Tuesday, November 30, 2004


Does anyone really have reasons for believing the things they do? It seems like whenever I get into an argument with someone, they are just regurgitating things they have heard at some time or another. This leads to a scary thought: What if I am simply doing the same?

I got into a debate after a philosophy club meeting. The guy had presented a paper that essentially was a conservative catholic critique of Sartre and a variety of existentialist thinkers. Essentially his argument boiled down to the idea that his access to God served as the ultimate foundation of knowledge. In our debate I argued that there are some things I cannot help but believe as true. One thing led to another and I realized that my attempt to rely on a Cogito type argument for knowledge failed.

Anyway after that I mulled over the whole thing in my head at work. I work in a factory, so I have more or less 24 hours of strait thinking time a week even if I am completely brain dead the rest of the time. I settled on the idea that everyone has an epistimmic problem to get around. If you try to find the basis for anything you believe, following the trail far enough back you will end up with something that you cannot know for sure. It seems like I do know things somehow, and that we humans manage to get along enough that it seems there must really be some sort of real knowledge.

This leads me to believe (ha ha) that some sort of pragmatic approach is how this works. I believe stuff that more or less hangs together in a coherent way. I guess this relates back to the original fear I mentioned. I will be inclined to believe something if it more or less fits in with what I already believe. This seems to mean I have to be really careful about simply accepting things that agree nicely with prior beliefs.

So maybe the upshot to all of this is that I have accepted some sort of responsibility for what I believe.

1 comment:

cuthhyra said...

This blog seems to be somewhat inactive to say the least, but what the hell...

I think what you are talking about is what is called coherentism, in essence knowledge is nonlinear; it doesn't come from any single starting point. Instead your assessment of new knowledge is based on how well it gells with your existing system. As you pointed out this makes it very difficult not to reject new ideas if they do not fit with your preconceived system. However, if you believe coherentism is a valid system of deriving knowledge, you must reassess other parts of your system of belief when a new fact contradicts them. That way you integrate all new facts and continually expand your knowledge of the world.

Obviously there are all sorts of further issues with this approach such as the definition of a fact or whether it is plausible that one may have an entirely coherent system that does not in fact represent the true nature of reality.