Monday, December 22, 2008

God as a means of Certainty

Consider the following from Malcolm (found in Richard Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Pg. 230):

If we say that the way in which a person knows that something in front of him is a dog is by seeing that the creature “fits” his idea of a dog, then we need to ask “How does he know that this is an example of fitting?” What guides his judgment here? Does he not need a second-order Idea which shows him what it is like for something to fit an Idea? That is, will he not need a model of “fitting”… An infinite regress has been generated and nothing has been explained.

I bring this up because not only am I skeptical on the idea of the need for certainty (I generally slough it off entirely), but I’ve had this debate going on with Mr. Goober who would make the rash suggestion that, “If you’re not certain that what you say is true, then why should I listen to you?”

Of course if you’re Goober and you hold true to the TAG argument then you merely play God of the Gaps by inserting God as the cause of the Idea and the cause of one’s certainty. Obviously though, this argument doesn’t hold water as anyone can call into being they’re own transcendental entity and claim that it’s the source of they’re certainty; then, of course, we get into the argument over doctrines and soon enough, we go to war…

My argument is simply, what need is there of certainty? I gave the anecdote, suppose Goober and I were standing next to a stove, suddenly the Goober begins to put his hand down over the burner and I say, “STOP, the burner is HOT!” If Goober was holding true to his beliefs, then why listen to me, how can I be certain that the stove is actually hot, how can I account for that knowledge? If I can’t account for that knowledge, then surely there’s no reason to take my word for it?

Now this is where Goober the TAG believer proclaims, “I’m not suggesting that the atheist cannot know anything, I’m suggesting that he cannot account for that knowledge.” But who cares whether one can account for knowledge or not, we understand each other quite well and get along in the world well enough, right.

The real issue at hand here (or so it seems) is that Goober suffers from an old form of Cartesian dualism that says epistemological certainty and justification of ones beliefs is somehow the end of inquiry; but this notion is outdated, not useful, and if Goober really believed it there would be no reason for him to listen to anything anyone said who couldn’t proclaim to have justifications for their beliefs.

The fact remains, however, that Goober does in fact listen to me, justification or not. There is no need for me to justify my claim as we (people) naturally attribute to others mostly correct beliefs about the world, again, justified or not. Goober himself is the test to the accuracy of the claims I make, Goober himself can set them up, along with anyone else I may be speaking to.

In the same way, there’s no need for me or anyone to justify their use of logic; you, me, and everyone else stands as introspective observers and are the test of accuracy and cohesiveness of a given claim completely outside of individual certainty.

Ultimately Goobers actions relative to his speech make him seem hypocritical – as such, if he followed what he believed he wouldn’t participate in a conversation full of individuals who have no certainty; his continued conversation and dialogue pre-supposes in one manner or another that he attributes to them (the uncertain) a certain degree of certainty without them even needing to proclaim it.

Goober’s own proclamation of internal certainty (on the other hand) is itself suspect as a result of the same Cartesian philosophy alluded to in the beginning. The only proof in the matter of his own certainty lies in privileged access, and since I don’t know what’s in his mind and he don’t know what’s in my mind, then his statement of certainty is meaningless by itself and is furthermore lost on his audience – that is, we simply don’t care, it doesn’t pertain. How then, can Goober’s empty proclamation contain any evidence whatsoever as to the existence of God?

(Let's recall Rorty's post HERE)

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