North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

First steps

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Johny Dee has done a post about my lame attempts to understand the concept of a ‘foundational thought.’ I say lame because I fear I’m no closer to following him. I’m not sure my response here can still be called a discussion of Foundationalism. I appear to be taking things in another direction entirely.

For this I have to apologize and to admit my credentials in philosophy are somewhat slim: two undergrad courses (an introduction to logic and arguments, and an introduction to the philosophy of science) and a small pile of books on the subject, most of them of the survey type. John, on the other hand, has a lot more specialized schooling behind him.

Nevertheless-

I mentioned in my first post on the subject, that a belief in God might be a candidate for a foundational thought. It seemed to me, and I was thinking of Descartes when I wrote it, that being is the basic ontological building block, but being hasn’t necessarily got awareness or thought. If we are thinking, we have to ask if we are justified in our thoughts. We have two choices, but the first one, not trusting our thoughts, leads nowhere. If we do accept our own rationality, it can only be justified by the existence of God. Note that we have not touched on Christianity at this point, merely benevolent monotheism.

In the article John suggested to me, I take exception to this passage:

your belief that you have a headache isn’t open to [doubt]. You may be awake or asleep, drunk or sober — it makes no difference. If you believe that you have a headache, you are right. What is more, your belief is justified… When it comes to your headache, you are aware without any inference or possibility of slippage of the very factors that make your belief a true one.

I don’t see how pain is different than any other kind of thought. You have to accept it as true, like anything else. Or you think it false, caused by Descartes’ Demon, or Naturalistic causes or something else that is not justified. We are having a difference over the term ‘thought.’ Are sensations thoughts or not? As I am using the term, a sensation and a thought are interchangeable.

I want to move on to some ideas from a book by Roger Scruton that I read and enjoyed a lot, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy. Scruton suggests that the way out of the dilemma Descartes gives us is to be found not in turning inwards, into ourselves (ie. sensation, self, etc.), but by turning outward. He calls this the ‘private language argument’:

[Philosophers] assume that they know what they mean by ‘I’ ‘think’ and ‘self’; but this is precisely what they cannot assume. All is darkness in that ‘inner world,’ and who knows what resides there, or indeed, whether anything resides there at all?

The argument tells us to stop seeking for the first person viewpoint, which asks what I can know and how I know it. It invites us to look at our situation from outside, and ask how things must be, if we are to suffer these philosophic doubts…. We can ask why and how only if we have a language in which to phrase them. And no language can refer to merely private things.

So our first step, faith, has given us justified thoughts, and a public, objective realm [language] in which to think them. This realm is not ontological truth, but it is still important because it gives us something other than ourselves with which to interact – other people, family, community. All of these are much larger than sensation, but I’m left wondering how one can think about anything smaller without invoking them.

I hope I’m not off on a rail John. As you said in your post: “Belief in God is not basic. If it was basic, then asking why I believe it would be a silly question. ” I think it is a silly question since it leads to a lot of trouble, as you admit. So why do people doubt it? There is a million dollar question. I would answer it with Original Sin, which impairs us quite badly. The first sin is Pride, which is first person view dependent. The third person is accessible but easily pushed aside by pride, sloth, avarice and so on.

Btw, the ‘enemies’ entry for links has an odd Nixonian ring to it.

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Written by Curt

October 18, 2004 at 5:21 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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