Epistemology and the will to live (moved from suicide thread)
(For the discussion preceding this post, go to http://www.rationalresponders.com/forum/rook_hawkins/biblical_errancy/7378)
Majority desire has never needed to be normative in order to inform politics. The illegality of murder is a political problem, and thus an argument from civic order suffices.
Isn’t the foundation of democracy that the desires of the people are normative (i.e. “normative” in the sense that it is a standard that should be followed)?
As for the normative status of murder, there is no intuitive "leap" required. We can observe, as a matter of behavioural analysis, that mentally healthy humans have a powerfuly negative reaction to murder. We can connect that to rather obvious evolutionary factors in the development of our species as a social mammal. Therefore we can make the moral statement, from science, that it violates our human nature to murder. If you are human, murder is simply not normative, by nature.
Again I say: simply because some thing or behavior exists does not mean that it should exist. Also, you would have to define what you mean by “mentally healthy humans.” And it does not follow that the way “mentally healthy humans” react to a certain idea makes something normative. If that is the case, then atheism would be out since the majority of “mentally healthy” humans throughout history have rejected atheism and the path of logic that leads there.
We have to refer to human nature as well as pure logic when designing civic systems, and we can see that human empathy is offended by the killing of other people. So it makes sense to mitigate the amount of unnecessary killing that is done. Therefore, when we have a murderer in jail and no longer a threat to anyone, it actually makes more sense from a moral perspective to keep him alive.
Before you jump on empathy, let me point out that this is not a mysterious gift from Beyond. There are very easily understood reasons why we have evolved an empathetic response to the suffering of others, and other social animals share the same mechanism.
Only if you proceed from the assumption that a rational state would be governed by robots who are in turn governing robots. Love. empathy, mercy and compassion are all moral virtues that we share quite without the need for religion or any irrational belief in things for which we have no evidence. Plus, a broader view of society and social behaviour will show that these virtues are rational default positions for behaviour.
But which is the cart and which is the horse: logic or human nature? If the metaphysical reality of God, afterlife, etc. is rejected and it is affirmed that logic is the horse that pulls human nature along (which is what, I think, would necessarily be affirmed according to atheist logic) , then logic is what has evolved human nature into what it is (including the tendancy toward empathy, love, mercy, compassion, etc.). If atheist logic concludes that indeed death is arbitrary, then human nature will eventually evolve in that direction. And likewise the civic laws. Again, according to atheist logic it would seem to follow that our discomfort with the idea of death is shaped by the idea that seems to be as old as humanity itself: that there is some form of post-mortem consciousness (as noted from early-on burial customs).
That’s exactly my point though: reason taken a la carte does not make sense of why death is a bad thing. It is our intuition that drives us in that direction.
Sure, but I take issue with your use of the word "knowing" in relation to these feelings. We have emotions and they are real, but they don't impart knowledge of anything except themselves. We can use our emotions to inform our own behaviour all we want, but we can only use them to inform others to the extent that others also share the same emotions and intuitions. Knowledge arrived at through rationality is not so limited.
Again I press the point: knowledge arrived at through rationality alone IS limited because it can offer us nothing in terms of “ought.” Our emotions and intuitions, with the aid of reason, are what drive us in that direction.
I don't think it is necessary to appeal to any circular concept in order to justify logic and science. Without logic we cannot reason, so, pragmatically, it is a useful tool. Without science we form invalid beliefs, so it is a useful tool as well. If we prefer to die rather than to exist, we are not here in the next moment to continue talking about it so our conversations are necessarily only with people who have not taken that position.
It becomes circular when you try to justify the validy of logic. You cannot use logic to verify the validity of logic. You cannot use science to justify the validity of science.
No, your first presumption must be to disregard the possibility that your senses are deceived and to accept the evidence of your senses and the principle of cause-and-effect. Logic only comes into play when you need to predict the outcomes of your own mind-state...it is contingent on evidence, not the other way around. If we found a square circle tomorrow we would all have to ditch our logical prohibition against such a thing.
Your “first presumption” is very seriously begging the question: why? This is perhaps my greatest contention with atheism: the persistent and circular assertion that evidence is required for belief. Evidence proves itself wrong all of the time, and can be interpreted in many different ways (read any mystery novel). Evidence is completely contingent upon experience, and experience is extremely finite. It is only when all relevant data has been acquired that we know what the particular piece of evidence really means. However it is impossible to know when all relevant data has been acquired. Thus all evidential “conclusions” are ultimately penultimate. Logic, however, is not contingent upon experience.
Also, keep in mind that it was exactly because Copernicus rejected what his senses told him (i.e., a Sun moving through the sky) that the Copernican revolution happened. Logic and the fabric of reality are related to each other, however, and that is exactly what people like Copernicus and Einstein have proven. Einstein logically asserted relativity before he knew anything of evidence for relativity. String Theorists work by necessity through logic without the ability to confirm their speculations through evidence. Logic thus helps to compensate for our experiential and evidential inadequacies. Logic can and does help us to find truth before we have hard evidence to back it up.
This is why post-mortem consciousness and God fail as naturalistic concepts - they lack the first requirement: evidence. Sure, you can construct a logic ladder that is completely self-consistent that supports God, but you cannot connect that ladder to anything in the natural universe without evidence. Given that the foundations of reason are naturalistic in origin, I would contend that no such ladder can be called rational.
Again, (1) begging the question and (2) evidence can be interpreted any number of ways and is completely contingent upon our finite experience. Many people claim to have had experiences with the supernatural. Their senses garnered them subjective “evidence” to lead them to this conclusion. Other people have had those same experiences, but concluded that the supposed evidence was only imagined. Our experiences take us to presuppositions, and our presuppositions help us to understand and interpret our experiences. Those who presuppose that the natural is all that exists interpret everything according to that grid; those who presuppose that the natural and supernatural exist interpret experience according to that grid. In both cases you have presuppositions.
In my humble and honest opinion, what many people (atheists and Christians) often do not realize is that going from one worldview (Christian) to another (atheist) is simply exchanging one presupposition for another, often equally dubious and logically circular presupposition. Why trade one logically circular conclusion for another? It is not through logic alone. It is not through evidence alone. Perhaps I will change my mind later, but at the moment I am convinced it is a matter of intuition and emotion: we believe what we feel must be true. Our supra-rational epistemic tools or “ways of knowing” work together with our logic and experience to lead us to our conclusions. It is a subjective and personal matter. This does not mean that objective truth doesn’t exist; it simply means that we cannot arrive at this truth objectively. This is why Polanyi calls his book “Personal Knowledge.” (All of what I’m saying will make much more sense of you read that book. You can read it for free through the free trial on Questia.com, if you wish. Other than that, there is an excellent article on fallibilism here: http://www.iep.utm.edu/f/fallibil.htm.)
In this discussion about suicide and death, then, I am attempting to make the case that the system of logic which leads to the atheistic worldview is ultimately inadequate, and when drawn to its logical end it does not make sense of our intuitive nature and the desire to live, and is thus ultimately incapable of sustaining life; and this is why certain theistic worldviews are to be preferred. That is probably a huge task that I’m inadequate to perform myself, but I’ll try anyway! Haha. I’m actually very eager to be presented with an argument that proves this wrong. We’ll see.
Keep forcing me to think about this critically! Thanks!
Ockham's Razor is only as sharp as you are.