questions that challenged the status quo and forced them to think for themselves. This ingenious way of not submitting any positions of his own, but leading his conversational partner into new lines of thinking that may have otherwise never come to fruition is a prominent sentiment of what RAW also introduces with maybe logic. The main idea is that people constantly challenge their dogmatic beliefs and reevaluate what they believe and why, no matter what the topic. As RAW says, "a conclusion is simply where you stopped thinking."

Allow me a couple more name drops before I go on to what I make of all this. Philip Dick is the author of great science fiction that turned into a few great science fiction movies as well. He is responsible for Ubik, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and The Man in the High Castle. He is also, in part, responsible for the movies Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, and Minority Report. For a list of reasons why Philip Dick should become your new Deity, please google his name for an exhaustive list of his works. Now why should Philip Dick be a candidate for a post about agnosticism and the Socratic method? Anyone familiar with his works can start filling in the blanks. Dick says of his work, "In my writing I even question the universe; I wonder out loud if it is real, and I wonder out loud if all of us are real." A common theme amongst nearly all of Dick's literature is that what we know and what we see, even that of what we feel and sense is constantly under revision. He toys with the idea of androids that do not know that they are not strictly biological, of worlds that are simulation, and of people that are clueless as to the nature of their reality. People thrown into realities so far abstracted from the one built in their mind and forced to cope with this new universe or simply fall off the edge into insanity or death. Dick's literature falls into line with the idea that you must always question what you know and why you know it in a universe where you are forced to adapt to it's reality and not the other way around.

With all of these ideas culminated and digested, for those who submit to them, life may start to seem stranger and more unknowable than ever before. It's no wonder that countless religions contend to explain the big questions in life and that millenniums of philosophers and ponderers have been unable to reach any sort of consensus on why we are here and "what it is all about?" The reason that these ideas appeal to my sense of rationality is that they state clearly and with little ambiguity that nothing is clear and everything is ambiguous. These ideas have stuck with me as a way of reminding myself that life, to humans, is ultimately unknowable and that we simply do the best we can with the tools we have at our disposal. Evolution has created us so that we have become pretty fearsome competitors with the emergence of consciousness and the ability to reason. Now we must make due with the senses and mental capabilities that we have apparently been granted and continuously question and seek out the truth as far as it exists for us. Consensus upon reality is one of the things that has allowed us to push forward as far as we have, but we must also remember that deviations from the social pool of consciousness allows us to either reaffirm or reevaluate that which we already "know," and in the luckiest of instances we are capable of pushing forward human interpretation that much more.

This is how I think. Disclaimer: My thoughts are my own and thus subject to interpretation, ridicule, or other such devices as all thoughts and ideas submitted are. Thank you for your criticism and/or praise and/or absence of commentation in advance.
« Last Edit: August 09, 2009, 05:34:36 pm by Ratonderio »

Captain Utopia

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Re: Agnosticism and the socratic method
« Reply #1 on: August 03, 2009, 12:16:41 am »
I really really enjoyed reading it. I think as an essay, the conclusion could be stronger or put forth with more clarity.. but in the spirit of the text, this is probably a compliment on your success of following the method you describe.

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Ratonderio

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Re: Agnosticism and the socratic method
« Reply #2 on: August 04, 2009, 04:39:53 am »
Mental Maps and Modules, Language Shapes Reality
Reality is Subjective

As usual, a bit of explanation may be in order before I push forth. Jerry Fodor seems to have introduced the current modularity of the mind concept, with phrenologists introducing a similar, but completely off base, concept before him. Even before that, Rene Descartes said some equally incorrect things about the pineal gland and before Descartes I'm sure you could come up with even more theories about how the mind works. When I speak of the mind, however, I'm not speaking about the concepts of Descartes, or phrenologists, or even Fodor, but instead about the ideas of Steven Pinker. The reason I mention the others is because Pinker's thoughts may not be entirely original, and mine even more so. Also I'll be mentioning Korzybski who was not the first to philosophize about perception and Wittgenstein who didn't come up with the concept of language shaping our reality all by himself. As far as I know, Richard Dawkins did first introduce the meme concept, and if not then he at least submitted the name. If you want historical accounts of all these ideas, complete with who thought up what first, you'll have to look elsewhere.

"The limits of my language means the limits of my world." - Ludwig Wittgenstein

Starting with Korzybski, we have the idea that the map is not the territory. Alfred Korzybski was a philosopher and scientist best remembered for his theory of general semantics. He helped in the development of e-prime which is basically a modification of the English language that removes any words such as "be" or "is" that make the sentence a fact outside of the human mind. Nothing "is," things only appear to be. Savvy? The map is not the territory goes along similar lines. The idea is that everything we witness is an interpretation of what reality is (more on this later). It states simply that the pain that comes from a rock falling on your foot is not the rock; that a politicians positions are not the politician himself; that a map of New York City is incomplete and will never and could never become the territory know as New York City. In order for a map of New York City to truly represent New York City it would need to include the buildings, the people, the insects, the animals, all of the feelings and emotions of each of these biological creatures, all of the history of New York City from it's conception at the beginning of time to the it's demolition at the end of time and for every second to contain everything that had ever existed within the limits of New York City; in other words it would need to become New York City itself. This may seem obvious, but we need look no further than our own relationships to see how this information could greatly affect our lives. When we look at a person with disgust or distaste because they are homeless we are forgetting to account every detail of that person's life in our opinion of them. None of us know all of the circumstances and the history of even our closest friends. Concordantly, when we look at a homeless person with despair at the current state of affairs in the world, or with pity we are still forgetting to account for every detail of that person's life. This is clearly flagrant prejudice towards a person we don't know either way, but sometimes the effects of confusing the map with the territory can be a little more subtle. Take, for instance, a person in your life who you've been anything but agreeable with. When you hear of that person's misfortune, you may think to yourself that they probably deserved it or that karma (if you're superstitious) really is a bitch to those who had it coming. Whether that's the truth or not who knows? But you have already associated negative thoughts with this person and reevaluating that now would be too much work. Just like we allow our friends a little bit of slack when it comes to moral dilemmas, we're consistently confusing our opinion of a person and the bits and pieces we've built up about our depiction of life with the truth itself. Thus, our interpretation of reality is not reality; the map is not the territory.

Now a bit more about "mental modules." The modularity of the mind is a concept that the mind is composed of several innate structures that evolution has established over time to serve some sort of adaptive function. Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker purport a theory that one of these mental modules may function to help us acquire language, that we're evolutionarily predisposed to understand the concept and uses of language. A mental map, then, is a sort of hardwired mental software that we utilize to help us cope with the concept of the world. An intrinsic map found in humans is the ability to recognize faces. Humans are exceptionally good at making faces out of just about anything including clouds, burn marks on a piece of toast, cheerio alignments in a bowel of milk and just about any other structure where even the faintest traces of two eyes and a mouth could be noticed. When children complain that they have seen a face in their closet at night or outside of their window we don't immediately look for the culprit to comfort ourselves that they are alright, but to comfort the child to let them realize that what they saw was simply in their imagination. I bring up the idea that language is a proposed module for a few reasons I'll get to in a moment.

I wish to bring up the meme to illustrate another way in which our mind can be manipulated to show us different versions of reality. A meme is "a postulated unit or element of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, and it is transmitted from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena." A meme is just about any concept that we've picked up along the way that helps shape and mold us into the people that we are. The good thing about knowing what a meme is comes from our ability to manipulate the memes we choose to live by. Some memes are harder to get rid of than others. For instance, a meme about believing in Jesus as our lord and savior or you will burn eternally in hell is infinitely harder to rid yourself of than a meme about what song or movie you should be listening to or watching to keep up with the times. Teenage fads come and go, but religious beliefs stay forever. Or something. Part of what keeps a meme propagating is fear, but another part is veracity. Not all memes continue to propagate because they have been around forever or because people are afraid to get rid of them or lose them. Something important to keep in mind when learning about memes is that a vast majority of memes are quite useful for our daily lives and that a good deal of our personal knowledge comes from replicated memes. Meme theory has become it's own study so I don't wish to give any incorrect impressions or overstep my boundaries into a specialized area of knowledge. I only bring up the concept to let those interested look into an area of study that specifically deals with the way our knowledge is accumulated and can be manipulated.

One more shall we? Wittgenstein has been criticized for obscurantism, pretentiousness, homosexuality, and a many other off handed remarks about people who felt he had a point, but he was being a douche about the whole thing. Despite the many complaints and perhaps bigoted and/or hypocritical remarks about the man himself, I go to him for a quick point. Wittgenstein felt that the limits of language were, in fact, the very limits of our own personal understanding. He felt that "what we can not speak about we must pass over in silence." This was in the Tractatus, a work he later disregarded as rubbish, but despite Wittgenstein's feelings about his endeavors he made a valid point. He made mention that if we were to understand a lion's language, that roar meant gazelle and roar roar meant tasty gazelle for instance, that we would still not have an entire understanding of a lion's world. Understanding our interpretations of a lion's language is not the same as living in a lion's world nor is it the same as truly understanding what a lion is saying through its own version of communication. Another point if I may. A snake can see in infrared. Now pretend for a moment that a snake can see only in infrared without any other visual cues and you are asked the question, can you see as a snake does? Most would jump to answer, "of course I could if I had infrared goggles or the like. What kind of silly question is that?" Now the problem with this reply is that goggles are merely a representation of heat signals designed to show us, in color, the different temperatures of the world around us. Without the visual cue "color" we would be unable to recognize what was going on in the world of infrared because we are not accustomed to a world in which we can see only in heat. The same can apply to bats that are capable of painting a clearer picture through the use of echolocation or dolphins who do much the same. Relating to the world of language, there is an often cited example of the Eskimos having as many as four hundred words for the English word snow. Benjamin Whorf had it pegged at about seven; apparently the mass media knows something Sapir and Whorf did not. Regardless of the hyperbole most use when citing the concept of linguistic relativity, the Eskimo example illustrates a point. The language that we use and the way we understand language can often shape the reality of the way we think of our world.

Now I may have jumped around a lot, but I feel it is necessary for all of these concepts to be lumped together to become something of a uniform theory. That theory is that reality is, largely, relative and subjective. The philosophy of perception has a fairly extensive history. Philosophy itself is perhaps the oldest of disciplines, rightfully so considering all that is required is a mind and a lust for thought. The idea is one that I'm sure many have stumbled upon themselves when lying awake late at night wondering what it is all about. If objective reality does exist then it is indeed outside of our own minds and something that is possibly quite unknowable to ourselves. The more we learn about objective reality the more we can draw an accurate depiction of what it might mean to us subjectively and I think that's the real purpose when we even look for truth; how can we relate truth to us? For us to comprehend the massive scope of the universe we're forced to cope with utilizing mental maps and modules for how the world works and because of this we're limited to a very narrow view point.

Of course another major proponent of this is language. Without language we would never have come as far as we have, but on the same hand nothing has been a greater contributor to relationship problems, teaching problems, financial problems, and most foul ups in general than language. Communication is key. So the old adage goes; along with courage is key, knowledge is key or any other virtue you wish to sell at the moment. If I actually knew what was key I wouldn't be describing it, I would be using it to take advantage of you. Communication is quite vital however, despite my pitiful attempt at humor. The problem with communication, however, is that any given word can have any given association attached to it. The word "hurt" can mean emotionally scarred, physically marred, a sort of financial loss or some other sort of business like connotation. Thus the sentence, "(S)He hurt me," has a variety of important meanings. We generally look to other factors in the conversation that allow us to discern the meaning of ambiguous words or phrases and most of the time it seems to work out alright. The problem is we talk to communicate and we communicate (most of us) on a daily basis so accidents are statistically bound to happen. Of course simple slip ups in meaning aren't the only thing keeping us from communicating as we would like.

Say we take the term "hurt" to indicate a song title by the same name. Hurt is a song written by Trent Reznor and was covered by Johnny Cash. Say I have a sort of intimate relationship with the song Hurt because I can relate to the lyrics and now the term "hurt" has a personal significance beyond the definition. Say that because of my connection to the term, I now use the term hurt only when I want to convey very deep, very emotional, very raw painful experiences and this becomes it's personal significance to me. When someone says to me, "(S)He hurt me" to mean "(S)He kicked me in the shin and it was pretty painful" I no longer perceive the meaning in the same way the speaker had intended it. This is an extremely crude example, but I believe that it illustrates my point well enough. We have personal connections to words and ideas of what they mean due to our life experience with those words and what we have used them to convey as well as what we have heard others use them to convey. Curse words are a fine example of this, where as some become visibly offended at the words "ass" or "damn" others use them in casual conversation at an excessively high rate.

Then there is, of course, just the simple problem of misunderstanding what someone said. Then there is the problem of filling in words you missed, or the problem of not knowing what a word means and trying to define it in context with the rest of the sentence. Then there is the problem of misinterpreting what someone really means when they say something or the problem of missing a hidden meaning or the problem of... Language is riddled with problems.

So here we are with a subjective representation of the world that we've gained through our sensory perceptions and models we've built up in our heads explaining to other creatures that are no better off what we view and see and vying for a consensus based on the best tool that we have for communication. And this tool is deeply flawed as well. When someone is so sure of what is objectively true or moral or what is necessarily important I'm sure to remember that we're all on the same page in this book. The importance of reminding ourselves that reality is subjective isn't that we can then move on to make whatever we want to out of reality, although you certainly can if you wish, it's just to remind ourselves that we don't have all of the tools necessary to make out anything for certain. The lesson is quite similar to that of the agnosticism and Socratic method post, but I feel it's so important that there are multiple ways to come to the same realization and each way equally important to remind ourselves of on a constant basis. The problem of subjective reality is that everyone starts fighting for who has the most accurate depiction of it and who knows the most about what is really real and I don't see that as the point. The point is we all have something subjectively real to bring to the mix and most of us forget that we're just as smart as the next guy using the same tools to get different answers. The point is that we all have something to contribute to the vast array of knowledge we've accumulated and something subjectively new that might help foster understanding or bring about new realizations in some way.

Captain Utopia

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Re: Agnosticism and the socratic method
« Reply #3 on: August 05, 2009, 07:02:38 am »
For me, this flowed a lot more smoothly than your first piece. I appreciated that you took the time to define and examine your terms - though it came off a little pedantic at the start, by the end I understood what you were trying to achieve by doing it.

As far as I know, Richard Dawkins did first introduce the meme concept, and if not then he at least submitted the name.
I believe he did. Selfish Gene/1977 Chapter 10 or 11... I don't have a copy nearby. Incidentally, that's one book I can't recommend enough - he does a fantastic job of explaining evolutionary principles with plenty of examples to show you the weird and wacky ways they play out.. then hits with the ultimate* mindfuck: "Although we've talked exclusively about biological life, I think ideas can be considered evolutionary lifeforms too, here's why.."

I'd say all you really need to understand memes is the principles in that book, and the power of observation. I don't think you can really 'get' memes without considering them in an evolutionary context.

* - ultimate in the sense of, I haven't seen a better one, yet.


A snake can see in infrared. Now pretend for a moment that a snake can see only in infrared without any other visual cues and you are asked the question, can you see as a snake does? Most would jump to answer, "of course I could if I had infrared goggles or the like. What kind of silly question is that?" Now the problem with this reply is that goggles are merely a representation of heat signals designed to show us, in color, the different temperatures of the world around us. Without the visual cue "color" we would be unable to recognize what was going on in the world of infrared because we are not accustomed to a world in which we can see only in heat. The same can apply to bats that are capable of painting a clearer picture through the use of echolocation or dolphins who do much the same. Relating to the world of language, there is an often cited example of the Eskimos having as many as four hundred words for the English word snow. Benjamin Whorf had it pegged at about seven; apparently the mass media knows something Sapir and Whorf did not. Regardless of the hyperbole most use when citing the concept of linguistic relativity, the Eskimo example illustrates a point. The language that we use and the way we understand language can often shape the reality of the way we think of our world.
Minor niggle - isn't infrared just another part of the visible spectrum? I'm not sure why a snake would perceive visual cues differently. E.g. I can point a digital camera at two different remote controls and see different shades when I press the buttons.

With regards bats and dolphins. I'm reminded of the brains remarkable flexibility when it comes to coping with different sensory inputs - the dog with a set of wheels where his forelegs should be, the experiments which show tool usage as being treated by the brain as normal bodily operations after an initial period of readjustment. There was an article I read a little while back about blind people being able to navigate buildings by a device they put in their mouth and read with their tongue...

Hmm, upon re-reading, that does sound ridiculous. Yay Google!

The point is that perhaps the brain rewiring to adapt to different sensory inputs is an awesome feat, but quite typical. Thus although I can't perceive how a bat or dolphin experiences the world, I can imagine they have a similar functional grasp.. with the exception of the limitations of echo location, etc.

But if those limitations are knowable in that physical domain, can't they be knowable in the domain of language?


The problem of subjective reality is that everyone starts fighting for who has the most accurate depiction of it and who knows the most about what is really real and I don't see that as the point. The point is we all have something subjectively real to bring to the mix and most of us forget that we're just as smart as the next guy using the same tools to get different answers. The point is that we all have something to contribute to the vast array of knowledge we've accumulated and something subjectively new that might help foster understanding or bring about new realizations in some way.

Fighting for "true meaning" may be a problem of subjective reality, but it's also quite a predictable one? Or rather, how can we accept everyone or just anyones contribution, if it requires the individual carry around zillions of different maps in our minds? The sane mind must rebel from this possibility! If our mind is built upon resolving everything into known patterns, and merging maps with quiet efficiently, maybe we should instead be looking towards technology as an external solution to this cognition problem?

I've already ditched years of weather-prediction knowledge in favour of always-on access to the weather network. And as a programmer, if I lose internet connectivity, it just exposes the fact that I don't remember half the stuff I used to before I started treating the net as a ubiquitous extension to my consciousness.

Kai

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Re: Agnosticism and the socratic method
« Reply #4 on: August 05, 2009, 11:33:53 am »
I've only read the first post, and it was extremely well written. Why you aren't getting many responses: A) it's longish, and people usually ignore longish pieces by new members B) it's preaching to the choir; most people here already know a great amount about classical greek philosophy, maybe logic, RAW and PKD, and C) fictionpuss posted in this thread, which ends up turning everyone off.

Still, keep writing. Maybe you'll land on a subject that people here know little about.
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Re: Agnosticism and the socratic method
« Reply #5 on: August 05, 2009, 11:50:03 am »
What Kai said.
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e-prime disclaimer: let it seem fairly unclear I understand the apparent subjectivity of the above statements. maybe.

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Re: Agnosticism and the socratic method
« Reply #6 on: August 05, 2009, 03:19:09 pm »
I haven't read it simply for time.  Yesterday I was out of the house by 8am and didn't get back until after 6pm, for example.  So its on my weekend list, along with a lot of other things (and I may be busy this weekend, too)
"The thoughts of all men arise from the darkness. If you are the movement of your soul, and the cause of that movement precedes you, then how could you ever call your thoughts your own? How could you be anything other than a slave to the darkness that comes before? Only the Logos allows one to mitigate that slavery. Only knowing the sources of thought and action allows us to own our thoughts and our actions, to throw off the yoke of circumstance."
- R. Scott Bakker, The Darkness That Comes Before

Ratonderio

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Re: Agnosticism and the socratic method
« Reply #7 on: August 05, 2009, 06:46:55 pm »
To Fictionpuss: Thank you for your feedback.  Perhaps a few points for me to consider.

To Kai: Thank you as well.  Since what I say probably is, in fact, preaching to the choir, if anyone has any light to shed on something I may be misinformed about or any tangential information they wish to share that, too, is welcome.

And to those that took the time to read it, thank you as well.   :)

Edit: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cf/EM_Spectrum_Properties_edit.svg for fictionpuss.  Just for consideration.
« Last Edit: August 05, 2009, 07:42:48 pm by Ratonderio »

Ratonderio

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Re: Agnosticism and the socratic method
« Reply #8 on: August 05, 2009, 11:06:34 pm »
Rationalism, Absurdism, and Existentialism
How I Attack Life

So for the final piece to this whole series, I'm just going to jump into some ideas and a few of their propagators before summing up what I think and feel about those ideas. Basically the same thing that I've been doing all along. And moving right along...

Rationalism is in contention with Empiricism. Absurdism is in slight competition with Existentialism, but more so are they both in battle with Determinism and Naturalism. Philosophers have many wars to wage and this is not the fighting ground for those battles. I'm speaking about specific ideas; if one were to look for conflicting ideologies they need look no further than google or wikipedia. Dissent is intrinsic. End of disclaimer.
Rationalism is "any view appealing to reason as a source of knowledge or justification."

To be a rationalist is to adopt one of three claims.

The Intuition/Deduction Thesis: Some propositions in a particular subject area, S, are knowable by us by intuition alone; still others are knowable by being deduced from intuited propositions.

The Innate Knowledge Thesis: We have knowledge of a particular subject area, S, as part of our rational nature.

The Innate Concept Thesis: We have some of the concepts we employ in a particular subject area, S, as part of our rational nature.

Without going too far in depth, which I think is a common tendency for those discussing philosophy (and necessary in many cases), the gist of rationalism is that certain information obtained can only be obtained in the domain of reason as apart from pure sensory and empirical evidence.  Let me argue for this in a few ways before I move on, however juvenile my arguments might be.  One is in the question of insanity, which can become an argument for both sides.  If an "insane" person sees or hears things that are not actually there, then their only reprieve can possibly come from reason in which they must deduce that those sensory experiences are a hallucination of the mind.  The empiricist argument might be that the only reason those who suffer from various degrees of "insanity" are capable of this rational is by finding their reality to be different from the consensus sensory experience.  And another which I might be chastised for because of my elementary knowledge of the subject is that of Godel's incompleteness theorems that basically state some mathematical systems are true, but there are certain scenarios in which they can not be proven.  This truth I can not account for other than human rational alone.

Existentialism is "a philosophy that emphasizes freedom of choice and personal responsibility, but regards human existence in a hostile universe as unexplainable."  As Sartre states, "existence precedes and rules essence."  Or as Kierkegaard observes, "life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."  The existential is the idea that (wo)man creates her/his meaning and that, perhaps, this meaning is the most vital essence of said individual.  To illustrate this point once more (I promise, just this one.) I'll quote Viktor Frankl, author of the book Man's Search for Meaning.  "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.  They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."  For Frankl, it is not Nietzsche's will to power or Freud's will to pleasure that guides us, but will to meaning.  Ultimately those seeking a fulfilled life must find what it is they were meant to do.

Absurdism is "a philosophy stating the efforts of humanity to find meaning in the universe ultimately fail (and hence are absurd), because no such meaning exists, at least in relation to the individual."  I don't believe any ideas or words have influenced me greater than those that have flown from Albert Camus' mind and mouth.  Unfortunately, many may claim that he is bleak and abysmal and to those outcries I am dismissive.  Absurdism contends with existentialism that meaning is futile, and knowledge of this leaves one to feel that their very existence is absurd.  One might take this thought as an absence of hope, and therefore claim that without hope one can not be happy.  Camus claims that it is by continuing our existence in spite of meaninglessness and hopelessness that we learn to rebel and in this rebellion we can find relief for we laugh in the face of desperation.  Camus states, "he who despairs of the human condition is a coward, but he who has hope for it is a fool," as well as "I know of only one duty, and that is to love."  Now the ideas he produces may seem to form a paradox, but it is in this paradox that we can find reprieve.  To despair is to claim life is too much for you, to hope is to turn your back on truth; to truly live one need only learn to love.

It may appear that these values might not coexist so peacefully and perhaps they do not.  I share with you my own personal take on life and how I deal with it on its own terms.  From rationalism I take that one can seek to clarify events and occurrences in their life with only a mind and a desire to understand.  From existentialism I learned that each of us must find our own meaning in life; our own personal push towards what it is that will cause our lives to be meaningful.  With absurdism I find my own personal meaning, which many may find too harsh to indeed become their own.  I feel that none of these concepts are at war in my own mind, but allow me to take on life in a way that is positively exciting and entirely rewarding.

Big finish.  I see life as something entirely unknowable, and yet this is all the better for me because I see in each of us an insatiable curiosity chomping at the bit to seek knowledge and understanding of the world we live in.  With life as positively mind-boggling as it is I think it's easy to get caught in the undertow and take to quibbling about semantics and fighting for small victories of who has superior knowledge and understanding of something so unfathomably obsolete that it's hard for me to understand what the dispute was about in the first place.  This is my personal take, yet I believe it is important.  It is hard for us to completely absolve "ego" or "pride," but I think a constant reminder of how modest we should really be is a great reminder that sometimes we can let things go and life will just keep on right along without a whole lot having changed either way.  This leads me to one more point; I promise I'll stop preaching after this.

Humanism is "a broad category of ethical philosophies that affirm the dignity of humankind, based on the ability to determine right and wrong by appealing to rationality, while tending to reject the supernatural or the divine authority of religious texts."  I believe a portion of this point has been made severely clear in the understanding that we can all pretty much understand nothing about how the world works and what is necessarily true.  I think that as far as humans go, however, we can all understand on another level how our "fellow human" works and thus grant that understanding before passing judgement.  A couple quotes from Carl Sagan, if I may.  "Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works," and "for small creatures such as we the vastness is only bearable through love."  I believe there is no greater propagator of love than that of an honest desire for knowledge.

Enough with the bullshit though, what I'm really getting at is... Go fuck yourself.

P.S. Just kidding, you know I love you.

Kai

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Re: Agnosticism and the socratic method
« Reply #9 on: August 06, 2009, 02:52:22 am »
Some (including Ratatosk) has argued before that absurdism does not state that life is essentially meaningless. Instead it asserts that life may have meaning, but we are unable to determine it, and so must guess for ourselves, leading to meaning relativism.

This is in slight contrast to existentialism, which states life /is/ essentially meaningless, but we can give it whatever meaning we desire, and sharp contrast to nihilism, which states life is essentially meaningless and the search for meaning pointless.

Just some quibbling.
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Kai

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Re: Agnosticism and the socratic method
« Reply #10 on: August 06, 2009, 03:07:10 am »
Also, I think these are the first writings on classical philosophy here by a noob that hasn't come out pretentious.

Part of that is you acknowledge your shortcomings (several times), something that DK never did. They way you do this sounds like how Darwin humbles himself in On the Origin. And, quite frankly, you're writing, style, usage, vocabulary, grammar, syntax, are all excellent.



What I'm saying is that I'm surprised. What was your undergrad degree in?
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Re: Agnosticism and the socratic method
« Reply #11 on: August 06, 2009, 03:29:04 am »
First and foremost, the feedback is greatly appreciated.  My understanding of absurdism goes no further than having read The Myth of Sisyphus.  I may actually be using the term absurdism inapropriately here if I'm mistaken, but the general idea I wanted to get across was that my personal "meaning" came from the rebellion that emerges when one chooses life with full understanding that it is essentially meaningless.  But I do, now, take into consideration what you've said about absurdism, I just kind of wanted to clarify on what I had said in the writing earlier.  If it was already clear then my apologies for reiterating. =P

And no undergrad degree, I haven't had the finances to attend college.  Thank you for the compliment, however.   :)

Rumckle

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Re: Agnosticism and the socratic method
« Reply #12 on: August 06, 2009, 06:56:38 am »
Here have some
:mittens:

I think the fact you sufficiently explained your meanings on each point was rather good. A problem that sometimes besets similar philosophical writing is the writer having slightly different meanings for existentialism, absurdism etc, but you explained them rather well.

Also, I think these are the first writings on classical philosophy here by a noob that hasn't come out pretentious.

Seems that way, keep it up.
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Re: Agnosticism and the socratic method
« Reply #13 on: August 06, 2009, 11:49:52 pm »
I found the read thoroughly enjoyable.  It was explained with clarity and humility, both of which are infinitely important on these, our wretched internets.
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Re: Agnosticism and the socratic method
« Reply #14 on: August 07, 2009, 03:17:31 pm »
The only reason I haven't read/replied is because my time has been too limited for me to give it the attention it deserves. That said, I've only read one of your installments, and found it excellent. As Kai said, you are one of very few who has come here to discuss philosophy and succeeded in doing it with thoughtful enlightenment rather than pompous exposition. Keep it up, I hope you stick around.
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